Hiking the Staircase Rapids Trail in the Olympic Rainforest

anchored in the fog and the rain

Wilderness Adventurer in Hoodsport, WA

Early on a rainy morning the Wilderness Adventurer of Un-Cruise Adventures anchored up in the fog near the tiny town of Hoodsport.  This quaint western Washington town lies quite a ways down Hood Canal, a long narrow waterway dividing the Kitsap Peninsula from the Olympic Peninsula.  Glad that I had brought raingear, I dug the little green bag out of my suitcase, pulled the raingear out, and discovered that the bag I thought held an entire rainsuit in fact had just a raincoat.

shore excusion time on the Wilderness Adventurer

passengers suit up in rain gear for a rainy rainforest hike

Luckily the ship had raingear for sale.  I joined the que in the lounge at the bow where one of the crew girls had the seat of a bench open and the raingear normally stored inside spread about the floor.  Lucky for me she had not put it away yet as there was just one person left in line.  The lady ahead of me could have bought the last pair of small rain pants, but balked at the price so I got them instead.  A bit pricey yes, but of fine quality that I much appreciated later when the hike ended and my top half had gotten wet through both the rain jacket I’d brought and the water resistant jacket I wore under it, yet my lower half stayed completely dry in the rain pants from the ship.  Rubber boots provided by the ship completed the outfit and kept my feet dry through every puddle.

how to get to shore from an anchored boat

skiff leaving the Wilderness Adventurer

Townsfolk in Hoodsport wondered about the boat anchored so near to their shore as boats that large rarely pay them a visit. Skiffs brought passengers to a nearby dock to board the waiting busses for a half hour’s drive to Staircase Rapids Trail in the Olympic Rainforest on the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula.   Not all rainforests are tropical, this is a coastal temperate rainforest.   The western side of the peninsula also has rainforests, the small town of Forks there gaining fame through the Twilight book series.  Yet on the northern end of the peninsula, Sequim is classified as a desert, the driest place in western Washington.  As our cruise took us to the drier north, we had no more significant rain for the rest of a week predicted to rain pretty much the whole time, as it did in much of the Puget Sound area.

transportation to the trailhead

tour bus to the rainforest

The relentless rain beat down on the bus, keeping the windows steamy throughout the drive.  The hikers definitely appreciated their raingear as they poured out of the busses once they stopped. Some had come from drier climates and had no idea how wet one could get in a rainy rainforest.  With that weather though, the ship’s passengers had the forest nearly to ourselves.

coastal temperate rainforest

hiking the Staircase Rapids trail

For a two mile loop trail, half of the Wilderness Adventurer’s passengers went one direction and the other the opposite so other than crossing one another on the trail we saw only one other family along the way.

Olympic Rain Forest

a large tree next to a puddle on the trail in the rain

Rainforests can get wet, and with a combination of rain and snow meltwater from the nearby Olympic Mountains these trails had puddles to spare. Much of the Olympic Peninsula is national parkland or designated wilderness area, including this trail.


stump house – you don’t see trees this big any more

Second growth trees blend with huge old growth monoliths, and the occasional stump large enough to be a house – in fact trees grew so big before people cut most of the ancient forests down that early settlers in western Washington did sometimes make stumps into houses.

Here and there along the trail we had glimpses and views of the Skokomish River. In several places the trail crossed either the main river or a smaller stream. At the start of the trail we crossed the river on a lengthy bridge.

bridge on rainforest trail

big new suspension bridge high above the river

Later in the hike we crossed a brand new suspension bridge supported by massive steel beams flown in by helicopter. Remnants of the original bridge remained in the form of bits of wood and metal still attached to the monstrous boulders on either side of the river where they had used these natural building blocks once left by a glacier as supports. Not taking any chances on the new bridge washing out as the old one had, it sits very high above the river where rain is the only water that will ever reach it.

bridge made from fallen logs

log bridge

Further along the trail we crossed the complete opposite of the new modern bridge. The original bridge across one of the smaller streams washed out at some point and the replacement here was carved from fallen logs crossing the stream. It was one of the most interesting bridges I’ve ever seen.

