Hike Washington: Silver Lake Way Trail, Olympic National Forest

This was my first “long” hike since moving to Washington two weeks ago. Like a true amateur, I didn’t have a plan. I knew vaguely this trail lead to a lake, but I didn’t really know how long it would take me to get there, or how long it would take me to hike six miles. I also didn’t account for the lack of cell reception in the middle of the National Forest, and because the decision to hike at all was made pretty last minute, in my excitement to get outside, I didn’t tell my mom or husband where I was going.

After not hearing from me for several hours, they were both concerned, and because we are separated by several thousand miles and two timezones, they ended up calling the local police to do a wellbeing check at my house.

When I got out of the forest and on the road back home, I got a frantic call from my mom and learned about how stressful their day had been with no word from me. I felt terrible. My impromptu adventure had caused them a lot of heartache. So learn from my mistake. Always tell someone where you’re going.

In my blissful ignorance, I had a wonderful day in the wilderness on my own. I drove for about thirty minutes from home, over the Hood Canal and into the National Forest. The highway narrowed and eventually turned into a one-lane National Forest road. It was paved from what I could tell, but it was coated with dirt and gravel and felt truly remote. I followed this for less than 20 miles, but it took me almost two hours because I kept stopping to marvel at the scenery.

There are signs, so I was able to follow along as I drove past the Dungeness Fork Campground. It’s best to put the Tubal Cain trailhead into the GPS, and once you get there, keep going up the road another mile or so. There’s a small pull-off area at Lake Way Trailhead where you can park.

Be warned – after you pass Dungeness Fork Campground it becomes a Forest Service fee area and you must have the proper pass displayed on your dashboard.

I drove for two hours down the Forest Service road and didn’t meet another car, didn’t see another human. It was marvelous.

At the trailhead, there was one other car parked. I noticed some fresh boot and paw prints and figured I’d probably run into someone at the lake.

The very beginning of the trail features some pretty steep terrain, but the first two miles are generally pretty moderate. I’m not in great shape and was definitely a bit gassed, but it wasn’t anything an average person couldn’t handle. A creek runs parallel to most of the trail and you’ll enjoy the sound of it. There are a couple of open, flat sections throughout the trail and you’ll want to savor those while you can.

The start of mile three was really where I begin to second guess my decision. It’s very steep and rooty and rocky and there were a couple parts that felt like I was scaling a cliff – and when you factor in the dampness, it was a bit treacherous. I was dreading coming down.

There was one section that was especially difficult and I had to take a break to catch my breath. I turned around to get my bottled water out of my backpack and noticed a truly spectacular view of a rocky cliff through the trees. Thank goodness I stopped – I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise!

With about a half mile left until the lake, the trail turns into a very easy, gradual incline and the trees open up a bit. If there’s no fog, the views are great. Honestly, it’s beautiful even if the clouds are low, but I was definitely lucky to have clear skies for most of the trek.

This last bit before the lake is where I found the owner of the vehicle I’d seen at the trailhead. It was a woman and her dog, Colby, who was obviously eager to get to the lake to go for a dip.

I followed them up the last leg and couldn’t help but laugh as Colby charged into the water. Most of the lake was frozen, but the temperature obviously didn’t bother him.

I left them there as I walked around the perimeter of the lake to try to find a nice rock to sit on to enjoy a snack. The trail goes all the way around the lake and the water was varying shades of emerald green and simply mesmerizing.

I found a spot to sit and enjoy the solitude while I munched on my beef jerky. I propped my boots up in the sun to try to dry them off a touch and before I knew it I had completely zoned out, hypnotized by my surroundings. All of a sudden I realized the clouds were descending and the blue skies vanished. We were socked in. It was almost more beautiful than it had been before.

But with the sun gone and my jeans damp I started to get chilled, so decided to head down. Colby and his mom had similar ideas, and they actually ended up trailing me almost the whole trip back down.

Going down was easier than I thought it would be, and the steep spots that stalled me on the way up were only moderately challenging. One spot in particular was a bit scary, but I’m not above a good butt scoot, so I just slid down on my rear end until I could get more secure footing.

If you’ve got bad knees, I don’t recommend, but otherwise this trail was enchanting. My Apple watch logged it at just under 7 miles, and that’s including the walk around the lake.


Compulsive snacker. Bleeding heart. Unhealthy obsession with Tom Hanks and cats. Florida State and Syracuse University alum.

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  1. I didn’t know you had relocated.
    I’m so glad you shared the ups and downs of your enchanting hike.
    Happy Fall.

  2. Beautiful photos. Glad you enjoyed the hike, but don’t worry us like that again, please.

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