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section3. Olympics EAST

Updated June 2012

This sequence of buses gives you access to the river valleys of the Dosewallips, Duckabush, and Quilcene. As this is technically not the rain forest side of the Olympics, you won’t see the lush mosses and epiphytes, but there still are some big trees. The river valleys here tend to be steeper and narrower. They lead to alpine meadows, spectacular views, and connections with other trails.

map Big Quilcene Dosewallips Duckabush Hamma Hamma North Fork Skokomish / Staircase Although we can see the eastern flank of the Olympic Mountains from Seattle, we can’t get you there any earlier than we can get you to the far side of the Olympics. Those are the breaks: you can’t get over to that side of Puget Sound in time for the early morning run south along Hood Canal; the best you can do is the midday run.

You can get there from the north, via the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge, Kitsap Transit, and Jefferson Transit. Or you can get there from the south, via the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton, and Mason Transit. The two routes meet at Brinnon, near the mouth of the Dosewallips River (Trail Option 3).

So, if your destination is south of Brinnon, you'll gain some time advantage by using the south route. If your destination is north of Brinnon, use the north route. If you're leaving the bus at Brinnon, pick one. (Don't worry that the times listed below for the two routes meeting up at Brinnon don't quite match up--the routes actually overlap for a couple miles. Drivers from both sides make sure that connections are made.

For those heading for the Skokomish River for the Staircase entrance to ONP, there is currently a pilot program providing buses that travel from Shelton to a point about 3 miles up the Lake Cushman Road. That may not sound like much, but that's maybe an hour and a half you won't have to be walking, and cuts a fifteen mile walk down to twelve. And it gets you there early enough in the afternoon that you may get all the way to Staircase by nightfall. The pilot program is funded by the Skokomish Tribal Nation, and was designed to afford tribal members easier access to the county services at Shelton, but all are welcome. The more use it gets, the more likely it is to continue to be funded. It is currently funded until December 2013.

Note that below, in the bus schedule info, those for the Lake Cushman run are different from the others.

Trail Options:

A - See Section 1

B - Big Quilcene River

Big Quil Marmot Pass bus stop to Ten Mile Shelter trailhead 11 miles
Ten Mile Shelter trailhead to Marmot Pass 5.3 miles

This narrow, steep-sided river valley trail leads gently but steadily up through the Olympic National Forest, then ONPʼs Buckhorn Wilderness, and on into Olympic National Park. Itʼs actually quite close to Seattle; there are a few points along the trail from which you can -- on a clear night -- peer east across Hood Canal, Kitsap Peninsula, and Puget Sound and see the lights of Seattle some 40 miles away. Iʼve been told you can make out the Space Needle quite clearly.

This eastern flank of the Olympics also boasts a belt of rhododendron forest
between 1,500 and 3,000 feet. Visit in late June/early July to enjoy the large pale pink
blossoms that dominate the forest understory.

And now, the transit details:
Due to gaps in transit scheduling for both Jefferson Transit (JT) and Mason Transit (MT), you canʼt reach Hood Canal for the morning bus runs. You just canʼt. The earliest you can reach the Quilcene from Seattle is about 3 in the afternoon, giving you limited time, outside of the longest days of summer, to get upslope to find a campsite before dark. For that reason it may be more practical to use the Quilcene as an out-route, having entered the Olympic backcountry elsewhere (say, the Dungeness, to the north).

Nevertheless, Iʼll give directions for both entering and exiting via the Quilcene.

Entering: Iʼd recommend coming in using the north route (via the Bainbridge ferry and JT). Starting out on the 8:45 AM ferry...youʼll end up reaching Port Townsend just before noon, and you wonʼt leave until 2 PM (the Food Co-op serves great food -- use your JT day pass to catch the downtown shuttle; you can be there in ten minutes).

At any rate, make sure youʼre back to the Transit Center before 2:00 PM to board the #1 Brinnon bus, which heads south along Highway 101. Leave the bus just past the town of Quilcene, at the Quilcene National Fish Hatchery (if youʼre heading out the same way, ask the driver precisely where the stop heading the other way is) at 2:55 PM.

Head up the Penny Creek Road, walking 1.4 miles, and staying to the left at two Y-junctions. Walk nine-tenths of a mile, then take a right onto Road 10 (unmarked). Walk 1.4 miles to the Notch Pass trailhead. (If you reach Road 27, you went a mile too far after the second Y).

The Notch Pass Trail heads steeply up and over a ridge (but this, and the next trail, save you from having to slog up eighteen miles of dusty logging road). High point of the Notch Trail is about 2000 feet (glance back for the Space Needle...), then it drops back to connect with the Lower Big Quilcene River Trail.

