Theodore Roosevelt and the Skokomish Wilderness

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-1

On the Southeast corner of the Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington (USA), lies an area unmatched in its beauty and sense of freedom.  A fierce wilderness, just tame enough to charm a simple tenderfoot like myself, but sharp enough to ensure that it will never come under the control of any man.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-2 The Skokomish Wilderness emerges from the shores of Hood Canal as a key to unlock the spirit that hides within the hearts of everyone seeking the bliss nature has to offer:

  • Pure blue skies, crystal clear water and pine-scented air
  • Elk, bear, deer and all wildlife living without fear of man
  • The sounds of the night heard centuries ago

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest Roosevelt Elk -3

This relatively unknown land is not just an untamed wilderness but it holds a history that defines America and her natural lands.  Throughout the 1800s, the lands of the USA were being destroyed by corporate greed aptly described by John Muir:

“The great wilds of our country, once held to be boundless and inexhaustible, are being rapidly invaded and overrun…
and everything destructible in them is being destroyed.” 

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-4 In the early 1900s, timber companies had their axes aimed on the last stands of virgin rainforest in the USA…the Skokomish and Olympic Wilderness.  The local Forest Service, serving as patsies to large timber companies, invited President Theodore Roosevelt out to the Pacific Northwest for a visit: a visit designed to secure his signature opening up the land for logging.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-5 However, the plans of the timber companies crashed as Roosevelt viewed the wilderness and then a clear-cut section of forest and told his guide “I hope the son-of-a-bitch who is responsible for this is roasting in hell” not knowing at the time that the very person responsible was standing next to him.

North Fork Skokomish River Olympic National Forest-6

Roosevelt had found in this area a place where any man, woman or child could not help but fall deep into the wilderness and a return to nature.  A place that even in the late 1890s had already begun to disappeared around most of America.  A place to find that lost sense of greatness and freedom; a spirit we spend too much of our lives searching for.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-7During Roosevelt’s stay, he visited Lake Cushman and the elegant Antlers Hotel, built for adventurers at the doorstep of a wilderness, and he fell in love with the land.  He is quoted as saying: “There may be some place in the world equal to Puget Sound, but I do not know where it is…” and the impression the land made can be clearly understood today.

Sunset on the Olympic National Forest Range -8 It was this visit to the Skokomish wilderness area that triggered Roosevelt to use the Antiquities Act to set aside the land as the Mt. Olympus National Monument (eventually with much of it becoming part of the Olympic National Forest).  Preserving a part of life and land where the greed and manipulation of lesser men would be unable to invade and take root.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-9

Is there not a better feeling than getting lost in the simple scenes of nature?

To listen to the incredible wisdom of a babbling brook, watching it grow in size to a gurgling creek and then stand proudly as it matures into an intense roaring river, unabashed with excitement during spring rains.

It is so simple.  It is so beautiful.

North Fork Skokomish River Olympic National Forest -10

There is nothing quite like a visit to the Skokomish Wilderness to invigorate the soul and lift off the chaotic gloom of winter.  To see a land, while changed, still holding onto its primal instincts.

I often dream of writing about this area; the transformation from a home to the Native Americans, to a target of the timber industry and then its intriguing flirtation as an upscale tourist destination for the very wealthy of the world.

Staircase Trail Olympic National Forest -11

This flirtation began as timber interests dwindled and young adventurers known as “Remittance Men” (receiving allowances from their wealthy families on the East Coast) highlighted a run of upscale investments, with the goal of creating a great wilderness playground for the wealthy elite.

Crisscrossing the globe to get to Seattle, a berth on a steam ferry to Union City, a stagecoach to reach Hoodsport, and from there a horseback ride to bring them to the doorstep of the upscale, yet isolated, Antlers Hotel.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-12

For those able to afford such a trip, they would be rewarded with a slice of heaven.  Guests stayed on average for at least a month: to taste a life that had only been heard in stories, unsure whether the stories were actually true or merely tales of fantasy…

Mt. Rose Trail Olympic National Forest -13

As fate would have it, the allure of this fantasy faded quickly as war and unfortunate timing stopped the flow of investment, and just like that, the Skokomish Wilderness faded from the minds of wealthy adventurers.

This amazing time period between 1880 and 1930 fascinates me.  On several occasions, I have dreamt about staying at the Antlers Hotel.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-14

The year is 1903, and my vivid imagination and memory has me waking up prior to dawn, with black coffee in hand I walk down to the shores of the lake.

I look up, and just make out the silhouette of Mt. Ellinor peering down on the lake and hotel, her peaks inviting me up for a climb and adventure.  I can feel a smile forming on my face as I exhale at the beauty of all that is around me.  Then this peaceful solitude is shattered…

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-15

A gruff voice with a twinge of admiration and respect breaks through my thoughts, and I hear the words as clearly today as I did a 100 years ago:  “You have not truly lived, if you dare not go where dreams are created…”

And as I turn, President Roosevelt’s eyes flash a smile of a promise to protect these lands, and without another sound he continues his hike along the banks of the lake, fishing rod in hand…

Roosevelt Elk North Fork Skokomish River Olympic National Forest -16

I watch, and as if to show a sign of great respect, a Roosevelt elk walks along side him.  An elk who bears his name in tribute and recognition of his efforts in protecting his kind and this land so many years ago.


We all need a place to find freedom for our spirit; to appreciate the beauty around us so we can take the responsibility and dare to dream for a tomorrow better than today.

