Olympic National Park has long been a place I hoped to visit. There have been several years now of me drooling over photographs and sequences from films of these moss-shrouded, hyper-green, gloomy woods. I needed to walk in these woods someday. It being a holiday weekend, and Olympic National Park being a bit of a drive from where I am currently living, I thought it my best chance at getting a visit in…but I was worried that droves of other visitors might deflate the balloon of my long-held dream of hiking in this park with some semblance of solitude.
So, I began researching lesser-known hikes in the park…and I stumbled upon Flapjack Lakes.
I got to the trailhead (near Staircase Ranger Station) to start my hike around 1015. There is a gravel / dirt parking lot there to leave your vehicle. Look for the “North Fork Skokomish River” trailhead sign just slightly uphill from the lot, which will advertise that the “Flapjack Lake Junction” is 4 miles onward.
Around 4 miles in you reach the trail junction, with a sign advertising that Flapjack Lakes themselves are 4 miles further on. This is where the elevation gain more tangibly begins – first moderately, and then in a way that can’t be overlooked. It is not a killer climb, but you do breath harder for certain.
The views along the way help though – creek crossing, waterfalls, wildflowers, and bombardments of green. Before venturing to Olympic National Park, I hesitated to do so thinking that perhaps I’d built the place up too much in my mind. After all, I am currently living in a Washington forest – how different could the Olympic peninsula woods be then the ones right outside my door?
I tried to articulate just how they are different. It has a lot to do with the level of green. In the Olympic woods it is as if the green volume has been turned all the way up. The green is almost blinding in its vibrancy - intoxicating & entrancing. You find yourself surprised that so much green can exist in one place without exhausting the world’s overall supply. Maybe it does…
This national park seems like it could double as a Land Before Time theme park. So ancient feeling and green that surely dinosaurs must roam around here somewhere. And I know what you are thinking – “so…like Jurassic Park?” But, no. This is not what I mean. This Land Before Time Park is more whimsical and far less hazardous to your life expectancy.
(And raptor-less, did I mention it is raptor-less?)
Anyways, on this section of the hike I had a pretty incredible encounter. Not a dinosaur, but for me just as exciting a gift. A mother mountain goat and her cloud-fluffy kid walked down the trail toward me. We both stopped and regarded each other for several minutes. Both curious and uncertain about the other’s intentions. I had just recently caught sight of my first mountain goats in the wild a week ago, but from a very far distance, such that I could only view them as specs through binoculars. Now they were 20 feet away. I was breathless honestly, and thankful that they let me drink in the sight of them for a bit.
After crossing Madeline Creek via footbridge and passing by a very lush waterfall on your way switchbacking uphill you’ll hit another trail junction – Flapjack Lakes is upward. The last grunt here is the hardest, but you made it this far so – carry on.
When you reach the lakes there is a camp sign giving you instructions on where to camp and how to store your food (they provide bear wires here). I went to the farthest reaching campsite near a creek in the hopes of getting some solitude.
After quickly setting up my tent (I prefer sleeping out…but this is Olympic National Park and rain can spontaneously regenerate from sunshine, right?), it was around 1430 and I decided I had enough daylight and sufficient energy reserves to make an attempt at Gladys Divide.
Candidly, I very nearly didn’t rally to this endeavor. I wasn’t sure I had the mental or physical energy for any more uphill battles. But let me tell you – try with all your might to rally to this cause because to miss the sights on the way would be a tragedy.
The hiking guide (see the end of this post) I read regarding this hike said it was “3 miles” from Flapjack Lakes. I don’t know if that meant 3 miles round trip or 3 miles one-way…it feels more like 1 mile round-trip honestly because the views provided along every step make time and distance non-existent.
After maybe 20 minutes of switchbacks up, I felt as if I’d walked through a portal into a realm that is some fabulous combination of Middle Earth’s Rohan meets the backdrop scenery of The Sound of Music - carpets of wildflowers nestled up to deliciously grey, impossibly toothy, looming peaks. Slates of snow with boulders and streams peaking through create Nature’s patchwork quilt. And all this before you even get to the divide marker.
Once at the Gladys Divide marker (5000ft), you are additionally blessed with a stunning view of a valley below and more of the Olympic mountains beyond. The view across the way warrants pause to drink it in – so pause to drink it in. I was fortunate to hit this spot on a clear day but with clouds drifting in – delicate wisps that seemed to me the mountains' delicate thought clouds, brooding, but a catalyst of mirth for a melancholy soul like myself.
I was up to Gladys Divide and back to my camping spot at Flapjack Lakes in under two hours, including the pause to drink in the view. After dinner, I fell asleep shamelessly by 1900 (ah the exiting Saturday nights of a 20-something) to the sound of the creek flowing nearby.
Sunday I was packed up and on the trail down by 0545. I selfishly wanted the trail to myself, and I figured an early sunrise out would permit me that. And permit me it did.
if you want ancient forest air
with a mountain goat flair
some wildflowers here and there
and toothy peaks (tree-bare)
this is the hike for you.
**For another (better) trail guide – http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/gladys-divide-primitive
Note: If you decide to do this one-day camping venture, you’ll need to pay park entrance ($20), unless you have an annual pass ($80), which I recommend investing in if you think you’ll have at least 4 visits to federal lands at some point in a year. You’ll also need to reserve in advance a backcounty permit ($5) to camp at Flapjack Lakes. I believe there are some day-of permits possible, but better safe than sorry if you ask me.