|San Juan Islands|
Access: Bumpy paved road and short stretch of gravel road to trailhead; no pass required
Due to its position at the northeast edge of the Olympic Mountains, the summit of Mount Townsend offers unparalleled views of the Salish Sea and its winding waterways. Here is a rare spot to observe the Strait of Juan de Fuca meet the Puget Sound from a lofty perch; it is an excellent spot to see the many winding waterways of the sea and the islands of all sizes that dot the water. Views into the interior Olympics are stunning as well: Mount Townsend offers close up views of the jagged peaks of the northeast Olympics. While not an easy hike, it's also not terribly difficult, making it a suitable choice between late spring and early fall for hikers looking to reach their first high Olympic summit.
I hiked this trail on a beautifully clear late April day with two friends, leaving Seattle early in the morning. April is extremely early for this hike; an early snowmelt in the year of our hike made it possible for us to reach the top during the spring, but in most years you'll want to wait until May unless you have microspikes and don't mind substantial hiking in the snow. 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 15 miles. While the road was paved, it was fairly narrow and often had potholes, so the drive still took a while. 15 miles in, we made a left turn at the sign for the Mount Townsend Trailhead and followed a bumpy gravel road for a final mile to the parking area at the trailhead.
The trail began by ascending steadily through an old growth forest littered with rhododendrons; unfortunately, we had arrived too early in the year to catch anything blooming. Within a mile, the trail had entered the Buckhorn Wilderness, which protects much of the upper watershed of the Quilcene River. The trail switchbacked as it climbed through the forest for the first two miles of the hike.
|Entering the Buckhorn Wilderness|
|Pond near the trail|
The trail continued switchbacking as it ascended through increasingly sparse forest until it broke completely out into the open. From the high slopes of Mount Townsend, both Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak were visible on the Cascade skyline.
|Views along the climb|
|Seattle skyline from Townsend|
|Constance and the Olympic peaks from Townsend|
|View into the Dungeness watershed from Mount Townsend|
|Mount Baker and Port Townsend|
|Vancouver Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca|