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Trip Report    

Day Hike - Church Creek–Satsop Lakes

Church Creek to Satsop trailhead, end to end and back again. Switchbacking up and down steep old growth slopes next to sheer chasms.

  • Road recommended for high clearance only
  • We drove in from Forest Road 23 to 2361, then 2361-600 to the east side (Church Creek) trailhead.  There is a gate on FR 2361 which usually closes around October 1st.  We rode in a Subaru with about 8” of ground clearance and negotiated the water bars without scraping.

    There is no signage at the west (Satsop Lake)  trailhead, but it is recognizable.  It is just north of a right-angle bend in FR 2372 and an intersection with a rough road leading to the southeast.  Just south of the trailhead and across the road from the trailhead are parking areas where people have obviously camped.

    This trail is out of cell phone range, and don’t expect passersby who might assist if in trouble.  Also, there are few places by the trail with enough water to pump or collect, so bring all you plan on drinking.

A party of three hiked this as a Mountaineers Olympia Branch day hike on Friday, September 15, 2023.  The weather was beautiful with a cloudless sky, low humidity, occasional breezes, and temperature about 80F.  Ours was the only car at the trailhead, and we saw no other hikers on the trail.  I had a similar experience on a Sunday in mid-August.  

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From the east side trailhead, the trail gains elevation on a series of switchbacks, passing through majestic Doug fir, cedar and hemlock.  At the open pass where the trail follows a decommissioned road, many wildflowers were still in bloom. A few hundred yards beyond this, a tree of >32” diameter is down across the trail at a steep angle.  It has been notched out underneath, allowing hikers to crawl under.  A stub on top provides a good handhold for climbing over. Another stub provides a foothold, but it is a stretch to reach it.  

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A few hundred feet past this fallen tree is an active bee or yellow jacket hive in the base of a tree on the downhill side.  This has been flagged with orange tape on saplings on either side.  A few hundred yards and a pair of switchbacks past that is a tree about 2 feet in diameter, in the trail and in line with it.  The stubs on the uphill side have been trimmed and hikers can squeeze by.  The top of the divide is two short and one long switchbacks above this.  Some of that section is getting brushy and a lot of it is devil’s club.

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The divide is about 3,450’ elevation. On the west side of the divide, around 3,000’, the trail is getting a bit brushy.  At about 2.750’, there is a tree across the trail diagonally.  The lower part can be stepped over without much difficulty.   Descending here, we came face-to-face with a tree with an expression from Edvard Munch's "The Scream".

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The trail in the forest at the edge of the meadow on the east side of the lake is becoming quite brushy, as is the trail below the edge of the forest into the meadow.  Along some of this, it may be difficult to see the ground, and the footing can be treacherous with irregular melon-sized rocks.   The trail along the lake has some hip-high grass.  Although it was about noon, we got quite wet from dew still on the grass on this warm, sunny and low-humidity day.

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The lake level was a few feet below the high water line.  Aside from the dried mud ring, it was a very nice reflecting pool for the sky and surrounding mountain forest.  We saw some fish.  We continued past the lake, uphill, past a log on the trail where most people have detoured around it on the downhill side.  Footing there is not good, and erosion is developing.  We continued on generally good trail a half mile to the west end trailhead at Forest Road 2372.  

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We turned around and hiked the reverse route back to our vehicle at the Church Creek trailhead.  There is still quite a bit of standing old growth and some really big Doug fir and cedar, and many wildflowers in the understory and the berry patches on the east side and the open pass east of and below the divide. 

According to “Day Hiking the Olympic Peninsula, second edition, and the Washington Trails Association website, it is 3.2 miles one way from Church Creek trailhead to the lake, and another half mile to the west end trailhead, for a total of 3.7 each way and 7.4 miles round trip.  Both sides of the divide have dramatic topography with sheer drops into gorges alongside the trail, and large fallen trees bridging deep chasms.  There is about 1,600’elevation change on the east side and 900’ on the west side, made manageable by the switchbacks.  There is much evidence of serious trail work, cutting out huge fallen trees, on both sides of the divide.  Some of the issues noted above will be addressed on an upcoming Mountaineers Olympia Branch stewardship trip.