Trail of the Month: Mount Townsend
TRAIL NAME Mount Townsend
DISTANCE 8.2 miles
From the windswept peak of Mount Townsend, at the northeastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, you can see the Salish Sea—it fills your viewfinder from this 6,280-foot summit. The scene is rife with emerald islands, expansive straits, and a labyrinth of bays and channels plied by ferries and other watercraft. Marvel at the Seattle skyline shimmering across Puget Sound, then turn westward and be awed again by a fortress of snowy and craggy cloud-piercing Olympic peaks.
The mountain, in the Buckhorn Wilderness and Olympic rain shadow, melts out early, so hikers get a jump start on exploring the high country. The well-worn trail begins in groves of ancient conifers adorned with rhododendrons. Two dozen switchbacks direct you upward across cascading creeks and meadows of wildflowers. The final pitch to Townsend’s broad summit traverses alpine tundra carpeted with ground-hugging juniper and clumps of cinquefoil and phlox. If the 2,900 feet of elevation gain doesn’t slow you down, the flowers and horizon-spanning scenery will.
WATCH FOR Piper’s bellflower, an Olympic endemic. This purple flower is profuse on Mount Townsend.
GETTING THERE Take the Edmonds–Kingston Ferry and follow State Route 104 West to U.S. 101, turning south to Quilcene. Continue south for another 1.5 miles and turn right (west) onto Penny Creek Rd. After 1.5 miles, bear left onto Big Quilcene River Rd (Forest Rd 27). Take this road for 15 miles turning left onto Forest Rd 27-190. In 1.3 miles, reach the trailhead.
TIME FROM SEATTLE 2 hours (includes 30 minute ferry)
Craig Romano is the author of eight hiking books, including Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (Mountaineers Books).