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Tubal Cain Mine and Buckhorn Lake

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Retrace a packer's trail to a mine dating from the 1890s. Peer into dark forbidding shafts and saunter past relics left over from boomtown settlements that went bust. But the real find is the miles of wildflower-studded meadows beyond the mine. Rhododendrons too-traverse a jungle of them on the trail's lower reaches.

Start on a well-groomed track, passing the Silver Creek Shelter (which once provided refuge to wayfarers before FR 2870 shortened the journey) and crossing Silver Creek on a log bridge shortly afterward. After 0.5 mile enter the Buckhorn Wilderness; then turn southward, entering the Copper Creek valley. Skirting slopes high above the creek, the trail travels through a tunnel of rhododendrons and thick stands of second-growth conifers. Occasional breaks in the forest canopy offer previews of the high country lying ahead.

After 3 miles of easy but monotonous walking (except in early summer when the rhodies' purple reign dazzles and delights), come to a junction. The trail left climbs steeply 0.7 mile into Tull Canyon. Among the surprises that await you if you explore this rugged rift are the ruins of an old mining town and the remains of a crashed World War II-era military plane. Immediately up the trail and visible from the junction is a mine shaft. It's extremely dangerous to enter, so best to just imagine what deep dark secrets it possesses (or once possessed).

A half mile beyond, in dank, scrappy forest, is the site of yet another old mining town, now a popular backcountry camping area. Rusted relics lie scattered about-some have been revived, serving the needs of imaginative campers. The Tubal Cain Mine lies just to the left. It is a private inholding within the wilderness and is still active (somewhat); respect all postings and leave any equipment alone.

Besides, you have little time to snoop around with miles of meadows waiting for your arrival. Leap across Copper Creek and begin climbing the valley's west wall via a series of short (followed by one long) switchbacks. Now, thanks to a series of past forest fires and avalanches, enjoy 2 miles of hip-hopping through the harebells. Other blossoms too-a full spectrum of colors streaks the hillside.

Twin-peaked Buckhorn Mountain with Iron Mountain by its side hovers over the far end of the valley. At 5.5 miles reach a junction. The trail left drops 150 feet, heading 0.5 mile to little Buckhorn Lake tucked in thick timber. The lake isn't much, but Copper Creek is pretty enough to make the trip worth it.
Driving Directions:

From the west end of the Hood Canal Bridge, drive State Route 104 to its end and veer north onto US 101. Proceed 16 miles and turn left onto Louella Road (just before reaching the Sequim Bay State Park entrance). In 1 mile turn left on Palo Alto Road, continuing for 6 miles. Bear right at a junction onto Forest Road 2880. The road descends and crosses the Dungeness River, coming to another junction in 1.7 miles, where you turn left on FR 2870. In 2.6 miles bear right at a junction to continue on FR 2870 (formerly called FR 2860). Continue 10 miles to the trailhead.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 47 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Tubal Cain, Tubal Cain Mine and Buckhorn Lake, Lower Dungeness River — Apr 12, 2014 — Nutmeg
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail
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WHAT A WEEKEND TO HIKE!!! Today (Sat.), we hiked Tubal Cain to the mine. With a bit of wandering, ou...
WHAT A WEEKEND TO HIKE!!! Today (Sat.), we hiked Tubal Cain to the mine. With a bit of wandering, our GPS said this was 8.1 mi. and 1,200’ gain round trip. Snow started at about 3.5 miles, compact and extremely icy. I highly recommend traction. On the way out the top was melting and made things even slicker. A nice hike, anyway, and I will come back in about 6 weeks for sure to see the rhodie show on this trail! Other than the ice and a couple logs pretty easy to go under/over, the trail’s in good shape. Despite several cars at the trailhead, we had the trail to ourselves almost the whole way. No toilet at this trail head, but the one at Upper Dungeness just down the road is open and even had TP. NW Forest Pass required at both THs.

We also went along the Lower Dungeness Trail to River Camp (from the upper trailhead, across the road from Upper Dungeness). The trail has one washed out section that's ok to cross but needs work, looks like this is the case every year. There was one blowdown easy to step over, maybe two. Trail is otherwise in great shape. Pics of both hikes are at[…]/.
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Tubal Cain, Tubal Cain Mine and Buckhorn Lake — Apr 12, 2014 — Suz557
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Beautiful hike! We hiked in to the trail to go to the WW2 plane wreckage, and then up to the wrec...
Beautiful hike!

We hiked in to the trail to go to the WW2 plane wreckage, and then up to the wreckage site. There was snow and ice along the trail to the wreckage but our friend told us that it would be worth it-- we did some creative hiking to get around some icy spots, and I'm pretty sure everyone in our party slipped and fell at least once. But our friend did not lie- it was completely worth it.

When we got back down to the main trail we attempted to go towards the old mine town but the trail was very snowy/icy and we didn't have traction- the decision that a broken bone was not worth it turned us around to the car.

The trailhead had about 7 other cars and we only saw 2 other parties, later we learned that this is the same trailhead for Mt Townsend and that might be why we didn't see a ton of folks.
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Tubal Cain Mine and Buckhorn Lake, Upper Dungeness River, Marmot Pass from Upper Dungeness — Sep 08, 2013 — chrisburke
Day hike
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I wanted to hike a piece of the Pacific Northwest Trail that I haven't been on before, between Tubal...
I wanted to hike a piece of the Pacific Northwest Trail that I haven't been on before, between Tubal Cain Mine and the Upper Dungeness trail. A glance at the map showed I could accomplish this as part of a 21-mile loop.

