Access: Long narrow paved road, then bumpy gravel road to trailhead; Northwest Forest Pass required to park at trailhead
The hike to Marmot Pass offers a little of everything: a stretch of trail paralleling the tumbling waters of the Big Quilcene River in old-growth forest, open wildflower meadows on the slopes of Buckhorn Mountain, and finally the rocky alpine environment and big mountain views of Marmot Pass. This is a popular backpacking spot and for good reason: there's so much to explore here that one day simply isn't enough! In retrospect, I regret my choice to day hike here, which prevented me from exploring the surroundings of the pass such as climbing nearby Buckhorn Mountain. Given an opportunity to return here, I'd backpack and stay overnight to explore; but if you've only got a day, Marmot Pass still makes an excellent destination.
I hiked this trail on a hot early June weekend with two friends, leaving Seattle early in the morning. The hike is generally accessible from June through October, although early in the season you'll often find snow at or near the pass. From Seattle, we took I-5 south to Tacoma, then followed Washington Highway 16 north across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Bremerton, continued north along Washington Highway 3 up to the northern end of the Kitsap Peninsula, then turned left at the juunction with Highway 104 to take the Hood Canal Bridge onto the Olympic Peninsula. We followed Highway 104 until reaching US 101, which we took south just past the town of Quilcene to an almost unmarked turnoff on the right for Penny Creek Road. Turning onto Penny Creek Road, we followed it past a quarry; when NF-27 split off to the left (signs indicated the turn for Mount Townsend and Marmot Pass), we took the left fork on NF-27 and followed it for about 8 miles. While the road was paved, it was fairly narrow and often had potholes, so the drive still took a while. 8 miles in, we made a left turn at the sign for National Forest Road 2750, following it towards the Marmot Pass Trailhead. The road turned into a bumpy, pothole-filled gravel road, which we followed until reaching the signed trailhead for Marmot Pass.
Leaving the trailhead, the trail delved immediately into the forests along the upper Big Quilcene River. The trail stayed close to the river, following it as it tumbled down cascades through the old growth forest and flowed gently through small swimming holes.
|Upper Big Quilcene River|
Soon afterwards we were completely out in the open, with the rocky ridges of Buckhorn Peak rising directly to our north and the spires of Boulder Ridge rising across the valley to the south. The trail continued a steady ascent through these open slopes.
|Meadows on the slope of Buckhorn Mountain|
|Mountain scenery in the Upper Big Quilcene watershed|
|Glacier Peak, across the Puget Sound|
Just pass Camp Mystery, the trail entered a long, narrow meadow with a profusion of yellow glacier lilies in peak bloom. The lilies were everywhere in this meadow, making it the prettiest wildflower display of the hike.
|Field of glacier lilies|
|View into the upper Dungeness watershed from Marmot Pass|
|Mount Constance and other eastern Olympic peaks from above Marmot Pass|
|Olympic peaks viewed from slopes of Buckhorn Mountain|
We returned to the trailhead the way we came and returned to Seattle via ferry.