This sign is upside down for a reason (or should be). It designates a trail that’s so utterly pointless, so hellacious and worthless, it tops my Stinkeroo List. As in, avoid this sucker at all costs.
The Wagonwheel Lake trail at Lake Cushman/Staircase tops my “S List.” Yea, verily. This is the worst trail I’ve hiked in a decade. Maybe more. (Well. There was that one hike near Kerrville, TX. But anyway…)
Located in Olympic National Park near Hoodsport, the Wagonwheel Lake trail is a 3,200 foot elevation gain over 2.9 miles. The exertion might be justified if there was something worth seeing en route to a rinky-dink lake that’s not worth writing home about. But there’s virtually nothing to recommend this Climb From Hell. No grand vistas. No singing streams or rushing rivers. No pristine mountain lakes. No cascading waterfalls. Zip. Zero. Nada.
This trail is just an endless slog up an idiot mountain that’s so steep, it’d give a Yeti cause for pause. (We met two other hikers at about the 2.5 mile mark. Guys in their mid-twenties. Both were about played out. Hello?)
Other than some thick sword fern near the trailhead, the terrain on this trail is boring, dull, and unvaried. It’s like watching moss grow. While scrambling over all kinds of treacherous tanglefoot and boulders that eat turned ankles for lunch.
The canopy is so thick, you can’t see the sky most of the time. There aren’t any jaw-unhinging panoramas common at that altitude. The foliage along the trail is so dense, you can barely swing your trekking poles without getting tangled. Also, because the trail is so steep and thickly forested, you can’t see how far you have to go to reach your final destination. So it’s just one hamstring-hollering, quad-quivering, knee-needling step after another. And another. And another. And…
We hiked Wagonwheel Lake in late September. It was a glorious, blue-skied day with temperatures skimming the low 80s. Unfortunately, this beautiful Indian summer day was mostly wasted on this stupid trail.
The Lake Cushman area is one of the prettiest on the Olympic Peninsula. But don’t waste your time or your knees on the Wagonwheel Lake trail. There are plenty of more worthy alternatives in the area: Dry Creek, Staircase Rapids, or the Staircase Bridge (an easy one mile out-and-back).
I’ll let you know when I can feel my feet again.