On the last evening of my first two weeks in Olympia, I decided to take advantage of the long daylight hours to drive north from Olympia on US 101 up the Olympia Peninsula. My plan was just to drive and enjoy the magnificent scenery of this route, which transverses majestic old growth evergreen forests, the scenic shoreline of the Hood Canal, and the moss and fern-laden rainforests the Olympic Peninsula is famous for. I decided to head up 101 almost to the Peninsula’s northern tip, where the highway turns west toward the Pacific, then cross over the Hood Canal bridge and work my way back south to Olympia via Bremerton, Gig Harbor, and Tacoma.
Along the way, I discovered the Mt. Walker Overlook, a slightly developed scenic area perched just over 2,800 feet in elevation at the summit of Mt. Walker. I was driving along 101 when I saw the signs announcing the overlook road was just a mile ahead. There was still enough daylight to make the trip worthwhile, so I turned off the highway onto a gravel road and began an almost five-mile drive on a single-lane, winding, steep road up the mountain.
The drive up Mt. Walker itself is quite interesting. As you climb in elevation, the flora changes right before your eyes. At the base of the road, you’re in the rainforest; however, the trees soon begin to change to more alpine species and the mosses and ferns that line the rainforest floor disappear. At one point, I had to stop to allow some deer to clear the road before I could proceed. About halfway up there is a nice turnout that provides a stunning view to the south along the Hood Canal. However, this view pales in comparison to the ones that await just a couple more miles up the road. At the top of the mountain, the road splits. Either fork will take you to a small parking area with restrooms, a picnic table or two, and trails to the edge of the mountain. I recommend visiting both sides of the overlook area, as they provide totally different views. On one side, you can look south along the Hood Canal and Puget Sound, and to the east where the skyline of Seattle looks like it was built with a set of child’s building blocks. The other overlook provides views toward the north, east, and west, where you can take in the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains. During my visit, the weather was quite cloudy, but the views were still impressive. I hope to return on a future trip to the area when the skies are clearer.
Mt. Walker’s summit can also be accessed by a two mile hiking trail. Had I had more time and better shoes for hiking, I might have considered this option. The trail can be accessed from a small parking area just after turning off US 101.
District of Columbia County, District of Columbia
June 26, 2005
From journal Three Weeks in Olympia, WA