Mount Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula

15 May 2015 | Episode |

A hike with a view, oh boy, what a view!

A couple weeks ago my kids crushed the Mount Rose trail and I knew we were ready for bigger and bolder things.

Next up: Mount Townsend on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula in the Buckhorn Wilderness close to Quilcene, Washington.

The Summit of Mount Townsend is at 6260ft, which instantly has me incredibly excited. You’ll be above tree line and the 360 degree view is absolutely spectacular. To the Southwest you see far into the Olympics and you’re greeted by breath-taking views of Mt Olympus and many other snow covered peaks. To the northwest you see far below you the water of the Sound and the Hood Canal. And further in the distance you eagle eyes can make out Seattle and the glacier covered volcanos Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.

This hike itself calls for a 8.2 mile roundtrip with a many, many switchbacks, over 3000 ft of elevation. This meant more miles than Mount Rose, but with less elevation. Were we ready for this?


The one thing that always gives me the most headache ahead of a hike is navigating the poorly labeled forest roads to the trail head. For some, this might be part of the adventure, but when you have kids in the backseat and you’re taking on driving 2+hrs to a trailhead you don’t want to waste an hour to find the right gravel road which leads to the trailhead.

Driving in the back country with kids and your margin of error is very small.

We tried to leave the house early. Not as early as when I’m going on a solo climb, but getting the kids ready on a regular weekend and heading out the house requires some finesse.

Leaving Olympia we had over two hours in the car ahead of us. We passed the countless scrimp boats in the water by Hoodsport and Hamma Hamma and made our way toward the Buckhorn Wilderness.
Driving North on 101, just a couple of miles before Quilcene we took a left turn onto Penny Creek Road.

How to get there:

(Taken from the fantastic 52 Olympic Peninsula Hikes by Exotic Hikes)

From Quilcene drive US 101 south for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Penny Creek Road. After 1.5 miles bear left onto Big Quilcene River Road (Forest Road 27). Drive 13.5 miles, ignoring the sign at 12.5 miles for the Mount Townsend Trail. Turn left onto FR 27-190 and in 0.75 mile come to the trailhead.

This approach didn’t “disappoint”. As soon as you leave 101 you’re in no man’s land. First you drive right through a quarry then you end up on a forest road that has various unlabeled turn offs and side roads. My suggestion is to follow Exotic Hikes’ directions and don’t get annoyed like I always do at non-existing, or barely minimal signage on American roads. Sigh.


Arriving after 10am on a sunny, not too hot Saturday in May meant the trailhead parking lot was already  overflowing. We parked half a mile down the road on a small turnout, as many other did too. It works, is not ideal, but shows how popular the outdoors are and how public lands near and far are needing to adjust their approach and find better ways to accommodate all the outdoor lovers and hikers.


The trailhead has a vault toilet – great to remind the kids before heading up the switchbacks. With the Spring having come so early this year we missed the rhododendrons in the forest on the lower trail but the wildflowers further up were waiting for us which made up for it.

This hike felt a lot more gentle than Mount Rose and after a couple of early breaks for granola bars and water stops we already approached a small waterfall on the side which called for some great pictures and a welcome change in scenery.


Once we reached Camp Windy we let the kids explore a bit and run across a few leftover patches of snow. At this point, 2/3 of the way up the mountain the first gummy bears breaks were also needed before we made the final push. Up several more switchbacks we hiked to make out out of the forest onto the alpine meadow which lead to the summit.

Breathing that familiar sigh of accomplishment and exhilaration for making it beyond the tree line we were being greeting by spectacular 360 degree views. We found a place for lunch, sheltered from the wind and took a rest before almost skipping and jumping the final 15 minutes to the actual summit.

More gummy bears, lots of pictures, a longer break, and some friendly facing congratulating our kids for making it to the summit.

summittrailMount Townsend is a spectacular mountain to hike.

The way down felt like a stroll. Yes, I’m overselling it here, it’s still 4 miles back to the car. But the relatively gentle switchbacks don’t really get into your thighs and no real exposed ledges let the kids walk securely by themselves.

This was a long day for my kids, but worth it and certainly makes us hungry for more.

Another peak in the bag for this crazy family.

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