backpack: Marmot Pass via Big Quilcene River Trail
On this four day backpacking trip, we hiked in to Camp Mystery to setup a basecamp and hiked each day to Marmot Pass and explored the area.
- day 1 – Upper Big Quilcene trailhead to campsite: 4.6 miles, 2,960 ft. gain, 27 ft. loss
- day 2 – day hike to Marmot Pass: 2.8 miles roundtrip, 562 ft. gain/loss
- day 3 – day hike to Marmot Pass: 2.8 miles roundtrip, 562 ft. gain/loss
- day 4 – hike out to Upper Big Quilcene trailhead: 4.6 miles, 27 ft. gain, 2,960 ft. loss
- best months: July – September
- location: Olympic Peninsula; nearest town: Hoodsport, WA
- land management: Olympic National Forest, Hood Canal Ranger District
- trail conditions: Olympic National Forest – Upper Big Quilcene Trail #833
- hike description: Marmot Pass — Washington Trails Association
- permits: none required
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass
Day 1 – hike in to Camp Mystery
This trip to the Olympics was a last minute substitute for the Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters due to late snow in the Cascades. The trail to Marmot Pass doesn’t require permits and can get quite crowded, but since we were entering on a Wednesday, we figured it would be a good time to go.
Within the first mile on trail, we entered the Buckhorn Wilderness. The first part of the hike in is through forest next to the Big Quilcene River.
This is the most elevation gain I’ve done in one day with a fully loaded backpack, so I thought it would be a challenge since I’ve been having recent back issues. The Big Quilcene Trail is well graded and maintained, so while it is steep, it’s not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. We took our time, stopping often to catch our breath on the way up. We also knew that we could camp at Shelter Rock, only 2.7 miles with 1,300 ft. gain from the trailhead.
When we reached the lower camp, we took our packs off for a long break then decided to keep going so we’d only have to setup camp once. Right after Shelter Rock Camp, the trail gets steeper as it climbs through the forest.
Eventually, we left the forest and entered an open rocky section with big views of peaks to the south. We stopped here for a second longer break before continuing to camp.
At Camp Mystery, there was only one other person camped there when we arrived so we had our pick of campsites. Later in the day, one more person arrived with her dog. By the end of our trip on Saturday, when we were hiking out we saw a lot more people streaming in and figured that every campsite would be full. We setup our tents at a large campsite near the creek.
Day 2 – hike to Marmot Pass
After sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast, we hiked up to Marmot Pass. From our camp, it’s only about a mile with 600 ft. gain. The trail follows the creek to where the spring emerges from the ground, then switchbacks up a short rocky section before entering a large meadow below the pass.
After spending several hours at the pass, we headed back to camp.
On our third day, we went back towards the pass and took an alternate trail to check out a couple of campsites. Instead of taking the trail towards the pass, we climbed up a steep side trail to a high ridge. A campsite on the ridge made a great lunch spot. One of my friends hiked up Boulder Ridge, where the views were even bigger while I stayed back to give my body a rest before our hike out the next day.
After we went back to camp, I walked around to capture mini-scenes all around our campsite for memories of this special place.
On our last night, more people started streaming in but there were still plenty of empty campsites around.
Our hike out was fairly uneventful and went faster than I expected. We stopped for a short break at Shelter Rock Camp, then were back at the trailhead about an hour later. The road to the trailhead is full of potholes for the last several miles, and we had a long drive back to Portland, so we were glad that we had gotten an early start. It was Saturday when we hiked out and we passed quite a few more people coming in, very likely filling all of the available campsites, so planning to visit mid-week is a good idea.