Rising mist from the summit of Mount Townsend, Buckhorn Wilderness, Olympic National Park, Washington

Mount Townsend

Mount Townsend is located in the Buckhorn Wilderness in Washington State. The Buckhorn Wilderness is a mountainous area in the northeastern Olympic Peninsula. It has an elevation gain of 3,010 feet, with its peak reaching 6,260 feet, according to the Washington Trails Association website, offering stunning views. It is a popular place for people to hike, but can be challenging and is not recommended for beginners. The views throughout and at the peak are incredible, though. The vegetation changes throughout the year. Therefore, people visiting during different times can see season-specific things, such as rhododendrons in the spring and berries in the summer. 

Several trails lead to the top, making the trek more accessible. The most popular is the 'Upper Trailhead,' which goes four miles up and back down, making for an eight-mile hike. The other trails include the Silver Lakes Trail, which the Silver Lakes Way Trail can access, the Little Quilcene Trail, and the Tubal Cain Trail. The same trailhead parking lot can access those last two, giving hikers extra options for how they want to start. 


Dramatic vista from Mount Townsend trail in Buckhorn Wilderness.
View of Mount Townsend trail in Buckhorn Wilderness.

Townsend is somewhat near the west coast, meaning weather fronts usually come from the Pacific Ocean and rise through the mountains. This sudden rise causes Orographic lift, when weather fronts must change altitude rapidly, subsequently making less moisture and more densely precipitates. This usually happens during the winter and results in heavy and wet snow. The roads leading up to Mount Townsend and the trails themselves typically fall victim to this heavy snowfall, so traveling up during this time may be dangerous, as there are risks of avalanches. However, there's often little cloud coverage due to pressure over the Pacific Ocean during the summer, making it more walkable in combination with better photo opportunities.


Storm clouds over Olympic National Park
Storm clouds over Olympic National Park.

As part of the Buckhorn Wilderness, Mount Townsend lies in a rain shadow in the Olympic Range, meaning that it has less precipitation throughout the year except during winter. This leads to a drier climate. However, different tree species lie in the lower areas of the mountain despite this drier climate. Above 6,000 feet is where alpine vegetation thrives because the weather fronts rise, and the conditions are more humid.


A cute American robin is perched on top of a small pine tree in early spring
A cute American robin is perched on top of a small pine tree.

Sharing a lot of its wildlife with the whole of Buckhorn Wilderness, Mount Townsend has varied animals throughout. Birds like American Robins, Song Sparrows, Great Horned Owls, Dark-eyed Juncos, Horned Larks, and Canada Jays line the area, with even Common Ravens being spotted. Mule Deer can also be seen, with their name stemming from their ears resembling that of mules. Other local animals include Coastal Tailed Frogs, Northern Flying Squirrels, Yellow-pine Chipmunks, Snowshoe Hares, and many more.


Mount Townsend is just one of the tall mountains that line the Buckhorn Wilderness on the west coast. It has plenty of views and accessibility points, and while it is not the tallest in the area, it still has a lot to offer. The location is famous for a reason and is hiked up and down year-round despite the potentially harsh winter conditions!


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