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Mount Townsend

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One of the most hiked summits in the Olympics, and it's easy to see why this peak is so popular. Easy access, a long hiking season, and unparalleled views of Puget Sound and the eastern half of the Olympics give Mount Townsend quite an edge. Of the three trails leading to its summit, Trail No. 839 is the route most taken. It's not the shortest way, but it offers incredible biological diversity and one of the best built and maintained trails in the Buckhorn Wilderness.

Most hikers intent on reaching the 6280-foot open summit opt to begin their journey from the upper trailhead. This saves 1.2 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain, but at the expense of missing a beautiful old-growth forest and Sink Lake, a small body of water that causes tumbling Townsend Creek to disappear.

If you opt to skip the glories of the old growth, start from the upper trailhead (elev. 3400 ft). the well-worn path climbs steadily through a stately grove of fir and hemlock adorned with Pacific rhododendrons. In 0.5 mile the trail enters the Buckhorn Wilderness. Soon afterward the terrain opens up and the views begin. Through flower gardens and by cascading creeks the trail pushes toward the clouds. Over two dozen switchbacks will keep you heading in the right direction: that's up!

At 2.5 miles come to a small pine and fir grove nestled on a knoll, where tiny (and in season, buggy) Windy Lake is hidden just off the trail. Continue onward, passing the Silver Lakes Trail junction at 3 miles (elev. 5500 ft) and leaving the trees behind. As you ascend higher on Townsend's slopes, alpine tundra rolls out.

After another 0.5 mile of climbing from the Silver Lakes turnoff, reach the expansive and open summit plateau. Ground-hugging juniper and brilliant clumps of cinquefoil and phlox carpet this high country. Amble 0.5 mile farther, yielding to eagles and angels. A short side trail leads right to the mountain's highest point.

Puget Sound with its labyrinth of islands, bays, and channels sprawls below. Watch ferries ply azure waters. Gaze out at the Seattle skyline to glass and metal twinkling in the afternoon sunlight. A fortress of Cascade peaks, punctuated by the snowy volcanoes, occupies the eastern horizon. To the north lie Dungeness Spit, Discovery Bay, the San Juan Islands, and Vancouver Island. To the west, nothing but pure Olympic wilderness-jagged peaks and deep green valleys. It should be apparent why this peak remains so well-loved.
Driving Directions:

From Quilcene drive US 101 south for 1.5 miles. (From Shelton follow US 101 north for 50.5 miles.) Turn right (west) 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 (that's the lower trail to Sink Lake). Turn left onto FR 27-190 and in 0.75 mile come to the trailhead.

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

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 264 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Mount Townsend — Apr 11, 2014 — Neal
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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We drove to the upper trail head, but found snow blocked the road about a quarter mile from the trai...
We drove to the upper trail head, but found snow blocked the road about a quarter mile from the trailhead. We parked there (there's room) and hiked from there. I suspect the warm weather will soon eliminate that last obstacle to driving right to the trailhead.

About one mile in on the trail, snow on the trail starts and it can be icy in spots. While traction isn't required, I had micro spikes and they were very helpful. Previous hikers clearly had snow shoes, but seems for most they would have made it difficult. My partner didn't use traction, and she did fine. It's not necessary but the spikes made it easier. Further up, the snow completely covers the trail, but previous hikers had clearly marked it out. Even further up, the trail is obscured, the previous hikers went off trail, and we followed the previous hikers' trail through the snow to the top. Most of the top is clear of snow and it is easy to get to the peaks.

The snow in most places was soft, damp, and easy to kick step if needed. Watch out for post-holing in some places.

The snow is not real deep and, if you're used to steep climbs (elevation gain of 2900 feet or so in 4 miles) and in good shape, this is a very doable hike. Unfortunately for us, it remained cloudy at the top and we did not get much of the gorgeous view that can be had on Mt. Townsend.

(I can't tell on the map below where to show the where the hike is, so don't rely on that! I left it in the sound!)
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Mount Townsend — Mar 22, 2014 — Rainy Day Hiker
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Snow on the road. Had to park 1 mile from the trail head. All wheel drive, but no chains. Mostly ...
Snow on the road. Had to park 1 mile from the trail head. All wheel drive, but no chains. Mostly compact snow and ice on the trail at the lower levels. Snowshoes recommended toward the top, but doable with some gaters if you don't mind punching through the snow occasionally. Streams still running for water. Incredible views. From the top you can see Mt. Rainier in the distance. Quiet trail. Just saw one other team of snowshoers.
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Mount Townsend — Nov 17, 2013 — mtcharo
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Dramatic and chilly day on Mt. Townsend. Only three cars in the parking lot and hit patchy snow abo...
Dramatic and chilly day on Mt. Townsend. Only three cars in the parking lot and hit patchy snow about half way up but no need to use Yaktraks. Snow increased towards the top with strong winds and dramatic views. Great day for a pre-winter hike.
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Mount Townsend — Oct 23, 2013 — alanecharlesworth
Day hike
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No snow, no people, sunny, warm, 360 degree view...
No snow, no people, sunny, warm, 360 degree view
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Mount Townsend — Oct 23, 2013 — alanecharlesworth
Day hike
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No snow, no people, clear skies, warm temperatures, 360 degree view...
No snow, no people, clear skies, warm temperatures, 360 degree view
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1074-0.jpg
Summit of Mount Townsend. Photo by Chris Hawley.
WTA worked here!
2011, 2012, 2013
Location
Mount Townsend (#839)
Olympics -- East
Olympic National Forest, Hood Canal Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain 2900 ft
Highest Point 6280 ft
Features
Old growth
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Summits
User info
Dogs allowed on leash
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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Red MarkerMount Townsend
47.8564166667 -123.035883333
  • Trail Work 2013 Frontcountry
  • Trail Work 2012
  • Trail Work 2011
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