A Stoned Hiker’s Handbook to Big Creek Loop Trail

May 3, 2021
Andrea Larson

Big Creek Loop as it’s called by locals and avid hikers is an incredible family- pet- and beginner-friendly Pacific Northwest hike! May is finally here and that means it’s time to lean into the beauty and serenity of the PNW! Each week in April and May we’ll be rounding up one of our favorite hiking spots out of Washington’s six land regions. From Forks in the Olympic Region and Enumclaw in the South Puget Sound Region to Okanogan County and Clark County, we’ve got something for everyone. We’re sharing our own personal insight, tips and tricks and other knowledgeable nuggets with our Walden Cannabis community. 

  • Big Creek Loop Trail
  • Mason County
  • Olympic Peninsula 
  • Elevation – 1850 ft. 
  • Elevation Gain – ~850 ft. 
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Hiking Distance from Trailhead – 4.3 miles on loop (+ 1 mile to viewpoint if you choose)
  • Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dogs – Yes (on leash)

Getting There

Reaching the trailhead is a short drive from the quaint town of Hoodsport that buttresses up to the western shores of Hood Canal off of Highway 101. If the weather is in your favor the drive to the seaside town is absolutely stunning. Parts of this hike follow the meandering Big Creek among others and Mt. Washington can be seen through openings in the giant big-leaf Maples. 

From Hoodsport you’ll turn onto Hoodsport Road (SR 119) and head due east until you reach Forest Service Road 24. In total this is about 9.3 miles. The road will come to a tee and you’ll want to turn left onto Forest Service Road 24 and immediately turn right into Big Creek Campground. There are very few spots in the parking lot and we opted to park on the street with about 10-15 other cars. We made sure to put up our Northwest Forest Pass and didn’t see any tickets on any window shields when we wrapped up the hike. It seems that street parking is a viable option. 

When we arrived the campground restrooms weren’t open because the campground is currently closed. There isn’t any potable water either so be sure to stop in Hoodsport for water or to use the restroom before heading out for the day. 

Routes

From the street or parking lot you’ll want to walk into the campground and look for the sign that reads, “Upper Big CRK. Loop TR. NO. 827.1” on the left hand side of the road. 

As this is a loop trail you can opt to go clockwise or counter clockwise. We recommend going clockwise. It’s easier on the knees and you’ll finish your hike walking alongside the creek with plenty of places to take a break and enjoy the scenery. You’ll begin this hike by meandering through a flat, tree-lined path until you reach a large bridge that brings you over the creek. This is the true start of the Big Creek Loop. 

About one mile in the trail begins to steepen and it keeps a consistent grade for another mile or so. There are plenty of benches along the way if you need to take a breather or tuck yourself away to enjoy a joint or two before continuing along. 

** Numerous creeks converge creating peaceful white noise **

You’ll reach a clearly marked sign that says “Mt. Ellinor Connector TR. NO. 827.2” and if Mt. Ellinor is your destination, you’ll have another 4.5 miles until you reach the summit. If Mt. Ellinor isn’t your destination you can still head that way to reach a viewpoint that you’ll arrive at in one mile. The view is a bit blockaded by large trees but you can see Lake Cushman and there are a few large rocks and plenty of beautiful birds to watch while you take a lunch break. 

Heading down from the viewpoint you’ll want to descend one mile and then take a left over a bridge that crosses above Branch Creek (unless you feel like going down the same way you came up). You can’t miss the bridge. You’ll pass over the bridge and continue on until you reach an area where the creeks come together (the confluence). This is also an incredible place to rest or take a snack break. The sun comes through the big-leaf maple trees and it’s really beautiful in any weather. 

Once you return to the campground area you’ll want to look for the spur trail that crosses over the creek and leads you back to the parking lot. If you miss it you’ll end up walking another 0.8 miles on Big Creek Nature Trail. The nature trail is a nice cool off so if you have the time why not?

Weather

As the elevation is less than 2,000 feet you can generally expect the trail to be free from snow come May. Some reviews suggest that this trail is free from snow year round but reviews from some hikers state otherwise. Reading reviews on your favorite hiking app or through the Washington Trails Association is always a good idea if you want to avoid inclement weather or don’t have the proper gear for rain or snow. 

Most of Big Creek trail is shaded by large trees and the creek provides an opportunity to dip your feet on super hot summer days. 

If you opt to head all the way up to Mt. Ellinor summit read our blog, “A Stoned Hiker’s Handbook to Mt. Ellinor.” We’ve included tons of useful tips and tricks for tackling Mt. Ellinor and what equipment you should pack with you.

What to Expect

This hike is more about the journey than the destination. Once in a while this is exactly what we all need after a long week of work. No waiting for that big AHA moment but rather enjoying the time and space that we’re in. 

This trail is ideal for beginners, families, pets and those with experienced joints. If you head counterclockwise rather than clockwise the route up is a bit steeper and longer. Plus the descent is much steeper if you choose to go counterclockwise which can be hard on those with stiff joints or knee and ankle issues. If you have trekking poles bring them along. 

Big-leaf maple, vine maple, western hemlock (the Washington State tree), red alder, western red cedar and Douglas-fir can all be found on this trail. If you plan ahead you can learn how to identify these varying species and try to name them as you hike (a great game for kids and adults alike). 

The creeks are surrounded by large boulders coated with bright green moss. The creeks offer amazing water shows especially after a heavy bout of rain. The waterways are easily traversed by numerous bridges constructed by the Mount Rose Trail Crew. The crew consists of roughly six local volunteers who have maintained this trail and created a haven for families and hikers of all ages and skill levels. 

If you choose to head to the viewpoint you’ll be greeted by many bird pals. We saw numerous Stellar’s jays and Canada jays – commonly referred to as camp robbers. These birds are part of the corvid species and they are fearless. These coastal, mountain dwellers have a proclivity for stealing food and will gladly come down for a visit while you’re eating lunch. 

Once we began our descent and passed the creek confluence the trail was lined with rhododendrons – the Washington state flower – that weren’t quite in bloom in early April. We also spotted western skunk cabbage (swamp lantern) which was blooming and quite beautiful for having such an off-putting name. You’ll smell it before you see it.

Essentials List:

  • Navigation (map, altimeter, compass, GPS device, or something similar + batteries)
  • Headlamp + batteries
  • Sun Protection (sunglasses, hat, SPF)
  • First-Aid kit
  • Knife
  • Fire (lighter, waterproof matches, tinder)
  • Shelter (a lightweight bivvy is as small as a soda can and weighs < 3.5 oz.)
  • Extra food
  • Extra water or ability to purify
  • Extra clothes

The Descent

The descent is probably the best part of this loop. The trail can be slippery when it’s wet so keep that in mind and be extra mindful when you’re hiking next to the creeks. Once you reach the campground at the end of the hike you can tack on another 0.8 miles by opting to wander the nature trail. It’s a great place to spot wildlife and wind down after getting back into the car for the drive home. 

If you get an early start you can take a dip in Lake Cushman on your way home or stop by a local beach to partake in clam or oyster harvesting during certain times of the year. Be sure to check the Department of Fish and Wildlife for open beaches, harvest limits and restrictions. 

We personally love to support the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon and get our fill of local, fresh seafood. We strongly advise making a reservation if possible to ensure you have a nice place to rest your tired legs once you arrive for some grub. Happy hiking Walden Community!

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