For a few, such a place is the Skokomish Wilderness.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-17

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-18

167 Comments on “Theodore Roosevelt and the Skokomish Wilderness

  1. Of all the places in North America, the Northwest is probably the most beautiful. I must admit I miss it. Thanks for the post.

    • The beauty is that no matter how long one is away, the Northwest always welcomes back with open arms. Cheers.

  2. Great post and luminous photographs.. I had the good fortune to work at Sagamore Hill NHS a few years back … (TR’s home). Look forward to visiting these woods some day.

    • Thanks John, one day I will definitely visit Sagamore Hill ~ nothing quite like seeing pieces of history staring right back in front of me. Cheers!

  3. These pictures take my breath away; I traveled overland from the East coast and spent some two years in Seattle and took many forays into the outlying wilderness, your pictures having me walking those selfsame plains.

    • Very cool, there is something about Seattle and the closeness of the mountains/water that leaves an impression that is impossible to forget. Cheers!

  4. I can go on writing about the beauty of the nature and your skillful photography but I’ll keep it shot this time. Just one word “BREATHTAKING”.

    Hari Om!

  5. Your photos made me wish for a bigger screen, so that I could simply step into them. Marvelous work.

  6. These photographs have got my mouth open so long, my jaw hurts. They are reflective of the paintings of Frederic Remington, so says my husband, and it has brought him such JOY in looking at them. Of course, Mr. Remington did not have a camera in the late 1800’s yet his paintings are exquisite, the same as your photos. The extent you went to in order to capture something so primative and so wild, leaves me in awe. Thank you SO SO SO much for sharing these images with us, giving my husband and I a real treat tonight. I am so impressed by your work, I am putting your site on my desktop. If it is OK, could you tell me what kind of camera you use? Being of a curious nature, I am very intrigued. Bless you!!! Love, Amy

    • Thank you Amy, a wonderful comment ~ and I love Remington’s depiction of the west; you say it well in that he captured what others only dream. I am very happy to hear you enjoyed the photos. I shot them with a Canon 5D Mark III and also with a Canon 7D. Take care.

      • And I shoot with a Canon 50D. I plan on crawling in bed with a book about exposures, always learning more. Good night and Bless you! xx Amy

  7. Beautifully thought out, written and photographed. The black and white works really well, too, and doesn’t jar the flow.

    • Thank you very much…and great comment on the B&W shot, as it does not blend too well (I think it is out-of-place…).

  8. Wow! I have just added visiting the Skokomish wilderness to my bucket list! It looks incredibly beautiful!

  9. I could feel, how it would be, being there in person,to feel the freedom…

    It’s so nice to hear a story where pristine forest and wildlife is thriving and not being wiped out.

    Incredible images and beautiful write up, as always.

    Frankly, this post brings up a lot of positive energy, thanks a lot for sharing, Dalo 🙂

    • Just arrived in Seattle yesterday, and am working on my plan to revisit this area soon…not a better place to unwind and enjoy nature. Have a good weekend Sreejith.

  10. This post took my breath away! This is unbelievably beautiful, it’s like something out of a fantasy novel! Thank you for sharing all this gorgeousness!

    • Thank you Ana, this place is a little slice of heaven…the land, nature and pieces of history does make it a place of fantasy 🙂 Cheers!

  11. I feel a magnificent joy just viewing what you get see to see up-close and personal.
    You have that sense of wonder so needed for those of us who must stay put,
    like old sticks in the mud. 😉 It’s how we get cultured. Thanks for sharing your world!

    • Thank you ~ this part of the world makes me want to explore both the new & modern, as well as dwell in the old & historical places (as sometimes there is not a better feeling than being a stick in the mud) 🙂 Cheers!

    • One of my favorite places…we have a long weekend in the States, so will be heading out there tomorrow 🙂

  12. The colors are breathtaking! The places across the U.S. are so beautiful – even the clear-cut areas.

    • Thank you ~ the great thing about this Earth, is everywhere there is something special and beautiful. Cheers!

  13. I am blown away by all these photos, Dalo!!!. Absolutely stunning ⭐
    Bets wishes to you!, Aquileana 😀

    • This is perhaps my favorite place on Earth…every time I visit, it is as if I move into another dimension. All that matters is family, friends and nature 🙂

  14. Hola Dalo. Your photos are breathtaking. Take good care, La Panzona

  15. Washington truly is such a beautiful state. I’m so happy you loved it here.
    Same to you! Take care 🙂

  16. You have such beautiful photography. These photos remind me of my childhood spending time in Yellowstone.

  17. Awe-inspiring write-up and photography, as usual, Dalo! Your writing always makes me feel gratitude, reverence, and zest for life. You really have a gift! Abrazos, Maria Elena

    • Hola Maria Elena, what a great surprise and perfect timing. Last night, was talking with a friend from Seattle who recommended a book to me about Teddy Roosevelt, “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” which I am excited to read, and then to have you comment on this post…serendipitous. 🙂 I consider him one of the greatest leaders, someone to be admired with the way he lived his life. Thank you very much, wishing you a great finish to the week and of course a great weekend! Abrazos ~

      • Hola Dalo, well what you just wrote me here is seriously cool!! Definitely very serendipitous 🙂 I thought I was just pretty randomly picking one of the brilliant posts I had not had the pleasure to read before… interesting 😊You just inspired me to learn more about Roosevelt! The world is in need of great leaders! I also like Jacinda Ardern, by the way:) Thanks, and enjoy your weekend! Will answer your email soon! Abrazos 🙂

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