The Lower Big Quilcene River Trail is on National Forest land, but outside of the Buckhorn Wilderness. It is multi-use land, so mountain bikes and motorbikes are allowed. On my trip through, on a weekday evening, I did not see or even hear any, but I did see evidence of their passing. The trail is in very good condition, is a gentle trail leading upwards; there are several newly-replaced bridges. And you can camp along it. I saw several great possible sites. The Olympic National Forest website states for you to use existing campsites, when possible, and to camp at least 100 feet from water sources.

Itʼs a pleasant walk, youʼre never that far from the river, and at the upper end you reach Ten Mile Shelter (where that eighteen miles of logging road wouldʼve dropped you off, probably much dustier, and with feet more tired and sore...), and you enter the Buckhorn Wilderness (no more bikes or motors...).

The trail from there to Marmot Pass is a bit steeper, but youʼre never far from the river, and there are plenty of nice campsites. And rhododendrons.

Exiting: Reverse instructions above (itʼs always easier heading back toward civilization: you just keep turning onto increasingly bigger roads). Youʼll want to be back to the Fish Hatchery bus stops for one of the times listed next:

Jefferson Transit will pass the Fish Hatchery stop heading north at 9:30 AM, and again at 3:30 PM (there is a later run, but connections back to Seattle cannot be made). You could also head south on JT at 8:15 AM and 2:45 PM, connecting with Mason Transit Transit at Brinnon (and back to Seattle via Shelton and the Bremerton ferry). The choice is yours.

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C - Dosewallips

Bus stop to trailhead: 15 miles

Another long one, but this one is well-traveled; I’ve usually managed to cadge a ride at least part of the way. Head north, head south, or head across Anderson Pass and out the Quinault River.
Near the Dosewallips trailhead is the Lake Constance route (it’s not a trail, it’s a route: it’s brutal). The route gains 3300 feet in two miles, and there are no switchbacks. But at the top sits a lake, surrounded by rocky spires and oddly-shaped pillow lava, formed by lava extruded from the earth at the bottom of the ocean a long time ago. Gallons of sweat, followed by a geology lesson. You are allowed access to Lake Constance by a reservation system, applying early in the year and hoping for admission. It’s worth the trip.

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D - Duckabush

Bus stop to trailhead: 7 miles

Wow, only seven miles! There has to be a catch.

There is. Not an unpleasant trip, the Duck is a long, steep-sided river trail that leaves the river’s side twice (for the Little Hump, and then the Big Hump) and then loses a good deal of the elevation you struggled for to drop back to the river, where it stays for about twenty miles before heading into the high country.
Some might say: seen one river—seen ‘em all! I’ve said that, once or twice. But splendid solitude can be found there! Your call.

E - Hamma Hamma River

Hamma Hamma River
bus to Lena Lakes trailhead 8 miles
bus to Mildred Lakes trailhead 13 miles

“It ainʼt much,” you might say. Youʼve got just two sets of lakes; one, eight miles in; another, 13 miles in. And neither of them connects to much of anything else, so youʼve got to come back out the same way you came in. But theyʼre worthy destinations, just the same.

Lower Lena Lake is on Olympic National Forest land, and outside of even the meager protection that would be afforded by the protection of The Brothers Wilderness boundary. So, much of the summer, the place is mobbed with unruly kids, and loud folks with hatchets and dogs (bad combination, that!). The 3 mile trail to Lower Lena is wide and easy -- youʼll see old folks with walking sticks, young couples with toddlers on their first hike, locals trying to get back into shape. And therein lies its charm.

And from Lower Lena you can enter the Park to visit Upper Lena, scramble up Mount Lena, or explore the ridge to the west for tiny lakes and solitude.

You could also head east from Lower Lena into The Brothers Wilderness to approach the climbing route up to the south summit of The Brothers Mountain, a technical climb (meaning: rope & helmets & ice axe & knowing what to do with them...).

Mildred Lakes? At the end of that 13 mile road! Havenʼt been there yet. Canʼt say for sure.

Access: Leave Mason Transit 8 at the Hamma Hamma Road. Tell your driver what youʼre trying to do well in advance. There really isnʼt very much of a shoulder for him to pull off onto. If you came in via Bremerton, youʼll be debarking at 2:50 in the afternoon. So, late in the season, you may not even make it to Lower Lena; there is a nice (fee) campground about a mile shy of the trailhead.

The road, nicely-paved all the way to the Lena Lakes trailhead, gains considerable elevation in its first two miles, then levels off. BEWARE: for most of the way, the road has no shoulder, and dense vegetation grows right up to the asphalt. So walk on the left side, facing potential traffic, and keep your earbuds in your pockets and listen for cars.

When you come back out (if you do decide to leave) I would recommend that upon reaching Highway 101, walk exactly one mile south to the gas station to flag the bus down there, going back toward Seattle in either direction.

Or better yet, walk exactly two miles south to the Hama Hama Seafood Store (they decided to drop the extra Mʼs), for a bowlful of steamer clams right outaʼ Hood Canal, and wait for your bus there.

