Olympic National Park – Staircase Region

The Staircase Region is the most accessible area to access the Olympic National Park from Puget Sound. So I asked Mathias Eichler, host of the Single Track podcast and author of Adventure Running, Exploring Olympia’s Trails, for advice on running in the Olympics Staircase section.
“Hoodsport is the nearest town, which sits along the Hood Canal about a 40min drive north from Olympia. From Seattle, you can get there via I-5 or Olympia, which is about 2 hours, or take the scenic route and take the ferry to Bremerton and make your way to Hoodsport via Belfair and Shelton,” says Eichler.


Flapjack Lakes with the Sawtooth Ridge in the distance. (Mathias Eichler)

“Lake Cushman is the lake above Hoodsport that many folks visit in the summer for recreation. North of the lake is the Olympic National Park Staircase region,” adds Eichler. “This region has many popular trails in the Olympic National Forest; some trailheads are owned by Tacoma Power, and several trails lead into Mount Skokomish Wilderness. The mountains are called the Olympic Mountains.”
The National Park Staircase region doesn’t have a lodge or visitor center. Just a small ranger station, a day-use campground, and a good-sized parking lot. “Pro-tip: the bathrooms in the campground are a lot nicer than the main bathroom by the parking lot,” tells Eichler. “And there’s running water.”


Staircase Ranger Station


Staircase Trail Runs

The trails in the area are fairly short, mostly steep, and due to the low elevation, often easy to get to, even in the shoulder season, except for years like 2022.

There are four key places to access most trails in the Staircase area:


The main Staircase parking lot has easy trails for the family and several challenging trail routes that continue through the North Fork of the Skokomish watershed and the Olympic National Park. We’ve highlighted routes to Cub Peak, Flapjack Lakes, Gladys Divide, Sawtooth Ridge, and a 33-mile course to the Upper Duckabush.


A lonely mountain goat surveys Lake Cushman and the Puget Sound (Mathias Eichler)


The Mt. Rose trailhead has a 6.5-mile route with 3500 ft. of ascent in the lollipop loop to the summit of Mt. Rose.


Big Creek Campground and Mt. Ellinor’s lower and upper trailhead are the two access points to Mt. Ellinor. The climb to Mt. Ellinor is steep and challenging, but the views at the top are well worth the effort.


Steps on the Mt. Ellinor Trail. The Mt. Rose Trail Crew maintains trails. (Mathias Eichler)

Staircase Trail Races

Eichler and his company, Rock Candy Running, host two events in the Staircase region, the Beast of Big Creek and the Cushman Six FKT Route.

Beast of Big Creek is a trail race to Mt. Ellinor from Big Creek campground. The 14-mile course is an out and back to the summit, and the 7-mile race is a loop along the Big Creek Trail.


The Olympic Mountains 50 mile and 50k from Everlong Endurance is not in the Staircase region, but it’s not too far away in Quilcene.

Staircase Area Trail Running Groups

There aren’t any trail running groups specifically for the area, but there are some nearby that we have featured in other community runs.

Olytrailrunners in Olympia was started in 2004 by a few trail running enthusiasts who wanted to invite others interested in running on the trails in Olympia area parks. Check the Facebook page for the location of Tuesday and weekend runs.


Mt. Ellinor Trail (Mathias Eichler)


Evergreen Turtle Rockets in Kitsap County began as a small, tight group of running friends. “We’re still a tight group, just a little larger than five years ago,” exclaims Tabatha Collins.” I think there are about 50 of us’ regulars,’ and the rest are ‘Facebook lurkers.’ In the past few years, we’ve had groups climb Mt. St Helens and do Spring summits of Mt Ellinor/Rose.”

Coffee and Microbreweries

Hoodsport Coffee is the go-to coffee place in Hoodsport but is often very busy in the summer.
Shelton’s Urraco Coffee roasts small, hand-crafted batches from around the world.
T’s Cafe and Espresso in Shelton is a small shop that serves coffee, pastries, and sandwiches.


High Steel Beer Co. in Shelton is located inside Smoking Mo’s BBQ. Combine local craft beers with Carolina-style barbecue.
Hoodsport’s Potlach Brewing Company brews small batches in a seven-barrel system. They have a small indoor/outdoor tasting room and a few snacks. Outside food is allowed.
A little out of the way in Belfair is Bent Bine Brewery, a small brewery, and taphouse. This dog-friendly environment has a small food menu and allows outside grub.


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