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Mount Townsend Trail #839

Our Hiking Time: 3h 45m
Total Ascent: 2900ft
Highest Point: 6300ft
Total Distance: 8.2 miles
Location: N 47° 52.0440, W 123° 3.5700
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's Photo
A few weeks ago we spent a long weekend hiking a number of trails in the Olympic Peninsula, exploring popular hikes and obscurities alike. By far the most challenging and popular hike we took on was Mt. Townsend, a favorite among hikers for its expansive views of Puget Sound and surrounding mountaintops.

On May 8, 1792, as Captain George Vancouver was exploring the Puget Sound, he named a large, protected bay Port Townshend. It took over 50 years, but eventually a town was founded on the bay and took the name Port Townsend as its own, dropping the “h” along the way. Other geologic features were also dubbed Townsend, such as Mt. Townsend and the creek that runs down the mountainside, Townsend Creek. All of these features were named in honor of George Townshend, the 1st Marquis of Townshend, a friend of Captain Vancouver. In 1933 a fire lookout cabin was constructed on the summit, and trails were expanded to provide access to the cabin -- both for the fire watcher and the mules that hauled supplies nearly 3000ft up the mountain. The cabin was destroyed in 1962.

Although there are a number of possible approaches to the summit, we recommend using the Upper Mt. Townsend Trailhead, as this cuts out a little over a mile of trail. From here, the wide, well-maintained Mount Townsend Trail #839 enters a forest of Douglas fir and hemlock intermingled with healthy stands of rhododendron. Almost immediately the trail begins a series of switchbacks up the mountainside before entering the Buckhorn Wilderness and beginning a long traverse up the Townsend Creek valley. The trees quickly begin to thin as you continue to gain elevation and eventually climb through rocky slopes covered in thick underbrush.

At roughly the 2.5 mile mark find Camp Windy, an unmarked spur providing access to Lake Windy, which lies just off the trail. There are areas to camp around this small tarn for those on longer journeys, but most day hikers will want to push on to better views. In another half mile find the junction with the Silver Lakes Trail #842. Keep right and continue upwards on the Mt. Townsend Trail. From here the meadows unfold and the trees fall away, providing ever-wider views of the surrounding landscape. Reach the exposed ridgeline and press onward through delicate fields of alpine flora to the short spur trail leading to the summit. From the junction you can either continue on for a half-mile to the former lookout site, or climb up to enjoy the view.

The summit offers a commanding view of the Puget Sound stretching from Canada to Seattle. Bands of water snake between islands below, and in the distance the big Cascade volcanoes rise above the surrounding peaks – Mt. Baker to the north, then Glacier Peak and finally Mt. Rainier to the south. To west you can spot the tops of Mt. Constance and Warrior Peak peaking over rocky ridgelines, and to the south find nearby Mt. Worthington and the Welsh Peaks.

There is a good general rule when it comes to the popularity of a hike: the more difficult it is to get to a trailhead, the fewer hikers make the trek. But every once in awhile we come across hikes like Mt. Townsend, where hikers flock down mile after mile of bumpy forest road for the promise of varied landscapes and stunning vistas. And this hike more than delivers on its promise. To add to the appeal, because of the rain shadow this hike tends to be free of snow a little earlier in the year. While the trail is well-trodden and relatively free of rocks and roots, much of it is exposed, which can make for a hot and dusty climb in the summer. Still, most hikers should be able to tackle this challenge without too much trouble. Of course, if you’re looking for solitude, this is not the hike for you – although other approaches will have less traffic and a mid-week visit will cut down on the number of folks on the trail.

To get there, take the Bainbridge Island Ferry and follow State Route 305 through Poulsbo to State Route 3. Follow SR 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge, taking a left over the bridge onto State Route 104. Follow SR 104 as it merges onto US 101 and continue 11.3 miles through Quilcene to Penny Creek Road. Take a right and continue 1.4 miles to Big Quilcene River Road. Veer left and proceed to FR 27. Continue for a little over 13 miles to the junction of FR 2760. For the lower trailhead, head left down FR 2760 for 0.7 miles to find the parking area. For the upper trailhead, continue on FR 27 for about a mile to FR 2700-190. Turn left and continue another mile to the upper trailhead. -Nathan

Mount Townsend


Owenc23 said...

Wow, that is awesome!!!

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