Sign posts are interesting phenomenon for hikers. We seem to gravitate toward them; not only for their obviously direction qualities, but also for the specialness that they represent while hiking on a trail. While some signposts beckon us on, others make us stop, reflect and take in the wonder and splendor that we are able to experience.
As a teen, I remember hiking in Yellowstone National Park on the Specimen Ridge Trail, taking in the beauty of America’s First National Park from a sign post that was adorned with elk antlers, bison skulls and bird feathers. Looking across a valley full of bison, slowly grazing on the yellow sage, I knew I wanted to hike as much as I could.
Near the Olympic National Park, in the Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, a signpost sits directly at 6,000 feet, inspiring hikers of all ages to continue to explore. With views of the interior of the Olympic Mountains in one direction, and Mount Baker, the Hood Canal Bridge and the Big Quilcene River Valley in the other, the hike up to Marmot Pass gives one heck of a payoff.
The Marmot Pass Trail from Big Quilcene is quite a journey. Starting in picturesque forest with moss-covered everything, the well-groomed and easy to follow trail slowly climbs up next to the Big Quilcene River. While the name sounds as if you would be walking along a roaring river, the Big Quilcene is actually a small flow river with amazingly beautiful cascading waterfalls crashing along the fern-flanked banks. For 2.6 miles, you gain 1100 feet until you get to the Shelter Rock Camp. For many, this is the end of the trip, as the trail gets steeper from here. However, with everything on the Olympic Peninsula, the more elevation you gain, the more awesome the views.
The second section of the trail is where things really start to get inspiring. While you were slowly gaining elevation next to the river, the next section of the trail climbs up over 1,000 feet in 1.9 miles. This section is unique in that it offers views of the Big Quilcene Valley that show how steep the trail really is. The trail here is safe, but be aware that you will be hiking on an open slope at times, with huge views in all directions. While hiking this section, take your time and watch for mountain goats in the craggy peaks. If it is a sunny day, watch out here, as the trail can get downright toasty.
The third and final section gives a small slice into the beauty that the high alpine areas of the Olympic Peninsula offer. Climbing to 6,000 feet, the trail slowly climbs through a small valley, leading straight up to Marmot Pass. With amazing views behind you, hold off on looking back until you reach the iconic signpost. With views above the Dungeness Valley and the Olympic interior to the east and the mouth of the Hood Canal and Mount Baker looking over the Salish Sea to the east, the view from 6,000 feet will leave you in awe. Buckhorn Mountain is near, seemingly easy to climb in this uniquely dry terrain on the famously wet Olympic Peninsula. While some venture up to climb, be aware it adds an extra few miles and almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain. If you are feeling good with the view, enjoy your time at Marmot Pass, take a picture of yourself with the signpost and enjoy the hard work that you put in for the view.
At over 10 miles round trip, this can be a bit long for most to day hike, but it should be a goal. The 3,500 feet elevation gain is steady, without man incredibly steep parts. I know that drastic elevation gain scares most beginning hikers away, but Marmot Pass is something you all really need to hike. While it is dog-friendly, be aware that some sections of the trail may cut up the feet of your furry friends.
Distance:10.6 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 3,500 Feet
Highest Point: 6,000 Feet
MORE HIKES ON THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
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