Petunia Peak and Upper Royal Basin

Petunia Peak and Upper Royal Basin: 6981 ft.Elevation gain from Upper Dungeness trail: 4,481 ft. Distance: 14 miles Time: 9 hrs. 50% alpine. Trailhead: 2,500 ft. Enjoyment rating 4+

Petunia Peak and Royal Lake

Petunia Peak and Royal Lake

Overview:This is a very difficult but exhilarating loop hike up the Dungeness River to the Royal Creek trail, up to the big meadow just before Royal Lake, then off trail up Petunia Peak, then down to Goat Lake, then down to the Dungeness River at Camp Handy, then back to the trailhead. It also can be done as an up and back hike or, if petunia peak is clouded in, as a hike to the Upper Royal Basin instead. So it has great flexibility and all the elements of an alpine adventure: rivers, lakes, big trees, a high hike-able peak, fast falling water, incredible views of high peaks in all directions and off trail scrambling.

Getting to The Trailhead:It is 18.6 miles from Hwy 101 to the Royal Creek, Upper Dungeness trailhead. Take Palo Alto road off of Hwy 101, 2.8 miles southeast of Sequim, 1.5 miles west of Sequim Bay State Park. Drive to the end of the paved road, 8 miles, then turn down and right on forest service gravel road 2880. The sign here says Dungeness Forks Campground and Trails. Drive past Dungeness Forks Campground and hit the junction with road #2870, coming in from your right at 9.6 mi. Continue straight (the road now is #2870) and hit the junction with road #2860 at 12 miles, coming in from your left. Stay right and continue up. At 16.6 miles come to a sign which says “Upper Dungeness Trail 2 miles”. (An old fire road turns right here and leads to the Mt. Baldy, Gray wolf, Mt. Tyler trailheads.) Continue straight. At 18.6 miles come to the trailhead. Parking is on the south side of the bridge and the trailhead is on the north side.

The Trail:The loop begins at the upper Dungeness river trailhead at 2,500 ft. Follow the Dungeness River through old growth Douglas fir for one mile to a junction with the Royal Creek trail. Take the Royal Creek trail, right, for another 5 miles and 2,200 feet of elevation gain. Here it follows roaring Royal Creek off and on to Arrowhead Meadows at 6 miles and .75 of a mile before Royal Lake. In front of you are views of the jagged Needles, looming above the upper royal basin. At the end of the meadow, after the last crossing of Royal Creek, look to the left, east, and see Petunia Peak 2,481 ft. above you. During the next 300 ft. of trail you leave the trail and bushwhack to a boulder field leading up to the scree slopes of Petunia Peak. Your goal is the saddle just left, north, of the peak. At the end of the boulder field, follow game trails up the scree and talus. Be aware that the game trails stay close to the rock and vegetation outcroppings and can lead to difficult passages higher up. It is best to move out onto the scree face about half way up. After reaching the saddle, follow easy rock up the peak to the right, south.

The Peak:From the domed top, high peaks surround you 360 degrees. West, above the upper royal basin, are Mts. Deception, Needles, Clark, Mystery, Walkinshaw, Anderson, & Cameron. North includes Mts. Tyler, Baldy, Gray wolf, Elk and Angeles. South and east is Mt Fricaba, Buckhorn, Iron, Copper, Townsend and the Dungeness drainage. 1,000 feet below you on the back side, east, is Goat Lake, an excellent fishing lake because of the difficulty of getting there. To complete the loop, drop down to Goat Lake, heading east down scree slopes. At the lake catch the steep but hike-able trail down to the Dungeness River at Camp Handy. Cross the Dungeness River over fallen logs and then hike the last 3.2 miles back to the trailhead where you started.

Upper Royal Basin:As I mentioned earlier Upper Royal Basin is a great alternative to Petunia Peak if Petunia is clouded in or if you want a little less elevation gain. My first hike in this area was up to Royal Lake to fish. But soon I discovered the allure of the Upper Royal Basin, possibly the most beautiful single spot in the Olympic Mountains. Here, located one mile beyond Royal Lake, alpine meadows, streams, water falls, tarns, and 7,000 ft. peaks surround you. There are so many peaks that not all are named. Mt. Deception, the second highest peak in the Olympics at 7,780 feet, is right in front of you. And the jagged peaks of the Needles are also very close, just north of Mt. Deception.

At the end of the Upper Royal Basin Trail, at 8 miles, sits a small glacier fed tarn. This is an excellent place to have lunch and bask in the mountains surrounding you. Because of the fragile environment around the tarn, camping is restricted to the flat gravelly area 200 feet before you reach the tarn.

The Story:We decided that we wanted to climb Mt. Deception, the second highest peak in the Olympics at 7,888 feet, so we hired a guide. While Deception doesn’t require technical climbing skills, we needed a guide because Deception is very steep, includes glacier travel and requires the use of crampons and ice axe. We would pack in 8 miles on day 1, climb the mountain on day 2 and walk out on day 3. We camped on the gravelly area described just above, near the base of the mountain. On the first trip we got snowed out. On the second trip we woke up to sunny skies, a good day to summit. The first half of the climb, up through snow fields, went well. The exhilaration and the views were great. Then we ran into sections of melted snow and scoured ground. The footing was precarious and slow. 500 feet from the top, falling rock came out of a melting snow field above us. We all hit the dirt, faces down. Good thing. An eight inch rock hit my hiking buddy’s pack, glanced off and flew off down the mountain. Knowing that we had just gotten very lucky we got out of there as quickly as possible.

But on the way down I saw a high peak across the valley, above and just south of Royal Lake, named Petunia Peak. It looked hike-able and a lot less dangerous. I also learned that on the back side of that peak was Goat Lake, a legendary fishing lake in the Olympics: lightly fished because of its remoteness and elevation gain. So, my discovery of the Petunia Peak loop hike was the result of a failed summit attempt. Now I find that Petunia Peak or the Upper Royal Basin are much more my speed.

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3 thoughts on “Petunia Peak and Upper Royal Basin

  1. Rod

    Petunia is more easily reached via the Goat Lake way trail, which originates near the Goat Flats campsite on the west bank of the Dungeness River, approx. 200 yards northwest of the Camp Handy Shelter. This well-established way trail parallels the north bank of Goat Creek, climbing steeply to Goat Lake. From Goat Lake, it is an open alpine walk to the pass overlooking Royal Lake, thence north along the ridge to Petunia. The easiest route down to the meadows on the Royal Creek trail below Royal Lake is perhaps more apparent from above, than from below? This forms an ambitious day hike loop, or two-day backpack.

  2. Bret Wirta

    I hiked to the headwall past Royal Lake. It was a long day hike. Adding an overnight and some fishing at Goat Lake seems like a perfect two-day loop.

  3. Jim Olmstead

    Did the scramble to Goat Lake from Camp Handy last fall. I was hoping to catch some fish in the lake but was really dissapointed. Very little activity and only a few fish to the hand. Just 8 to 10 in Brook Trout. Pretty typical for the Olympics but a far cry from any legendary fish. I know the park service wants all the non-native trout out of the lakes so I guess it’s working.

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