Revisiting the Lower South Fork Skokomish

Revisiting the Lower South Fork Skokomish

By: Shelby May 29, 2017 2:23 pm 16 comments

This Memorial Day weekend, We had some very specific criteria that we were looking for in a hike. We wanted it to be about 10 miles long, a river trail without crazy elevation gain, not outrageously far away, but also not outrageously busy. I wanted some views but they could be modest. We mostly wanted to get outside for a good amount of time and enjoy the awesome weather without wearing ourselves out for the rest of the weekend. The Lower South Fork Skokomish fit these criteria perfectly.

Lower South Fork Skokomish Trail, Shelton, WA

It had been four years since we’d done this trail on another Memorial Day weekend, and while Spenser couldn’t really remember it, I never forgot how much I loved it. Our friends Zaq and Amanda wanted to join us, so we set out from Seattle around 8 for the 2ish hour drive down through Tacoma and Shelton, through logged out forest, finally to the lonely trailhead back on a forest service road in the National Forest. There were just a few other cars in the small lot, which was a pleasant surprise. I had been cautiously optimistic the trail wouldn’t be busy, but didn’t expect to find so few cars today, at the start of a gorgeous holiday weekend.

the familiar trailhead sign

the intrepid crew

The hike began with the familiar steep, dusty climb, which felt more intense than it actually was, with the sun beating down on us, and our legs stiff from the car ride. It wasn’t long before we made it to the top and were in the blessed shade again, and able to admire the wide open forest of ancient trees. We passed so few people: one young family going on their first backpacking trip together, a couple groups of backpackers returning from somewhere deep in the forest, and three mountain bikers.

As we hiked quickly down the trail, the memories from our previous time out here came flooding back. Few things had changed, but there were some new additions. Signs were nailed to the trees, pointing out side trails that led back up to the road that ran parallel to our trail. Bridges had been fixed when before they had been crushed by falling trees. There was a sign pointing out Comfort Camp. Was that there before? Did we make it this far last time? Have those mountains always been there? The ferns were just as I remembered, as were the trees, the flowers, the unbelievably intense shades of green, and the straight, lovely trail.

one of the new marker signs

We made our first stop about 3.5 miles in when we found some easy access down to the river bank. The water was cold and moving quickly, but it was shallow where we were – perfect for dipping our feet into. We relaxed in the dappled sunlight for a while and ate our salami and sliced bell peppers while butterflies and birds flitted across the river and back. It was perfect. After a long rest, we climbed back up to the trail and kept hiking towards the 5 mile viewpoint, a popular place for dayhikers to turn back around.

We passed a couple of awesome lookout spots, places where the river curved around and was carving into the steep cliffs, and finally reached the five mile marker at a high point overlooking a tight U-bend. There was a wide, flat bank in the bend below us, which looked like the perfect camping spot. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way down there, but after doing some investigating on a map afterwards, I think I found the way. Here, we decided to turn around, as the day was wearing on and we still had a long hike back ahead of us.

forest memorial

cliff at the lookout viewpoint

After another quick dip in the river at a secluded spot to cool off and wake ourselves back up, we were hiking back towards the trailhead in the golden light that was filtering through the trees. Before we knew it we were climbing back up to the hill that served as a gate between the parking lot and the wilderness. It was a tough way to end a hike, with a large climb at the very end, but we were soon at the top and descending quickly to the parking lot, which was now full of life and cars.

This weekend, we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we do today. Thank you all for your service!

Northwest Forest Pass required.

Directions: From US Highway 101, turn west at milepost 340 onto the Skokomish Valley Road (6 miles north of Shelton or 7 miles south of Hoodsport). Follow this good paved road for 5.5 miles, bearing right at a V intersection onto Forest Road 23. In 1 mile the pavement ends; in another 1.5 miles it resumes; and in another mile enter Olympic National Forest. Continue for 6 miles on FR 23 to a signed junction and turn right onto FR 2353. In 0.5 mile cross the South Fork Skokomish River, coming to a four-way intersection. Turn left, continuing on FR 2353 for 0.3 mile to the trailhead.

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