Tubal Cain Trail – and old airplane wreckage

The Olympic Peninsula is known for its majestic mountains, the Hoh rain forest, and the Sol Duc hot springs. But the Olympic Peninsula also boasts a variety of epic hikes.

On a recent weekend, I went with friends to hike the Tubal Cain trail. We had two missions on this hike – to make it to Buckhorn Lake and to see airplane wreckage from a 1952 crash. We achieved one of these missions…

The trailhead is located just east of Sequim, Washington (pronounced Squim for those not familiar with the OP), in the Buckhorn Wilderness,

up a winding forest service road which featured some great ridge views. For those afraid of heights, it wasn’t too bad, but maybe look forward, not left, as you drive up to the trail.Lush pink rhododendrons welcomed us to the trail.

I’ve never seen rhododendrons in the wild before, so this was a lovely greeting.

Even more stunning, after crossing a narrow foot log (some call this a bridge!),

the trail becomes a hall of rhododendrons with rhodys lining both sides of the trail for at least a mile. Breanne called this “Rhody Road.”

After the mile or so of rhodys, we entered a mature growth forest – which at times felt like the enchanted forest – dark and somewhat magical. It was so quiet and zen, and occasionally gave way to amazing mountain views.

Kristine found a tranquil spot where we could have left her all day to contemplate life and serenity! But she kept going with us.

We crossed several small rivulets/streams and some larger streams. Our neighbor had warned that once you cross the stream, you’ve gone too far for the cutoff to the airplane wreckage. But we had crossed several small streams…and we did not see a sign for the offshoot trail – Tull Canyon trail.

We came across campers who confirmed that yes, we had gone too far. Go back about 10 minutes – no less than that, actually – they said – and you’ll see the sign and the trail. We backtracked, but didn’t see a sign.

We saw what could be considered a trail. It was slim and unmarked, but it was a natural junction with the main trail. Perhaps this was it? We scaled the small mountain, losing the trail several times. I heard my neighbors’ voices in my head – the voices that recently told me “Hikers go missing and die in the Olympic Mountains.” I did not want to join that statistic. I told my friends, sorry, but this doesn’t feel right. Let’s go back.And go back we did.

Determined to find the Tull Canyon trail, we retraced our steps further and sure enough, there it was – complete with a sign that was not readily apparent when you walk towards Buckhorn Lake, but was more visible on the return trip. (And it wasn’t just us! We encountered several other “lost” hikers looking for the Tull Canyon trail).

At the outset of the Tull Canyon trail, we passed an old mine shaft.

It looked like a wonderful haven for bats, so we did not go in.

Then after a steep climb up – ascending 450 feet in just over half a mile, we reached a clearing. And a piece of airplane, the fuselage, a wing, a very large blown out tire.

Devastating wreckage of a B-17 plane that was downed during a blizzard while returning from a search and rescue mission in British Columbia. Sadly three of the eight crew members lost their lives in the crash. The remaining five built a shelter from the wreckage and parachutes and survived through the night until they were rescued the following day. While some of the wreckage has been looted over the years, it is amazing how much of it remains 67 years following the crash, located in this serene valley between mountains.

After our steep ascent, we rewarded ourselves with some delicious brownies baked by Kristine – we had already burned those calories going up the mountain, so why not?!

Then we descended and decided to continue forth to Buckhorn Lake.

We went past the streams and the “fake trail” that we originally thought to be the Tull Canyon trail. We even saw others attempting this trail and we warned them to turn back. Nothing to see there!

We crossed a larger stream and began a new climb towards Buckhorn Lake. This was also a marvelous trail – different from Rhody Road and the Enchanted Forest. This was Wildflower Lane.

A lovely tapestry of a variety of wildflowers.

The fog and clouds started to roll in.

Breanne and Kristine had to catch a ferry back to the mainland (Seattle), so we didn’t make it all the way to Buckhorn Lake.

Instead, after taking in some glorious vistas,

we turned back past the streams, the fake trail, the real trail, the Enchanted Forest, the hall of rhododendrons, the scary foot log bridge and then to our car.

Even though the main Tubal Cain trail is very level, we put in some hills and serious steps. Our step counters told us we had completed 30,000 steps, 12 miles, and we climbed 106 floors! My particular step counter told me I had beat my previous step record by 6,000 steps! And the car certainly got its share of dirt!

All in all, it was a lovely hike full of various terrains and some sad, but interesting history. A hike we will definitely do again!