After sleeping in my car at the Upper Dungeness trailhead, I began by walking nearly 4 miles up the road to the Tubal Cain Mine trailhead. At 7 AM there were no cars on the road. Next I walked up the Tubal Cain Mine trail, through miles of rhododendrons, sadly past their bloom. I saw two guys leaving their camp around the mine, then continued on a long uphill that eventually left the trees and reached Buckhorn Pass. The views along this stretch, of Buckhorn Mountain and other peaks, were excellent.

From Buckhorn Pass the trail continues above treeline for several miles, touching Marmot Pass, then descending to the Upper Dungeness trail. I expected to see some people at Marmot Pass, which is about a five-mile hike up the Big Quilcene, but there was no one. At the Upper Dungeness junction I did see a few tents around Boulder shelter. The PNT continues south over Constance Pass but I had to turn right to return to my car. The walk down the Upper Dungeness was pleasant and easy. Here I met a few other people, including a couple that was backpacking the same loop I was doing, but planned to do it in four days.

The whole walk took me 11 hours car to car. I don't think I could do it in less time, and sleeping at the trailhead is practically required as it is a surprisingly long drive in from Highway 101. Terrific scenery, few bugs, trails in great shape.
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Tubal Cain Mine and Buckhorn Lake — Aug 10, 2013 — justaguy
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs
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We started a little late on Saturday morning and charged through the first section of trail to ...
     We started a little late on Saturday morning and charged through the first section of trail to the Tull Canyon fork. The camping area just past the junction was full. We turned out of that area headed up the switchbacks to Buckhorn lake. The last switchback was really long, but the views were great. The steep sideslope angle provided interesting vistas in every direction. The wildflowers were still out, as well as the bugs.
     We took a little sidetrip to Buckhorn Lake for lunch and to fill up the water bladders, before we headed up to Buckhorn Pass. Other hikers told us that there wasn't any water past the lake, so the packs were much heavier with the extra water. A few switchbacks later, we made the pass and got the real treat of a grand Olympic view. After a little more climbing we settled in for the night on an arm over looking a basin that drains into Buckhorn Lake. It was a little buggy and dry, but the views were incredible. Mt Baker, bathed in alpenglow, was peaking out through the valley that we'd just climbed and the Straight was showing from the Grey Wolf valley.
     The night was cool and uneventful. We dropped into the upper basin the feeds Buckhorn Lake on game trails to gather more water and explore. The water gathering sidetrip only took about 45 minutes, and the water was cold and clean, straight from the remaining snowpack. We decided to take a quick hike to Buckhorn Moutain before breakfast and the views were spectacular. Looking down into Marmot Pass and across to Warrior Peak was pretty cool. There were LOTS of people coming in from Marmot Pass and the sky was getting cloudy, so we decided to skip the peak and head back for breakfast.
     The hike out was quick and painless, with almost no people. The bugs were annoying, but the views and wilflowers made this hike a new summer favorite.
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Tubal Cain Mine and Buckhorn Lake — Jul 22, 2013 — early_girl
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Water on trail | Bugs
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For our all-girls backpacking trip, we opted to head over to the Olympics early on a Saturday. We di...
For our all-girls backpacking trip, we opted to head over to the Olympics early on a Saturday. We did the plane crash, Tubal Cain, camped overnight above Buckhorn Lake, and then hiked up a little ways on the pass the next morning. We anticipated bad traffic due to the Lavender festival, but it really wasn't bad. We mostly avoided it by taking the Bremerton ferry from Seattle and using the extra time to drink beer and play cards on the ferry. (Win!)

Gorgeous weather for the trip. The road in is long, pot-holed, windy, and a little treacherous as you must anticipate drivers coming around the other direction (the road is just wide enough for two cars to creep by at a slow pace.) However, it wasn't anything my Subaru couldn't handle, and I saw a few 2WD cars at the trailhead.

I love the pace of this trail. There are no steep, overwhelming switchbacks--just a long and slow incline. Much of the trail is shaded, offering relief from the sun. The rhododendrons are done--just a few crusehd blooms on the trail. The Tull Canyon sign marking the site to the plane crash is easy to miss from this direction--keep an eye out for it. That part is a little steep, but worth it. The plane site crash is pretty incredible, I can't believe how much plane there is.

From there we checked out the artifacts farther down the trail at Tubal Cain, and noted a lot of people dayhiking and overnighting there. We pushed on to Buckhorn Lakes. The mild switchbacks on the way up are dotted with at least ten different species of gorgeous wildflowers. Definitely don't just stop at Tubal Cain, the wildflowers alone are worth it! Only two other groups were overnighting at the lake. Word to the wise: for the best camp site, go right up the river when the trail turns left for the lake. The best camp sites are upriver, where the moving water is. The area is flat, and the moving water means less mosquitos. There's hardly any good camping on the lake.

It was pretty buggy, but honestly--really good for July. It wasn't enough to worry about as long as you weren't staying by the water in the daytime and came prepared with bug spray.

We camped beneath the stars and headed out the next day. We ditched our backpacks at the junction between the pass and the lake, then hiked about 40 minutes up the pass til we got to a level area with a gorgeous overlook. I wanted to keep going all the way up the pass, but my smart friends reminded me that we had a ferry to catch :)

An excellent hike overall. This hike has a little of everything. Highly recommended.
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tubal cain mine - stephen alvarado.jpg
Tubal Cain Mine. Photo by Stephen Alvarado.
WTA worked here!
2012, 2013
Buckhorn Lake (#845)
Olympics -- East
Roundtrip 12.0 miles
Elevation Gain 2000 ft
Highest Point 5200 ft
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Tyler Peak No. 136
Custom Correct Buckhorn Wilderness

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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  • Trail Work 2012
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