As the path begins its ascension to the top of the hill, a sudden break in the thick woodlands reveal an enormous crystal clear lake. Dense coverings of fir trees consume the many hills surrounding the lake, and massive boulders thrust from the water surface as if they were placed there purposely. As the path descends the hill, huge clearings divulge the true beauty of the surrounding environment.
And that’s just the drive in.
Anyone looking for a grueling yet rewarding trip this summer should set their sights on Lake Cushman. Located just west of Hoodsport, Washington and named after Orrington Cushman, a translator for Washington’s first governor to the Native Americans, Lake Cushman provides both excitement and beauty to those who seek it. And with several campgrounds, many boating rentals, and 13 different hiking trails (and countless secondary trails), it’s no wonder this area is one of the most popular locations in the summer.
“Cushman is one of the cleanest and clearest lakes I know of without having to travel to eastern Washington,” says Taryn Hall, a Tacoma resident and avid hiker.
The lake itself sits on the outskirts of the Olympic National Park, making it a prime location to set up a campsite and explore. The lake not only offers plenty of camping sites (and also allows camping on some hiking trails), but it also offers many opportunities to rent kayaks, paddle boats and boards, and even offers bicycle rentals. Anyone not interested in braving the water can always hang out on the sidelines and just enjoy the sun on the several beaches that surround the lake.
While many may flock to the boating rentals and beaches this summer, one of Lake Cushman’s greatest amenities is the hiking trails located just on the outskirts of the lake.
The hiking trails near Lake Cushman may be some of the most diverse trails in Washington. While some trails stay closer to various rivers and have limited elevation gain, others push the limits on trail elevation, body endurance, and hiker expertise. One of the most beneficial aspects of these trails is that they not only provide the maximum experience for more skilled hikers, but also provide several opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy nature’s attractions.
“There are a lot of hiking trails in the Lake Cushman area, but in my opinion, Staircase in the Olympic National Park offers some more family-friendly hiking with amazing swimming holes in the summer,” says Hall.
Staircase Rapids might be the perfect example of Lake Cushman’s versatility. The entrance to the trail contains a campground, it’s walking distance to the lake, and it’s the starting point for seven other trails. What’s more is that as the trail progresses, many other challenging hikes emerge.
Staircase Rapids might also be considered the best family-friendly trail in the region. The trail itself is easy enough for younger children to navigate (my 4-year-old son made the four-mile hike), yet the scenery is breathtaking enough for adults to enjoy. The Staircase trail follows along the Skokomish River, which feeds Lake Cushman. As with the lake, Skokomish River is riddled with massive boulders, creating amazing (and treacherous) white water rapids for the hiker’s viewing pleasure. The trail also opens up to the rapids in several spots, encouraging anyone with a camera to brave the rocky terrain for the best possible shot.
The trail loops back via a bridge that crosses over the river, but there are many other options for hikers looking to fulfill their need for adventure. Those wishing to brave the elements can continue on to higher elevations, and possibly higher rewards.
With any type of travel where nature is involved, however, there are always some risks involved.
“I would say people need to be aware of their surroundings,” says Jessica Armstrong, a Tacoma-raised hiker who plans on hitting one trail a week this summer. Armstrong says that walking into any hike uneducated could be costly. Luckily, many websites are available to provide any experience level hiker with the proper information.
One very useful site is the National Park Service website, nps.gov. This site will provide background to any location you choose to go in Washington, including hiking trails. One limiting factor about the site is the information tends to be general, and often does not update trail conditions.
Another useful site for anyone looking to hike near Lake Cushman might be the Washington Trails Association website, wta.org. This site not only allows viewers to find trails using an interactive map, the site also allows you to customize your search to include kid and dog-friendly trails and features such as mountain views and established campsites. The site allows hikers to input trip reports, which will tell viewers about trail conditions and any current hazards on the roads or the trails.
Of course, there is no substitute for anyone with experience. Anyone looking to brave the trails this summer should team up with someone not only familiar with the trails, but also familiar with what kind of equipment to bring along. Some of the more difficult trails present huge elevation gains, and not having the right shoes, supplies, or clothing needed to hit those trails could turn an amazing vacation into an uncomfortable disaster.
“We have such a diverse climate [and] you think you are going into something easy and then you run into something you are not expecting,” says Armstrong.