Backpacking Olympic National Forest's Marmot Pass
A PNW treasure of a trail with impressive elevation gain and even better views
*words and photography by Miriam Subbiah
When my ex-boyfriend’s brother invited me to go backpacking with his ex-girlfriend, who’s my real friend, I was hesitant to say yes. But I did. What resulted was 36 hours well spent outside of Seattle, with unobstructed views of the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound, high alpine handstands, and an unbeatable 84º camp spot.
We sailed on an early morning ferry out of Seattle and across the Sound to Bainbridge Island. After stocking up on food and boxed wine in Poulsbo, we made the one hour drive to the Marmot Pass trailhead. The trail ascended steeply with often little shade, which left me struggling in the surprising, off-season heat. After several miles alternating between wiping sweat away and post-holing through the long-lingering snow drifts, we finally reached Marmot Pass at 6000 ft.
Pausing only for a moment or two to watch marmots scamper around the valley, we continued hiking up along the ridge to find our own secret camp spot. With no one else in sight, we pitched our three tents at an exposed clearing and proceeded to take in the best view I’ve had all year. It was worth the very sore legs.
The following morning, on our way back down, we dropped our packs at the pass and climbed up the barren Buckhorn Mountain for views north into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, adding another two miles and 900 ft. elevation gain to our roundtrip total.
Afterwards we replenished calories in the quiet Olympic Peninsula town of Quilcene. After a long few days on the trail, burgers and fries do it best.