Julie United States 6 Comments

The Staircase Rapids Loop is an underrated trail in Olympic National Park. On this short, easy hike, you will walk along the North Fork of the Skokomish River, through a temperate rainforest, with views of waterfalls and rapids.

Just under 3 miles long, this trail loops up and around Staircase Rapids. With waterfalls, dense forests, and fallen trees, this is a beautiful place to explore. What makes it even better is that we saw a total of three people on the 2 hours it took for us to do this hike.

Yes, it took us 2 hours to walk 3 miles. It was so much fun to take our time, take photos, and enjoy this beautiful place.

This is a great hike for all ages and ability levels and it’s a great place to bring the kids.

Staircase Rapids Loop Hiking Stats

Distance: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Elevation Gain: 285 feet
Length of Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

Staircase Rapids Loop Map

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Staircase Rapids Loop

Step-By-Step Trail Guide

Since this is a loop, you can do this hike in either direction. Most people hike the Staircase Rapids Loop in a clockwise direction and that is what we did, too.

For the first part of the hike, you head upstream along the North Fork of the Skokomish River. In our opinion, the west bank of the river is more scenic and this is where we spent a lot of our time. However, there are a few cool spots to see on the east bank, so it is worth doing this hike as a loop.

Getting to the Trailhead

Park in the parking lot at the end of Forest Road NF-24. There is a parking lot for day use across the street from the Staircase Campground.

Walk to the end of the road and cross the bridge over the Skokomish River to get to the trailhead. There is a sign marking the start of the trail.

Staircase Trailhead

Hiking the Staircase Rapids Loop

The trail is very easy to follow. You simply walk upriver on the wide trail. Occasionally, there will be breaks in the trees for views over the river, or small trails where you can hike down to the river’s edge.

For most of the walk along the west bank, the trail runs very close to the river, so this is the best part of the hike to get views of the Skokomish River.

Staircase Rapids Hiking Trail

Hike Olympic National Park

Staircase Rapids

Olympic Rainforest

Skokomish River


To stay on the trail, cross the bridge over the Skokomish River. There will be a trail sign pointing you in the correct direction.

Staircase Rapids Sign

Staircase Rapids Bridge

On the Bridge

View from the Bridge Staircase Rapids Loop


Once on the east bank, the trail meanders away from the river and heads through the forest. Now, the main attractions are trees covered in moss, small waterfalls, and the silent forest.

Forest Trail Staircase Rapids Loop

Olympic National Park photo

Staircase Rapids Loop

Olympic Rainforest

Staircase Rapids Loop

Before arriving back at the parking area, you will come to a fork in the trail. Turn right to return to your car. If you turn left, you will be on the steep, strenuous trail to Wagonwheel Lake.

The hike ends once you arrive back at the Staircase Rapids parking area.

Washington Travel Guide

About Our Experience

We did this hike in July 2020.

The Staircase Rapids Loop wasn’t even on our to-do list for Olympic National Park. We planned to hike Mt. Ellinor, but rain and low-lying clouds forced us to change our plans. So, we ended up here, and I am so glad we did.

Tim, Kara, and I loved this little hike and we hope you do, too. Mt. Ellinor is still on our list for a future visit to Olympic National Park, and when we return, we will be tempted to repeat the Staircase Rapids Loop as well.

Tips to Have the Best Experience

This is a good hike to do on a day with less-than-perfect weather. In fact, clouds and a little drizzle almost seem to make this hike better, since you are at a low elevation and hiking through a rainforest. It’s better to save Hurricane Ridge or Mt. Ellinor for days when the skies are clear.

For this hike, a good pair of walking shoes is sufficient. Since this trail is so flat and well-graded, there is no need for hiking shoes.

Leave no trace. When you are in the park, practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring into the park, be considerate of other hikers, stay on the trail, and do not remove anything from the park.

Check road and trail conditions on the official National Park Service website before you go.

If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.

If you have any questions about hiking the Staircase Rapids Loop, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to Washington

HIKES IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: Take your pick from 17 awesome hikes in Olympic National Park. We also have detailed trail guides for Mt. Storm King and the hike to the peak of Mount Angeles.

THINGS TO DO IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: See the full list of must-have experiences in our guide to the Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park.

NATIONAL PARKS IN WASHINGTON: In our guide to the Washington National Parks, we give an overview on all three parks, Mount Rainier, Olympic, and the North Cascades. Learn how to visit all three national parks in our Washington Road Trip Itinerary.

NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries. You can also learn more about the national parks and get a FREE printable checklist in our US National Parks Checklist.

USA TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in the United States, check out our article Best USA Road Trips, which has 18 sample itineraries for your next big adventure. You can also see more travel itineraries on our Travel Itineraries page and our National Park Itineraries.


If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide and our Washington Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.



Olympic National Park Staircase Rapids


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Comments 6

  1. Avatar for Mary

    Great webpage , it’s so useful! Thanks!

    I have a question: I cannot cut and paste the words from the articles, which is easier for me to edit my travel plan. I have to take screenshots to do it. It’s for copyright protection? Thanks!

    Best regards,


    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Yes, it is for copyright protection, because we have had a lot of issues with plagiarism. You can save the entire article as a pdf by pressing CTRL+P (command +P on a mac) to bring up the printer dialog box, and then save it from here. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Amanda

    Loving your blog and how in-dept it is to each trail! You have added or guided us in different directions for our trip to ONP! We picked ONP for our first NP since there is so much variety!
    Its my husband and I, 31 and 30, and we are active and in pretty decent shape.
    With this being our first true hiking trip, dp you think we could both handle Mount Angeles and Mount Storm King hikes? They both say on trail apps that these are not for first time hikers but thought we should ask a seasoned vet!
    Thank you again for really getting down to the gritty in your post! Your blog is one I have come back to every single day while planning!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Amanda. That’s very exciting that you are planning your first national park trip! If you are active and in decent shape, you should be able to do Mount Angeles and Mount Storm King. Of the two, Mount Angeles is definitely more difficult, in my opinion. The last uphill climb is tiring and the rock scrambling is on the moderate to difficult side. For this hike, just before the summit, take the trail to the left. It’s easier with less rock scrambling. If you go to the right, the rock scrambling to get on top of Mount Angeles is not a good idea for new hikers, in my opinion. It can be dangerous.
      Storm King, on the other hand, is just a tiring uphill hike. The part with the ropes is slippery but the worst that will happen is you’ll fall and get dirty. Just go one at a time on the rope for safety reasons.
      Have fun in ONP!! Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Naveena

    Love your site, most helpful when planning my trips and navigating the hikes, trails, screening the easy hikes especially. Thank you.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

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