Mt. Townsend: 6,280 ft. Elevation gain: 2,100 ft. Distance: 6.8 mi. Time: 4 hrs. 60% alpine. Trailhead: 4,200 ft. Enjoyment rating: 5
Welch Peaks: 6,100 ft. Elevation gain 2,700 ft. Distance: 10.6 mi. Time: 6 hrs. 70% alpine. Trailhead: 4,200 ft. Enjoyment rating: 5
Overview:Mt. Townsend is usually the first high mountain in the Olympics to lose its snow, so it’s the first one I hike every season. In addition, it’s one of my favorite peaks. The views are wide and dramatic, including the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Hood Canal and the Olympic mountains of the Buckhorn Wilderness. On a clear day you can see Baker, Raineer, Adams and Mt St Helens. The trail is good but moderately steep, rising 2,100 ft in 3.2 miles. There are lots of wildflowers and alpine meadows. Once on top there are two Mt. Townsend peaks to explore. In addition, Welch Peaks are only 1.25 miles south. They are hike-able and provide extra ridge walking and a great additional peak to climb. And more views.
Getting to The Trail:There are four trailheads to choose from, each coming from a different direction up the mountain: from the southeast is the Townsend Creek trailhead, southwest is the Silver Creek trailhead, west is the Dirty Face Ridge trailhead, and northeast is the Little Quilcene trailhead. All four are interesting but the one I prefer for going up Townsend is the Little Quilcene trailhead. It is the shortest and the least elevation gain because it starts at the highest elevation, 4,200 ft. The others begin at 3,500 ft or lower.
Off of Hwy 101, 2 miles north of Quilcene take the Lords Lake loop road ( it is about 15 miles to the trailhead on gravel roads from here) to Lords Lake (a fenced reservoir), turn left and stay right on road #28 until it hits forest service road #27 and a sign. Left is road #27, right continues #28 (Bon Jon pass) Go right 2 miles, go past the right turn off to road #2810, then in a quarter of a mile take a left on road # 2820. Drive 4 miles on 2820 and see the Little Quilcene trailhead sign on a big curve to the right. Parking is available.
The Trail: The trail, #835, will cross Last Water creek in the first quarter mile, (the last water available) then begin climbing steeply through the trees. Wild rhododendrons are prolific here in the late spring & early summer. Sometimes whole hillsides can be seen. At 2 miles the trail comes to a signed junction. Left is Mt. Townsend. (Straight is a continuation of the Little Quilcene trail 2.1 miles down Dirty Face Ridge to a trailhead near the Tubal Caine trailhead.) From here it is 1.4 miles of mainly open alpine trail to the south peak of Mt. Townsend. The trail winds through sub alpine firs, meadows and wildflowers. Views open up to panoramic vistas of the Buckhorn Mountains. To your right, west, across the valley you can see the Tubal Caine trail leading up a ridge toward Buckhorn Mountain. To the left of Buckhorn is Iron Mountain and then Copper Mountain.
The Peak:On the ridge top you notice that Townsend has two peaks, separated by .4 mi. The north peak, to your left is 6,212 ft. The south peak, straight ahead is higher at 6,280 ft. Both peaks provide great views. From the top, looking south, you can see the Puget Sound and downtown Seattle. Mt. Rainer is off in the distance. East is Hood Canal, Port Townsend and the Hood Canal Bridge. North is the Strait of Juan de Fuca. West are the Buckhorn Mountains. Southwest, 4 miles, is the saddle above Silver Lake and Mt. Constance in the background. Welch Peaks are just 1 ¼ mile south.
Welch Peaksare an excellent additional hike from here. Plan on 2 hours, out and back. Continue south on the trail, dropping gradually down from Mt. Townsend peak for 1 mile to a signed junction. To the left is the Townsend Creek trailhead, nearly 3 miles down. Straight ahead is the Silver Lake trail. (Silver Lake is 2.5 miles from here.) Go straight for .5 mile until you hit a notch or pass in the rocks where the trail turns right and down toward Silver Lake. At the notch, notice a way trail on your left, going up in the rocks. Follow this trail, leading up the spiny ridge and a series of ever higher, rocky peaks for one half mile. These are Welch Peaks. The highest is 6,100 ft. Rock scrambling is necessary and becomes increasingly more difficult, but just continue on as long as you feel comfortable. Views from the tops are just as dramatic as Mt.Townsend with the added bonus of a closer look at the peaks above Silver Lake.
An alternative to get to the notch where the ascent to Welch Peaks begins, is to leave the main trail where it bends left (about 400 feet below the top of Mt. Townsend) and continue straight down the south ridge. It is more difficult walking but cuts out 1 mile of trail. Make your way down the half mile ridge, around rock outcropings and stands of alpine fir. Stay on the “way” trails as much as possible to avoid damage to plants. You will rejoin the main trail again, just before the notch.
An interesting alternative is to use the Townsend Creek trailhead to reach Welch Peaks. To reach the Townsend creek trailhead use the directions above, but turn left on forest service road #27 at the junction. Drive about 6 miles on 27 until you come to a big U curve to the right. Here, turn right on a short spur road 27-190 for .7 mile to the upper trailhead #839, elevation 3,400 ft. If you miss this turn you will come to a lower trailhead, another mile down road #27. But that is a mile lower and an extra 1,000 feet of elevation.
From the Townsend Creek trailhead it is 3 miles to the Silver Lake junction, turn left for .5 mile to the notch and then left up Welch Peaks, for a total of 8 miles and 2,700 ft. of elevation gain. The Townsend Creek trail switchbacks up a beautiful bowl shaped ridge and passes three creeks and waterfalls. In the beginning large trees dominate: western Hemlock and Doug Fir. After 1.5 miles Sub alpine fir, wild Rhode’s and wildflowers take over. Varied rock outcroppings and wild Phlox add interest and color, particularly if the fog rolls in.
Another interesting alternative is to make Mt. Townsend and Welch Peaks a 13 mile loop hike by starting at the Silver Creek-Silver Lake Trailhead (see page 37, Hawk Ridge). At the junction turn left toward Mt. Townsend instead of Silver Lake, (possibly making a side trip to Welch Peaks on the way) then go up over the top of Mt.Townsend and turn left at the next junction, going down Dirty Face Ridge to the end of the Little Quilcene trail. This comes out across the road from the Tubal Cain trailhead on the southwest corner of Townsend. Then walk up the road 1 mile, back to the Silver Creek-Silver Lake trailhead.