Pay close attention to bus times: last bus north with connections to Seattle passes about 2:45 PM; last bus south is at 3:45 PM.

F - North Fork Skokomish / Staircase

North Fork Skokomish / Staircasebus stop to Staircase trailhead 16 miles (or 12.5)

The backpacker has loads of options along this route.

If at all possible, take the bus sequence ending at Lake Cushman Maintenance: it'll save you 3.5 very steep miles, and get you to that point early enough that you might be able to reach Staircase, the entrance to the southeast corner of ONP before dusk. If you don't get all that way, for-fee camping is available at Lake Cushman Resort (mile 4.2 -- about half a mile past Lake Cushman Maintenance), Skokomish Park (mile 7.2), and Lake Cushman State Park (mile 9). Beyond that, there are no camping opportunities until you reach Staircase. There's a campground (currently-2012-$12 per night). right at the Ranger Station, with the trailhead just behind that.

The road is nicely paved for the first 11 miles, then rough dirt and gravel, and then paved again for the last 1.2 miles (inside the Park). The road, even after the initial 3 steep miles, has lots of up-and-down; so much so that the walk out will take you just as long as the walk in.

The trail starting at Staircase is wide and easy, with seemingly no elevation gain for miles. It's nice and cool and dark, you'll be passing lots of trees six to ten feet in diameter, and you'll never be far from the river. First camp is about 4 miles in. Second camp, about 6. From that point, you could head west, ford the river, and head steeply uphill onto obscure, seldom-visited Six Ridge. Or you could head east to reach high alpine lakes: Flapjack, Black and White, and Smith.

Or you could continue on up the North Fork Skokomish. At about 9 miles, the trail starts heading uphill in earnest. Eventually, you'll reach junctions with the Duckabush, then the Quinault, or the Dosewallips. Or you could drop back down the same way you came in; the choice is yours.


Both routes leave from Brinnon, and converge again at Seattle. North route reads from middle (at JT 1), reading upwards; south route reads down from middle (at MT 1), reading down).

SEATTLE to LAKE CUSHMAN (Monday through Friday)

WSF to Bremerton leaves Seattle/Coleman 7:35 AM arrives Bremerton 8:35 AM
MT 3 leaves ferry terminal 8:35 AM** arrives Hunter Park 9:10 AM
MT 2 leaves Hunter Park 11:30 AM arrives Twin Totems 12:20 PM
SCP Skokomish Cushman Pilot leaves Twin totems 12:40 PM arrives Lake Cushman maintenance 1:08 PM

SEATTLE to LAKE CUSHMAN (Saturday only)

WSF to Bremerton leaves Seattle/Coleman 7:35 AM arrives Bremerton 8:35 AM
MT 3 leaves ferry terminal 8:35 AM** arrives Hunter Park 9:10 AM
MT 2 leaves Hunter Park 9:15 AM arrives Twin Totems 9:52 AM*
SCP Skokomish Cushman Pilot leaves Twin totems 9:50 AM* arrives Lake Cushman maintenance 10:05 AM

* The two times donʼt quite match up: as soon as you board the MT 2 tell your driver what youʼre trying to do; they can radio ahead and hold the second bus at Twin Totems.

** Looks like a tight fit on paper, but the bus is there to MEET the ferry. A phone call to Mason Transit a day prior would help assure that they wait for you.

LAKE CUSHMAN to SEATTLE (Monday through Friday only) late bus from Cushman

SCP - Skokomish-Cushman Pilot leaves Lake Cushman
1:08 PM Shelton Civic Center 1:45 PM
MT 1 leaves Shelton Civic Center 1:40 PM* arrives Hunter Park 2:40 PM
MT 3 leaves Hunter Park 3:30 PM arrives Bremerton ferry 4:00 PM
WSF to Seattle leaves Bremerton 4:20 PM Seattle 5:20 PM

* Don't be afraid - let your MT1 driver know what you're trying to do as soon as you board the bus, and they'll make it happen.

LAKE CUSHMAN to SEATTLE (Saturday only) late bus from Cushman

SCP - Skokomish-Cushman Pilot leaves Lake Cushman
12:50 AM arrives Twin Totems 1:05 PM*
MT 2 leaves Twin Totems 1:03 PM* arrives Hunter Park 1:50 PM
MT 3 leaves Hunter Park 1:55 PM arrives Bremerton ferry 2:30 PM
WSF to Seattle leaves Bremerton 3:00 PM Seattle 4:00 PM

Note that either of the last two runs ends up leaving the Twin Totems Casino stop at the same time (1:03 PM). Youʼll get back to Seattle at the same time using either.


Washington State Ferry $7.70 (westbound passenger fare; eastbound is fare-free)
Kitsap Transit $2.00
Mason Transit Free in county; $1.50 outside county
Jefferson Transit $2.50 (day pass, includes out-of-county boarding fee).

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