From its lofty perch above Lake Cushman and the southeastern corner of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rose lures a steady stream of hikers May through October. That's because, as Brian Pope from the Hood Canal Ranger District puts it, "Most of the trail is south-facing, which means late-fall and early-spring access in a typical year." Indeed, while Mount Ellinor and other nearby peaks are still buried under a blanket of snow well into summer, Rose typically grants safe passage much earlier. Even after a cold spring, hikers can usually count on snow-free conditions all the way to Horse Camp at the junction with the summit loop at 3,050 feet. Of course, you'll want to verify this by checking trip reports before you go.
No matter when during the year you plan your hike, be prepared to do some climbing. Though Mount Rose is "only" 4,131 feet at its rocky peak, a challenging stretch of climbing -- 3,500 feet of it -- stands between you and those great south-facing views. Given the relatively short length from the trailhead to the summit, you'll be gaining close to 1,200 feet per mile.
The going is easy at first as you cross a sturdy bridge over a cheerful creek, but don't let this gentle introduction to Trail 814 lull you into a false sense of security. A series of switchbacks leads you through Olympic National Forest, which gives way to Mount Skokomish Wilderness at an elevation of 2,000 feet. You're traveling a lollipop-shaped route, and right now, you're about halfway finished with the squiggly "stick" portion of the journey.
At 1.8 miles, you'll reach the round part of that lollipop. Most people recommend you take a left and tackle the summit loop clockwise. That way, you'll get the steepest section over with first -- and spare your knees a bit of grief, since the descent on the other side of the loop is longer and more gradual. The short, steep route is 1.1 miles to the summit and features peekaboo views of the surrounding mountains. Fortunately, as steep as it is, it still includes a few flat stretches.
When you reach the site of a recent forest fire, the views really open up. According to John Gray, long-time member of the Mount Rose Trail Crew, the Bear Gulch Fire of 2006 began at Lake Cushman and burned all the way to the summit. The trail, which firefighters used to gain access to the fire, served as a firebreak. Be mindful of those lonely, silvery snags, any one of which could come down on a windy day.
The last bit of climbing to the peak will get your thighs burning, but you can celebrate when you reach the sign marking the peak's top elevation. A small rocky outcropping is big enough for three to four people to enjoy a picnic while soaking in views of Lake Cushman, Lightning Peak, and even Mount Rainier, which will be on your far left.
Continue on in clockwise fashion. More peekaboo views await you during the gentle 1.7 mile descent to the junction. If you're route-finding in snowy conditions, look for orange diamonds on trees that mark the way. When you reach the junction, return the way you came on the "stick" part of the lollipop.
WTA Pro Tip: Mount Rose owes its name to Alfred A. Rose, who in 1885 settled at Lake Cushman with his wife and their three daughters. He and one of his daughters died of smallpox only four years later. You can read more about the local history in Larry Overland's small book, Early Settlement of Lake Cushman.