BackpackingHikingOlympic National Forest

Silver Lakes – Permit Free Camping in the Olympics

Silver Lakes Stats
  • 13.14 Miles
  • 3,894 Feet Elevation Gain
  • No Camping Permits Required
  • Northwest Forest Pass Required

Camping permits in Olympic National Park can be hard to secure so if you’re looking for a great alternative that requires no camping permits, you should check out Silver Lakes in Olympic National Forest. Despite not being inside the National Park, you are a stones throw away from the National Park Boundary and the views are equally beautiful. In this post, I will detail everything you need to know to complete the hike and provide you with a must-do side trip to leads to incredible views. You can find the link to my AllTrails here.

Getting to the Trailhead

There are two potential trailheads for this hike – the Upper Mount Townsend Trailhead and the Silver Lake Way Trailhead. The Upper Mount Towensend Trailhead can be accessed via Forest Road 27 near Quilcene, WA. The road is mostly paved going up except for a few sections. The Upper lot is fairly small but there is a lower lot for additional parking. The second trailhead, Silver Lake Way Trailhead, can be accessed via Forest Road 2870 from Sequim, WA. Most hikers choose to start at the Upper Mount Townsend Trailhead as the road is more accessible and paved. This is the option I choose.

The Trail to Silver Lakes Via Mount Townsend

The route to Silver Lakes is shared with the trail to Mount Townsend for the first 2.8 miles before splitting off so you’ll likely be sharing the trail with day hikers heading up to Mount Townsend. The trail begins with a steady gain in elevation and multiple switchbacks that sweep back and forth helping to ease the nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain in the first mile. You will pass tall Douglas firs, hemlocks, and large patches of rhododendrons.

After the first mile and two stream crossings (late summer these are likely to be dry) you’ll find yourself walking along a ridge line with minimal elevation gain for the next half mile. This section is where the views of the distant mountains and hood canal being to appear.

The wildflowers along the trail were incredible! Some of the flowers were Scarlet Paintbrush, Sitka Columbine, Yarrow, Lupines. Despite being August, there were still a ton of wildflowers out. At 1.5 miles into the hike is where the bulk of the wildflowers were found. This section of trail consists of alpine meadows between stands of pines.

At the 1.5 mile you will run into more switchbacks which of course signal a significant increase in elevation. Expect to climb about 600 feet over the next mile up to Camp Windy. This is a good spot if you want to take a break and grab some water. However, I would suggest filling up your water beforehand at the small streams you cross early on in the hike. It will be significantly better tasting! Camp Windy may likely be your last spot for water until you reach the Silver Lakes area, especially in late summer.

silver lakes olympics backpacking hiking camping

Very shortly after passing Camp Windy you will run into the trail intersection for Mount Townsend and Silver Lakes. Be on the lookout for this intersection because it’s very easy to continue up the switchbacks without realizing you passed the trail to Silver Lakes. This intersection is right around mile 3.

After making the left turn on to the Silver Lakes Trail, walk an easy 0.3 miles along the ridge to an overlook at 5,660 feet. From this vantage point the views start to really open up and you will get your first look at Silver Lakes in the distance. You’ll notice the saddle above Silver Lakes, potentially with left over snow dotting the hillside meadows. The lake is nestled in the bowl beneath the saddle.

At this point you’ve gone entirely up-hill. This is the first and only time you will lose elevation (to ultimately go back up in elevation of course). Take the switchbacks down the backside of the ridge and descend over 600 feet. The switchbacks are long and fairly gradual which help make the descent faster over the next 1.3 miles. If you plan to do this early in the season, there could be some serious snow back in this section. I also hiked this mid May and encounter multiple feet of snow along these switchbacks.

Once you drop down into the valley you will come across Silver Creek which is a good spot to fill up on water. From here there is less than a mile and 400 feet of elevation gain to Silver Lakes. Getting closer to the lake, the tree line starts to pen up, revealing the surrounding peaks.

Camping at Silver Lakes

There are numerous camping spots around the lake. When you initially first arrive at the lake, there are a bunch to your left side that border the lake fairly closely. As you hug the left side of the lake you will find more campsites on the ridge above the lake. The heard path swoops back down to the backside of the lake. There’s a large grassy area here that gently slopes up. This is the location I used to pitch my tent. It isn’t perfectly flat but will be sufficient enough. If you keep walking around the lake you will find some additional camping spots tucked in the trees. My tent was located about 100 feet from a patch of Lupine wildflowers and you could hear the swarm of bumblebees – it was like a symphony!

There are no permits needed to camp at Silver Lakes but be mindful of Leave No Trace Principles and camp on durable surfaces. There are no privy (toilets) so you will have to dig a 8 inch cat hole 200 feet away from any water source and bury your waste.

Exploring Silver Lakes

The impressive landscapes at the lake will surely leave you in awe! It’s hard to believe this little piece of paradise lies between the towering walls of stone. The lake, from the looks of it, is fairly shallow in most spots. I saw numerous trout surfacing for fresh bugs. Any fisherman would have a great day fly fishing here. The backside view of Mount Townsend is incredible and to your left lies Hawk Peak and to the right is Silver Lake Peak. The closeness of these peaks to the lake give you the feeling you are well protected within the bowl.

Climbing the Saddle for Amazing Views

If you have the time and energy I highly recommend you climb to the top of the saddle above Silver Lakes. It’s only a half mile up over 400 feet of elevation. Trust me, it’s well worth it!

From the top of the saddle you see prominent peaks within Olympic National Park like Mount Constance and Warrior Peak. Another major trail into the Olympics, Big Quilcene Trail, lies down in the valley below the grassy slopes. On a clear day, to the south east, you can see Mount Rainier.

Tips for Hiking Silver Lakes

I have already done this hike twice because I love it so much. It really offers a lot – old growth forests, alpine meadows, ridge line traverses, jagged peaks, incredible views, and pristine lake camping. And it’s not that difficult. Some final tips I can offer you if you’re looking to complete this hike:

  • Arrive early at the trailhead, especially on weekends.
  • During late summer, make sure your water is topped off before hiking beyond Camp Windy.
  • The saddle above Silver Lakes is a must-do if you want some seriously epic mountain views.
  • This trail is doable almost all year round, granted you are able to make it up to the trailhead but the best time would be June to October.

If you have any questions on this hike, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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