If you have ever sat in a coffee shop or at Ivar’s Fish and Chips along the boardwalk of Seattle, you have more than likely glanced west; across the Puget Sound, toward the Olympic Mountain range, and wondered if you can see the city from the summit of one of its rugged, remote peaks. Looming in the distance, numerous peaks jut 6,000 feet or higher. They stand tall, waiting to be climbed and have their views experienced. One mountain in particular offers such amazing views you would assume it would be the most popular trek, yet it is largely unknown for those visiting the region.
At 6,280 feet above sea level, the eight mile round-trip hike to Mount Townsend offers 360 degree panoramic views of nearly all of Western Washington and southwestern British Columbia. To the east, one can see the city of Seattle, the entire Puget Sound and Salish Sea, the Hood Canal, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and the mountains around Vancouver, British Columbia. To the north, it is common to look at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, the cities of Sequim and Port Angeles and the sandy outcropping known as Dungeness Spit. While views to those directions are impressive, the true beauty of the view from the summit comes while looking west, toward the Olympic interior’s miles and miles of remote, snowcapped mountains.
The trail is simple and easy to climb, if your definition of easy is trekking up over 30 switchbacks, which rise 3,000 feet from the trailhead. Starting at 3,400 feet, the trail rises gently through a cool, lush forest before spitting you out to the numerous switchbacks, most of which are exposed to the sun, rain and whatever other elements you may be dealing with. As the wide, well-maintained, easy-to-follow trail weaves back and forth above densely-forested hills and valleys, take breaks and enjoy the views, as each rise in elevation gets more and more awe-inspiring.
Climbable year round, Mount Townsend is best seen between late June and early October, as the snow is typically melted out. In the summer months, the Mount Townsend trail is lined with blooming rhododendron and other local wildflowers, with brilliant colors around every corner. Bright reds, yellows, purples and greens contrast to the either gray, white or blue sky above you and the dark green of the forest canopy below. Even as you reach the summit of this wind-swept ridge, small flowers are tucked against nearly every rocky outcropping. Between the views, the flowers and the feeling of being on top of the world, Mount Townsend has something for hikers of all ages and abilities.
Seattle may be visible from Mount Townsend, but the 64 miles of driving to the trailhead from downtown will take you over two and a half hours. Pack a good lunch, bring plenty of water, take your time going up the switchbacks and spend an hour or more at the summit, taking in the views. Be sure to bring rain gear with you, as the weather can change very quickly. I personally always bring my Outdoor Research Axiom jacket and it's helped keep me dry in wind, rain and snow. I recommend you grab something similar to get up to the top of this mountain. Even on sunny days, the wind can whip across the rocky summit, so staying warm, dry, properly hydrated and well fed should be your priority. Additional day hikes are available, with the highlight being a 5-mile trail to Silver Lakes that starts less than a mile from the summit of Mount Townsend.