Marmot Pass
(Upper Big Quilcene Trail)

Trail Highlights:River views, mountain views; old-growth forest; wildflowers
Round-trip Distance:≅ 13.00 miles / 21.00 km
Location:Buckhorn Wilderness and Olympic National Forest, Olympic Peninsula - East

Ancestral lands of the Twana, or, Skokomish and Suquamish
  • From U.S. Route 101 approximately 1.00 mile/1.60 km south of Quilcene, Washington between Mileposts 296 and 297, turn right from southbound/left from northbound onto Penny Creek Road
  • Proceed 1.40 miles/2.25 km and take the left fork onto Big Quilcene Road/Forest Road 27, which is signed for Tunnel Creek, Big Quilcene, and Mt. Townsend;
  • Proceed approximately 3.00 miles/4.80 km and bear right at the fork to remain on Forest Road 27
  • Proceed approximately 0.30 miles/0.50 km and bear right at the fork to remain on Forest Road 27
  • Proceed approximately 1.90 miles/3.10 km and bear left at the sharp curve to remain on Forest Road 27, per signage
  • Proceed approximately 0.30 miles/0.50 km and bear left at the fork to remain on Forest Road 27
  • Proceed approximately 3.50 miles/5.60 km and take the left fork onto Forest Road 2750
  • Proceed 4.65 miles/7.50 km to the parking area on the right
  • Walk across Forest Road 2750 to the Upper Big Quilcene trailhead (do not take the Little Quilcene Trail that leads directly from the parking area)

  • Beware of potholes in unpaved sections of road and unexepected dips in paved sections
    Required Pass:Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
    Additional Trail Info:Washington Trails Association
    U.S. Forest Service

    A worthy destination itself, Marmot Pass is also a crossroads for trails to Boulder Camp, Tubal Cain mine, and other points between and beyond.
    Upper Big Quilcene Trail,

    At Marmot Pass, several trails popular with both day hikers and backpackers meet in a sweeping alpine meadow with a tantalizing glimpse of additional Olympic peaks beyond.  The Upper Big Quilcene Trail offers a pleasant route to the pass, first tracking the upstream reaches of the Big Quilcene River (which is but a creek at this point) through mossy, old-growth forest, then gradually climbing the valley wall and traversing the alternating upland woods and talus slopes below the pass.  Along the way, the stone-strewn mountainsides offer intermittent views of the crag-lined river valley and a surprising array of spring and summer wildflowers.

    Although the trail includes no alternate routes or side paths before the junction at the top of the pass, estimates of its round-trip distance to the pass vary widely from as low as 9.80 miles/15.80 km to 12.50 miles/20.00 km.  The 13.00-mile/21.00-km distance noted here is based on’s personal experience.  Regardless, the trail is a popular destination — expect to encounter a few other hikers, although at widely spaced intervals with plenty of solitude between.  Mountain goats are commonly sighted along the trail.  Enjoy them from afar and do not approach them, as encounters can be dangerous.  Given the trail’s relative remoteness, no sounds of civilization intrude upon the wilderness tranquility.

    Along almost half the trail’s distance, its namesake river plays hide-and-seek amongst jumbles of moss-capped stones and seedling-topped timbers. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    At its lower elevations, the trail is walled by a tapestry of towering conifer columns laced with a verdant understory, including the coast, or, Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), shown here in bloom.
    Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    The moist, riverside woodland is a prime spot to see the western coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana) graduating through some of its many color variations, from its standard, magenta-streaked form (left) through its uncommon clear yellow and white form (C. mertensiana f. albolabia) (right). Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    Throughout the trailside, keep watch for the various curiously formed mushrooms and other fungi, including coral fungi (upper center) and jelly fungi (here, the fancifully named poor man’s gumdrops, Guepiniopsis alpina, right) that thrive in the moist litter of the forest floor. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    Several brooks dash across the trail and, when swollen with spring snowmelt, may result in dampened boots.
    Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    As the trail climbs higher along the steep-walled valley, it enters patches of drier forest seemingly bereft of life in comparison to the lush woodlands along the river below (upper left). Soon, however, the trail reaches the lichen-draped upland forests cloaked in wisps of common witch’s hair (Alectoria sarmentosa) interspersed with darker strands of tree hair (Bryoria spp.) (upper right). The lichens do not harm the trees, but take advantage of their airy perches for exposure to light, water, and nutrients. Sensitive to air pollution and habitat destruction, lichens are indicators of woodland health and abound on many surfaces throughout the trailside’s old-growth forest. Dog lichens (Peltigera spp.) creep across the forest floor with root-like rhizines along their upturned edges (lower left), while lungworts (Lobaria spp.) liven wayside stones with lettuce-like vegetation thought to resemble lung tissue (lower right).
    Upper Big Quicene Trail, Washington.
    Between swaths of forest, great talus slopes sweep from the eaves of Buckhorn Mountain on the north.
    Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    Across the narrow river valley to the south, views open to the line of minor peaks known as the Ridge of Gargoyles that terminates in the higher and separately named Boulder Ridge near Marmot Pass. Visible here are, from left to right, The Turret, Upper Gargoyle, and Boulder Ridge. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    As the trail climbs, the wayside woods, rocks, and meadows host an array of other blooms, including, first column, top to bottom, salal (Gaultheria shallon), cliff dwarf-primroses (Douglasia laevigata), western globeflowers (Trollius albiflorus), and spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa); second column, broadleaf lupines (Lupinus latifolius var. subalpinus), western meadow-rue (Thalictrum occidentale), chocolate, or, checker lilies (Fritillaria affinis), and common harebells (Campanula rotundifolia); third column, harsh paintbrushes (Castilleja hispida), common yarrow (Achillea millefollium), strawberries (Fragaria spp.), scarlet paintbrushes (Castilleja miniata), alpine leafybract asters (Symphyotrichum foliaceum), and orange agoserises (Agoseris aurantiaca); fourth column, Scouler’s valerians (Valeriana scouleri), violets (Viola spp.), larkspurs (Delphinium spp.), and Sitka, or, western columbines (Aquilegia formosa); fifth column, splendid fleabanes (Erigeron speciosus), sand dune wallflowers (Erysimum capitatum) (purple form), sand dune wallflowers (Erysimum capitatum) (yellow form), and queen’s cups (Clintonia uniflora); and, sixth column, matted saxifrages (Saxifraga austromontana), spotted coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza maculata), western bunchberries (Cornus unalaschkensis), and Cascade beartongues (Penstemon serrulatus). Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    In its final ascent to Marmot Pass, the trail climbs through subalpine forest and meadows, seen here in a glance back down the trail. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    From the top of Marmot Pass, views stretch in both directions; here, eastward back down its vast alpine meadow and across the now distant Ridge of Gargoyles. Trails ring the meadow and lead to a junction with several others at the top of the pass. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    Buckhorn Mountain looms to the northeast of Marmot Pass. From the Tubal Cain Trail a short distance from the junction on the pass, a steep, 1.00-mile/1.60-km side trail leads to its summit. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.
    Westward from Marmot Pass, the view reaches across the Dungeness River Valley to the expanse of Olympic peaks beyond. Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Washington.

    © 2017-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.


    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.