Nestled deep within the heart of the Olympics, LaCrosse Basin is steeped in rich history as well as views that never relent. Lieutenant Joseph P. O’Neil’s famous exploration of the Olympics to find a way to get pack mules across the mountains came through here and made good use of this area as a base camp. While there are several routes into LaCrosse Basin—up the Duckabush or Dosewallips River or via Enchanted Valley—the North Fork of the Skokomish is the way the O’Neil expedition chose.
The pass that bears O’Neil’s name is a wonderful place to admire the views and imagine the history. When you stand in the pass, you’ll have an incredible view of the mighty Duckabush River just getting started below your feet before picking up steam and roaring down the east-facing valley.
Just 1.2 miles away from O’Neil pass, in a small saddle, you’ll see your first lake, lovely Marmot Lake. If you camp on a large rock up above this lake, your backyard is the sweeping Duckabush Valley below, with Mount Duckabush and Mount Steel as the backdrop. O’Neil Pass beckons to the southwest, tempting you to explore more.
A short, 1 mile jaunt north on an easy-to-follow trail will take you to a signed junction. Follow it; you’ll come to Hart Lake, larger than Marmot Lake and nestled under a ridge. From the junction, you can continue northward to LaCrosse Lake, 400 feet higher and 1.4 miles farther than Marmot Lake. On the steep hillside beyond, it is not uncommon to see browsing herds of elk. It is possible to camp at all three lakes, and the peace and joy they offer are unparalleled.
WTA Pro Tip: If you want to get an early start, stay at Staircase, a shady campground near the river, swimming holed and more trails.