You can ride the Lower South Fork Skokomish Trail as a 20.9-mile loop taking paved and gravel roads up and the single-track down, or as researched, trail up and road down. The trail itself is up and down, up and down, and up and down some more, steeply. The slight road return descent is a nice, smooth contrast—despite a little washboarding—to the sharp roller-coaster trail, and provides some pretty scenery. Hardier riders will tackle 10.4 miles of single-track each way, getting revenge on the steep, barely rideable 0.5 mile from the lower trailhead, on which some walking is required.
This is an excellent, advanced-level trail through lush old-growth stands and across feeder creeks to the river. The ride constantly alternates short, tough climbs with fun, sometimes rooty, rocky, and twisty descents. The trail only comes down to the river when it crosses at a bridge 9.8 miles up; the official trail crosses over the bridge and continues on the other side, while the continuation on the same side of the river is the unofficial, user-built trail that leads to primitive campsites. On our research trip, we first continued past the bridge for 0.5 mile, not wanting to be the ones who put the listing structure into the river, and figured on doing the ride as an out-and-back. Once we got back to the bridge, we tested the waters and decided to ford the thigh-deep river to continue the trail on the other side. We were glad we did; although we all love single-track, we were a little tired by the time we reached FS 2361, and knew we had more than 10 challenging miles to get back to the lower trailhead. The road descent was an ever-so-gradual decline, and only required about a mile's worth of moderate effort toward the bottom.
As you exit the trail to the top of FS 2361, the trail continues to the right, entering the Olympic National Park in 5.5 miles. I was told by a Hood Canal Ranger District representative that, even though there was printed material saying this section of trail was open to mountain bikes to the park's border, it is actually closed. It can be opened, she noted, if mountain bikers make an effort toward it.
Finding the trail: From Shelton, travel north on US 101 for about 8 miles, and go left (west) on Skokomish Valley Road. (The George Adams Fish Hatchery sits on the northwest corner of US 101 and Skokomish Valley Road, directly west of Purdy Cutoff Road.) In 5.5 miles, veer right onto FS 23. Stay on FS 23 (which is paved except for a small portion around FS 2340) past numerous junctions, for 9.2 miles, to the junction of FS 2353. FS 23 continues up and to the left, but go right and down on FS 2353. Cross a one-lane bridge over the river in 0.6 mile, then go left, staying on paved road FS 2353. The pavement ends after another one-lane bridge in 0.2 mile. The trailhead is on the left at the end of the pavement; park at the pulloff by the trailhead. If you drive to the yellow gate you've gone too far.
From Bremerton, drive south on WA 3 for around 12 miles, just south of Belfair, to WA 106. Go right (west) on WA 106, and pass the town of Union in 14.6 miles. Continuing 3.6 miles past Union, turn left on Purdy Cutoff Road. In 2.8 miles reach the junction of US 101. Cross US 101 onto Skokomish Valley Road, and proceed as above.
From Interstate 5 in Tacoma, travel 16 miles northwest on WA 16 to WA 3. Turn left onto WA 3, and come to the junction of WA 106 in about 9 miles. Turn right, and figure out the rest with the directions above.
Driving south on US 101, Skokomish Valley Road is about 0.5 mile south of the bridge over the Skokomish River, about 8 miles south of Hoodsport.
Notes on the trail: You may have to walk on the initial climb anyway, but gear down before you start. Steep rollers abound. At about 5.2 miles, on a climb after a level section, the trail goes up to the right; straight ahead the trail stops abruptly at a steep overlook to the river, so stop and walk to the viewpoint. In 4.6 more miles look to the left to find the bridge over the river near a horse-crossing sign. Turn back, continue forward until the trail ends, go over the bridge, or if it is still not repaired, ford the river to continue the official trail upriver on the other side. Stay on the main trail past a descent on your right to Harp's Shelter. Meet FS 2361 0.6 mile after the bridge. From here ride the trail back or ride down the smoothly descending road. Stay on the obvious main road past the junctions. On the road, stop at the bridge in 1.4 miles and take a look down a deep, beautiful gorge. In another 3.8 miles FS 2361 ends into FS 23, which also continues back to the right. Keep going straight, continuing the descent on FS 23. In 4.4 more miles FS 23 meets FS 2353 just after the gravel road turns to pavement. Turn left on FS 2353 and retrace the last 0.8 mile of the drive to the trailhead, crossing the bridge, then turning left for the final 0.2 mile to the lower trailhead.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication