This marked my first visit to the South Fork Skokomish River area. I had driven by this area several times during my trips to the North Fork Skokomish River Trail (starting at Staircase Ranger Station). However, I hadn’t given it much notice. For starters, there isn’t much identification along Route 101. I think I saw one sign on 101 before reaching the turn-off to West Skokomish Valley Road, which takes you into the Olympic National Forest and to the trailhead. I had no idea you could reach the National Forest from this road, let alone access some great hiking. So research the directions and bring a map – you will need it to reach the trailhead through the maze of National Forest roads. For the most part, you will take NF Road 23.
Overall this was a great hike through a gorgeous river valley and plenty of old growth forests. Beginning at the trailhead for the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail – near the Brown Creak and Lebar Horse campgrounds – I hiked approximately 4.3 miles to the site of the former Camp Comfort. You can hike on this trail much farther though, all the way to the Upper South Fork Skokomish Trail and eventually into the Olympic National Park (near the Graves Creek area in the Quinault rainforest valley). But that’s quite a distance away. The half of the Lower South Fork Skokomish Trail that I hiked mostly stayed along the river and crossed over many small creeks. The warning about entering cougar country at the trailhead was a little unnerving, but for all I know these warnings exist at every trailhead on the Olympic Peninsula. If you’re looking to explore some old growth forests, though, and to hike easily through a mostly flat and beautiful river valley, I recommend this trail.
= This hike was fairly flat except for the start (and the end if you go out and back). At the beginning of the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail, the trail rises steeply up a bluff for several hundred feet before plunging downwards to the South Fork Skokomish River valley. If you also hike back on this trail, you will need to climb up an even steeper bluff before reaching the downhill section. Check out this WTA review for more information on elevation gain/loss. If you bring kids with you, they likely won’t enjoy this section. Just let them know that it gets much easier and scenic past this steep area.
= The Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail ranges from good to poor conditions. Some parts are well maintained, with recently added bridges (still smelling of new lumber) and boardwalks. However, in other sections, the bridges have been washed out and the signage is lacking. That said, trail crews seemed to be in the process of improving this trail when I visited in mid April.
One important note: crews recently rerouted the start of the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail, but they didn’t add signs as to where the new trail goes once it reaches the top of the bluff. Just keep in mind that when you reach the hilltop (about a quarter mile in from the trailhead), you will come to a T-junction. Take the left path. The right spur path goes to another trailhead off of NF-2353. When I was there, someone had scrawled signs on some paper plates and left them at the base of a tree at this junction. Otherwise I would have had no idea where to go. Review the map for more info.
= For such a rural trail, this hiking area was surprisingly close. I think it was about an 1 hour and 15 minutes from my house, and about half of that I spent driving on the Forest Service roads. Furthermore, if you wanted to, you could drive even further into this part of Olympic National Forest and access a whole slew of trails, including the Wynoochee Lake area. I had to add a bunch more trails to my bucket list after exploring a map of this region.
Taken along the trail:
Where: From the South Sound area, head north on Highway 101 toward Port Angeles. You will find the turn-off some 10 or 15 minutes past Shelton and about 5 minutes past Sanderson Field. Look for the signs for the state salmon hatchery (and for the Skokomish River Recreational Area) and turn left onto W. Skokomish Valley Road. Follow this road until you reach the right-hand turn-off to Govey Road, which becomes NF-23 and enters the National Forest. From there, follow the NFS directions listed here. Don’t forgot to turn off of NF-23 onto NF-2353 as you near the trailhead.
When to Go: I would use caution hiking this trail during the rainy season and right after a good rainstorm. Some of the creeks that the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail cross look like they can become pretty strong after a good rainfall. I went in mid April and, while it was muddy, it was traversable. Definitely bring your hiking boots and possibly some gators.
Trail Info: This part of the National Forest falls within the Hood Canal Ranger District. To park at the trailhead, you will need a Recreation Pass. If the first trailhead parking is full, try parking at LeBar Horse Camp or at the trailhead further down on NF-2353 just past the horse camp. This latter trailhead accesses a spur trail that will take you to the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail.
You can bike and ride horses on the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail. This trail goes for approximately 10 miles before it turns into the Upper South Fork Skokomish River Trail. I hiked in as far as Camp Comfort. While nothing exists at the Camp Comfort site now (it was washed away in 2007) there apparently once was a large campground there. Now it looks more like an informal campsite and provides a nice place to rest, check out the river bed, and imagine how this landscape was transformed by flooding just a few years earlier.