The trek up Marmot Trail is one that should be on every Seattle hiker’s to-do list. The 11.5-mile round-trip journey, which runs in a corridor through the Buckhorn Wilderness, features alpine meadows, bubbling creeks, old growth forests, and sweeping panoramic views. The route does go up a decently big elevation gain – a total of 3500 feet – but don’t let that scare you away. The Marmot Trail is in very good condition, and the longest section of steep trail is only three-quarters of a mile.
What Makes It Great
The trail begins at the Big Quilcene Trailhead. The first 2.5-miles are along the Big Quilcene River, through ancient forest giant cedars and hemlocks. Shortly after reaching Shelter Rock (where it is possible to camp), the path then breaks away from the river. Then, it climbs up 1700 feet to Camp Mystery, found at an elevation of 5300 feet, 4.5 miles from the trailhead. You’ll be able to catch a breather here as the trail briefly levels out through a meadow, until it steepens again as it takes you up the final stretch to Marmot Pass.
If upon reaching the pass you find that your legs still have some juice in them, the top of Buckhorn Mountain is just a mile and half further. The 900-foot elevation gain isn’t exactly easy, but with views of Mt. Baker, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Glacier Peak, the summit is well worth the extra effort.
The hike to Marmot Pass or Buckhorn Mountain can be done in a day, but there are also options for camping if you prefer to space the journey out. Shelter Rock Camp and Camp Mystery are both gorgeous spots to get a night’s rest, and have water nearby (just remember to bring a purification system). If you’re looking for an even longer backcountry adventure, the juncture with the Tubal Cain Trail is at the top of the pass, which can take you to Buckhorn Lake Camp in one direction, or to Boulder Camp in the other. The junction to the Dungeness Trail is also a short jaunt from Boulder Camp. All in all, the trails in this area open up to nearly endless backpacking possibilities.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone looking for a moderately difficult day hike in a beautiful setting. Also, anyone who wants to spend some serious time in the mountains and forests by exploring the connecting trails from the pass.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trail is accessed from the Upper Big Quilcene Trailhead: From Quilcene, drive on US 101 south for 1.5 miles. Turn west (right) onto Penny Creek Road. After 1.5 miles, bear left onto Big Quilcene River Road/Forest Road 27. Drive 9.25 miles, then turn left on FR 2750. The trailhead is 4.75 miles further. Park at the trailhead.