Tubal Cain Mine, named after Tubal-cain from the Book of Genesis in the Bible (who happened to be a metal smith who worked with bronze and iron), was founded in 1902, and abandoned in the 1920s after being both too remote and not profitable. Miles from anywhere, the mine sits empty, with debris still around the area for creative campers to use around the camp sites.
Distance: 8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,400 Feet
From Sequim, turn right on Louella Road, just after Sequim Bay State Park. After a mile, turn left on Palo Alto Road and weave your way up hill until you get to Forest Service Road 2880. Follow the dirt road past Dungeness Campground for 1.7 miles. Turn left on Forest Service Road 2870 and enter the Buckhorn Wilderness Area. Keep to the right on Forest Service Road 2870 and continue along the windy, Rhododendron lined dirt road for about 10 miles until you get to the parking lot for the trail. (On the Right)
Nearly 22 miles South East of Sequim, one doesn’t immediately think of awesomeness. Don’t get me wrong, the area is beautiful, but it is so remote that I typically just glance out the car window as I fly by on my way to Hurricane Ridge, Dungeness Spit or the Lake Crescent area. However, if you take the time to stop off in the area, a very pleasant, gorgeous surprise will await you.
Once you drive down the steep hills, and weave your way back up into the areas with sweeping vistas of the Olympic Mountains, one really feels like they are back in the Days of Exploration. While the road is wide enough to feel safe on, driving to the trailhead provides you with the thrill that only a dirt road with a nearly a thousand foot drop can provide. The road is gorgeous, lined with Rhododendron plants and the occasional deer and rabbit, but be cautious of potholes from the rough winters we have had.
You will soon come down the hill a little bit, and this is where I would stop and use the bathroom. You reach the parking lot for another trailhead, and this is the only port potty within miles. I stopped here, and so should you! Once you relieve yourself and stretch your legs, the road continues for only a few more miles before you get to the Tubal Cain Mine-Buckhorn Lake Trailhead.
The trail head is simple, but immediately on the trail, you realize just how far in you are. Less than one tenth of a mile in you pass a rescue shelter for when storms roll in. Make sure you sign in at the trailhead as well, as the weather may change quickly. The trail crosses a little creek and steady climbs, albeit very minimal for the next 3 miles. In mid-summer, this trail is like the 4th of July, with Rhododendrons blooming like fireworks in the sky. With reds and purples exploding through the layers of green, the body doesn’t seem to mind the steady incline that this trail gives. From what I know, this trail is similar in its rhododendron population to remote areas of Tibet, so take in the sights and smells, because this place is rare.
Once you arrive at the Mine area the trail basically disappears. You know you have arrived at this point because there is a lot of old mine debris that litters the area. With a campground located basically on the trail, and hundreds of campers stomping down a path to everywhere, the trail becomes difficult to follow. If you are interested in going to the Mine, stay on the left and you will see a large gravel deposit, with a horrible steep incline of scree. This is how you get to the Mine, and trust me, it is worth it. While it isn’t advised to go into the mineshaft, take a few minutes and take some pictures from inside. Rarely can one find such a remote cave that is so intact.
After getting your fill of spelunking, head down the scree pile and continue to the river that is visible from the mine shaft. This is where the trail to Lake Buckhorn starts. Find a place to cross (I found a few old logs that served as a makeshift bridge) and head up the switchbacks that soon giving you an amazing view of the rugged mountains of the Olympic Mountain Range. With wildflowers blooming and butterflies fluttering around, all with Iron Mountain, Mount Buckhorn and The Needles serving as a backdrop, this trail quickly entered my list of favorite places on earth. The trail is 4 long switchbacks, giving you plenty of opportunity to take pictures, soak up the sights and walk 5.5 miles until you reach the junction to drop down a few hundred feet to Buckhorn Lake. While the snow stopped me (I decided not to be uber-prepared and left the crampons in my car) from reaching the lake, I still feel like I had a successful hike.
With high alpine views, a lunchtime meditation at over 5,300 feet, and the chance to watch a few does graze in the meadow below me, the Buckhorn Wilderness Area is a now one of my favorite areas. With unrivaled beauty, flowers, animals, insects, rivers, a mine and high alpine ridge trails, this area is friendly for families, dogs and solo individuals who want to get back in touch with the magnificence that is the Olympic Peninsula.
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