trillium flower


We saw trillium in bloom in quite a few places along the trail, and a salmonberry bush as well. Standing near a patch of trillium I watched a raindrop hit one. The intruding raindrop slithered down the leaf, its weight forcing the leaf to point downward. Once the raindrop slipped to the forest floor the leaf shuddered and righted itself, appearing to shake on its own. Through the patch of trillium one leaf after another waved its leaves, shedding raindrops in a dance most people never notice walking through a rainy forest.

rain forests are green and full of lush vegetation

river view from the trail

Most of the wildlife stayed snugly in their homes, but we did see one very small banana slug. The good news is the bugs didn’t come out in the rain. We did not see so much as a single mosquito.  Although it does not rain all the time in a rainforest, so far every time I have taken a rainforest hike it rained, whether in Australia (yes Australia does have rainforest), Ketchikan (whose annual rainfall would make Forks seem dry by comparison), or Washington.

oyster shucking demonstration

how to shuck oysters

Back at the boat after a tasty stir-fry lunch we decided to bag the afternoon’s planned kayaking and sit in the hot tub followed by the sauna instead. Actually nobody went out for the afternoon kayking session. We weren’t the only ones who decided to wait for better weather.

 Video – How to Shuck an Oyster from Hama Hama Oysters

Our Beer Cruise activity for this day while the ship anchored off Hoodsport included a visit to the ship from Hama Hama Oysters.  They brought a variety of fresh oysters with them and had a talk about all things oyster and how to shuck them.  A beer and oyster pairing followed with different beers to taste with the different types of oysters.  Interestingly enough, the oysters were genetically the same, but differences in the location, diet, and habitat cause differences in the size and flavor of the oysters. Beers for the pairing came from American Brewing (Edmonds, WA) and Elysian Brewing (Seattle, WA).  According to the host of all things beer on the cruise, Kendall of Washington Beer Blog, the Sea Cow oyster with Elysian’s Dragonstooth Stout proved the crowd’s favorite pairing.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2012

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
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12 Responses to Hiking the Staircase Rapids Trail in the Olympic Rainforest

  1. Lorraine Marie Reguly says:

    Hi Lois. It’s been a while since I commented, although I’ve been reading and sharing your posts.
    I hope you are doing well… and not getting too tired from all that hiking! 😉

  2. Hiking in a rainforest in the rain has about as much appeal to me as hang gliding naked over an active volcano. But, I would be first in line for freshly shucked oysters and beer. Yum! Great video!

    • When you live in Western Washington you get pretty accustomed to rain. If you do much of anything outdoors sometimes you do it in the rain. Horse trailers come in pretty handy when camping in the rain. I had a 3 horse slant load and it was big enough to set up a portable table for the camp stove plus one to sit at to eat so we could stay nice and dry. The horses had waterproof blankets and we had raingear to wear when riding in the rain. When I did the rainforest hike in Ketchikan it was a paid excursion and they provided rain gear that kept us nice and dry. In Australia they had umbrellas if people wanted them, but most people didn’t take them because it didn’t really start to pour until we were far from the bus.

      I did just the opposite of you, I quite enjoyed the hike, but don’t like beer or oysters. Other passengers enjoyed them though.

  3. gwynnrogers says:

    I am chuckling at your post as I live in Poulsbo… at the other end of Hood Canal. It has been ages since I have been over to the rainforest so I enjoyed your pictures. I do know that American Cruise Line is now dropping people off here in Poulsbo for a shopping spree, and to enjoy our Nordic town and bakery goodies. I hope you get to venture into our area some time. Despite what you think, it does not rain all of the time in the Northwest! 😉

    • It doesn’t rain 100% of the time in any given rainforest, but so far if I hike in one it will rain while I am there. The Olympic Peninsula definitely covers a range of climates in a relatively small area with Forks, the rainiest place in Western Washington only about 70 miles from Sequim, the driest. Shhhh, don’t tell people it doesn’t rain all the time in the Pacific Northwest…more of them might move here and there’s already too many!

  4. Chris Beath says:

    Can I get the beer without the oysters? I’m picky about what shell fish I will eat and oysters are definitely not on that list. Elysian makes some really good beer though. They do great things with pumpkin and they make Men’s Room Red a great beer made for my favorite radio show.

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