For a Fun and Challenging Spring Hike, try Climbing Mount Walker in the Olympics
If you’re looking for a challenging hike with awesome views as a reward, Mount Walker in the Olympic Mountains is as good as it gets.
The trailhead to this hidden gem is located about 2.5 miles south of the Quilcene Forest Service Station on State Highway 104.
Depending on the time of the year, the gate to the road that leads to the trailhead may be closed. If it is, you can park on the side of the highway near the entrance and walk up a gravel road to the starting point. In the spring, summer and fall, the road is open to traffic and there is parking near the trailhead.
Do be warned, this is not a hike for the faint of heart. Right from the get-go, the trail heads upward through stands of Douglas fir, Hemlock, Cedar and other vegetation associated with a second-growth forest.
Before you’re 10 minutes into it, you’ve gained enough elevation that you’re feeling the urge to remove any extra layers of clothing you’ve worn and doing a quick search for your water bottle.
The ascent to the top is impression: 2,000 feet of elevation gain in just two miles. On top of that, there are dozens of switchbacks and grades, i.e., hills that vary from 10 to 20 percent upward!
But even if you are not a seasoned hiker, don’t be intimidated. This climb is doable and well worth the reward at the top.
On one recent winter day, replete with sunshine and blue skies, we saw plenty of baby boomers making their way up and down the trail. And not all of them were of the svelte, strong and athletic-type. There were all sorts of body shapes and sizes.
With a good, stiff pair of hiking boots and hiking poles, this ascent and decent is manageable for just about anyone, including families with kids. It’s a matter of mind over matter: slow and steady wins the race.
On the day we hiked, there were still some patches of snow at the very top of the trail left over from the surprisingly strong snowstorm that blew through our area in February. But as we reached the crest, we soon forgot about the snow, and the aches and pains of the ascent.
Mount Walker has two distinct viewing areas – the north and south summits. The hiking trail ends at the north summit, where there is a bench and viewing area of the Olympics to the west and the northern Cascades to the east.
The views are – in a word – spectacular, with Mount Constance and other mountains of the craggy inner Olympic range standing up like sentinels on guard before you. Turn 180 degrees to the right and the shimmering visage of Mount Baker is gleaming in the distance, with the Strait of San Juan de Fuca in the foreground.
The north summit is a great place to catch your breath from the ascent up, sip some water and take in the Olympic view. But the best is yet to come.
Walk a short trail southeast to a road that leads to the south summit. It’s about a quarter mile away, but it is well worth the extra steps. As you walk down a sodden path, you suddenly emerge onto a precipice overlooking the Hood Canal and views of Kitsap County, downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier in the distance.
From our experience of three decades exploring these mountain trails, this is one of the best viewing spots in all of the Olympics. On the day we were there, it was so bright and clear that we not only could see the enormous face of Mount Rainier, but we also got glimpses of the tops of Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens, both of which are more than 100 miles away! We swear we could see the curvature of earth from there!
The south summit has two benches and several boulders that make great lunch spots. We noshed on our handmade sandwiches, fruits and nut bars all the while commenting to other visitors about what we were seeing.
While the steep decent can sometime bollix up creaky knees, the views from top of Mount Walker make it all worthwhile.
*Images by Kevin Dwyer