This is a short, beautiful loop hike that leaves from the Staircase Ranger Station and follows the North Fork of the Skokomish River upstream to Staircase Rapids. At just over 2 miles, this mostly level loop is a great option for families staying in Staircase Campground or anyone looking for a short walk to combine with a day on Lake Cushman.
Beginning from the ranger station, the North Fork Skokomish River Trail plunges into the quintessential Olympic forest of western redcedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir trees. Lush sword ferns and mosses create a dense understory, and the trail cuts through as a narrow band. For much of this portion of the hike the trail stays northeast of the river, leaving you to enjoy the thick woods. You'll encounter Slate Creek, which is worth a little exploration, and roughly a half-mile later the junction to the new suspension bridge. This $1.2-million project was completed in 2013 after the original bridge was washed out from high flows in 1998. Built much higher than its predecessor, this bridge looks like it will be servicing the loop for some time.
Enjoy the long and terraced rapid from several perspectives, including from the bridge. At low flows, the setting here can be calm and tame. Seasonal snowmelt and rains can transform this area into quite a torrent, however, so be sure to watch younger hikers if you are exploring during the winter and spring. Once you have finished here, cross the bridge and return downstream along the Rapids Loop Trail to complete the loop at the campground and ranger station. Alternately, if you have more time, continue upstream on the North Fork Skokomish Trail toward Flapjack Lakes or Big Log Camp.