Backpacking, Camping, and Fishing Flapjack Lakes in Olympic National Park
Fifteen miles round trip and 3900′ elevation gain. We had just two days available and we wanted to make them count. Figuring Flapjack Lakes is listed in our Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula trail book, how bad could it be? That being said, more than once on the trail I said to myself, “What the f*** was I thinking!? This view better be worth it.”
We chose Flapjack Lakes as our Mother’s Day weekend wilderness camping trip. It can be done as an all-day hike and is probably much more enjoyable on the trail without loaded packs. But without the overnighter, you don’t get to enjoy the sunrise, sunset, and changing moods of the Sawtooth Range looming over the icy lakes. This one is definitely worth taking the time to linger and appreciate.
As we began our day, we were counting on 7.5 miles. But with a total rookie mistake, it ended up more like 9.5 when you add on our little detour. Lesson learned. Always double check the map before you set out. Just because it says ‘Staircase Trailhead’ doesn’t mean you’re actually using the Staircase trail.
Oh well. The cross-country trek and river crossing to navigate from the Staircase trail across to the Northfork/Flapjack trail made for a little added adventure.
Seriously, the river crossing was actually kind of fun. And this way we didn’t have to backtrack. It also meant I got to do some additional field testing on my Lowepro Passport Sling Camera Bag. The bag got wet, unintentionally, but kept my gear dry! I absolutely love this thing. Full on review coming soon.
Once on the right trail there’s no problem, it is well marked. Time to cover some ground, we had a couple miles to make up.
The trail crews were out this weekend working on clearing the downed trees from over the winter, but they still have a lot of work to do. There were several spots that you need to scramble and climb over trees across the trail but nothing unmanageable.
The elevation gain picks up before too long with a handful of switchbacks. Further up the trail, there are plenty of rocky and rooty areas that made me glad for bringing trekking poles. This was my first time hiking with poles and from here on I will never go without. They make a huge difference and are way better than trying to push off your knees on those big steps.
The last half mile of the Flapjack Lakes trail felt like the longest.
Once you reach the junction with the Black and White Lakes Trail, the sign to Flapjack Lakes points straight up. It is tempting to make camp near here at a couple of sites with fire rings. Fires are allowed below 3500 feet. How much easier would it be to drop the packs and ascend the rest of the way to the lakes a bit lighter? But, we didn’t come for easy. We came for the view and were so glad we pressed on.
It gets a bit more snowy from here.
Most of the snow has melted off by now. No special gear is needed other than some good waterproof shoes. Several day hikers along the way had warned us of a big snow patch toward the top where it is easy to lose the trail. Keep an eye out for the slightly visible path across the snow and then follow the snow up the left side and you will be fine. Much more of this summer heat in spring and that snow will be gone in no time.
There was still plenty of snow around the lakes, with one of them still partially frozen and covered. Camp to the right. Those are the best sites, with the best views. There is one nice site to the left and then beyond that only a site that is hidden by a big boulder where you can’t even see the lake. The campsites are pretty much clear of snow.
A dry change of clothes including socks and camp shoes were nice to have once we got to camp so we could let our boots dry for the hike out.
Was it worth it?
Yes, the trail is a bit grueling, but maybe you are better conditioned than we are at this point in the season. Go big, or go home… right? We chose this 4 difficulty trail (out of 5) as our first hike of spring. Going for an overnight stay, we had loaded packs plus camera gear (because I’m a photography junkie). The drawback of doing just a day hike is you arrive, hang out for a small time, snap a few pics, grab a snack, and then head home. On a day hike, we would have had to miss this sunset.
The drawback of doing just a day hike is you arrive, hang out for a small time, snap a few pics, grab a snack, and then head home. On a day hike, we would have had to miss this sunset.
And while we don’t pack the kitchen sink, we don’t exactly go light. Comfort is of high value to this backcountry couple. We have a couple of really nice sleeping pads and a nice warm double sleeping bag. The rest of our gear though is pretty minimalist …besides the beer. But you can’t go fishing without beer. Or at least, we can’t.
The fishing makes for a pretty awesome wilderness dinner. Cook up your fresh caught brook trout with some instant mashed potatoes and wash it down with a nice IPA. Nothing tastes better at 5000 feet in Olympic National Park. And yes, of course we pack out the bottles. Leave no trace!
Wake up in the morning and after a few photos of the sunrise over Sawtooth Ridge I crawl back in bed and Jim treats me to a Mother’s Day cup of jasmine green tea while he gets fresh water and starts on breakfast.
Scrambled eggs and gourmet oatmeal. Best trail breakfast, ever. And another beer. This one was more of a novelty, though. Plenty of protein and carbs for the trek back down. We don’t usually do beer for breakfast, but Jim found this Organic Chocolate Stout when grabbing the others and was intrigued. He just couldn’t leave it. Stouts were traditionally consumed for breakfast, right? Oh well, this is a mini-vacation.
We can hear the sound of grouse gumping in the distance, plus the whistles, trills, and chirps from various other wild birds. We glimpsed a river otter in the lake before he ducked under. And, yes, a banana slug. As long as they aren’t in my garden I think there are pretty cool. No big game this time.
May Flowers Along the Flapjack Lakes Trail
For more information
Check out the Washington Trails Association North Fork Skokomish River and Flapjack Lakes for the hiking guide and recent trail reports. Or the National Park Service’s Flapjack Lakes info. Both are quite helpful. Don’t forget to grab your wilderness camping permit if you decide to go!
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