Where: Mt Walker
Time: Meet at 8:00 am at Top Foods in Olympia
Pace: moderately brisk, as this a fairly steep short hike
Roundtrip 5.0 miles
Elevation Gain2000 ft
Highest Point2804 ft
Please bring: $10 for gas for drivers
Hovering over the glacial trough known as Hood Canal, Mount Walker is the easternmost peak in the Olympic Mountains. From its two summits you can gaze out over the Puget lowlands to the Seattle skyline and beyond. Or cast your eyes westward on the jagged Buckhorn Wilderness peaks, including mighty Mount Constance.
Washington's state flower, the coast rhododendron, grows in profusion along the steep dry slopes of Mount Walker. For much of the year the rhodies merely add a layer of dark green to the forest understory. But come late spring this hardy shrub calls for attention as it begins to blossom, speckling the surrounding firs and hemlocks with rosy-purple bouquets. By June, vibrant violet bell-shaped blossoms ring throughout the emerald forest. Mount Walker is one of the best places in the state to witness this floral show.
But if you can't come for the blossoms, Mount Walker makes for a great winter hike. With the summit road closed, you won't have to worry about sharing those far-fetched Puget Sound views with very many people. The trail is hiker only; it's short but steep, well maintained and well traveled.
Immediately begin climbing through a tunnel of Rhodies under a uniform canopy of second-growth cedar and hemlock. Look up occasionally to see if you can locate any of the old wire and insulators that once serviced a fire tower on the summit. After about 1.5 miles small ledges begin to break the monotony of the forest and tease with limited views.
The grade eases slightly, and after 2 miles and 2000 feet of climbing you emerge at the North Summit viewpoint. Views are limited here. They're much better at the South Summit, reached by walking the graveled Summit Road for 0.5 mile and then following a small trail to the breathtaking panorama of Puget Sound. Stare straight down to Dabob Bay and the Toanodos Peninsula. Behind, Green and Gold Mountains rise on the Kitsap Peninsula. Mount Rainier adds a snowy backdrop. And if you're here in June, the whole scene will be framed with fragrant purple boughs.
For a variation on the return, if the road is closed (winter) consider descending on it. It loops 4 miles around the mountain, offering more sweeping views of the surrounding territory.
From Quilcene drive US 101 south for 5 miles. (From Shelton follow US 101 north for 47 miles.) Just north of milepost 300, turn left (east) onto Mount Walker Road (Forest Service 2730) and proceed 0.25 mile to the trailhead. When the road is closed, park at the gate.
* Please note that you are hiking at your own risk, it is assumed that you will have the hiking 10 essentials and be prepared for inclement weather.* This is a short but steep hike, we will be going at a semi brisk pace.*