Total Ascent: 1600ft
Highest Point: 4600ft
Total Distance: 8.5 miles
Location: N 47° 51.1680, W 123° 5.7780
Required Permit: None
A few months ago we headed across the water to the Olympic Peninsula to take on a hike that promised lakes, mines, creeks, and the wreckage of a B-17. The Tubal Cain Mine Trail snakes through the Buckhorn Wilderness, tracing the route miners took back in the early 1900s to reach their mining camps.
Back in 1903, miners led by Victor Tull consolidated their mining claims to form the Tubal Cain Copper and Manganese Mining Company. Named after Tubal-Cain, a biblical blacksmith that worked bronze and iron, the company had high hopes of extracting vast wealth from the depths of Iron Mountain. Unfortunately, between nearly non-existent yields and the high cost of accessing the remote area, the company struggled. Two small camps were established to support the mining activities, and the foundations and rusting metal left behind by Copper City and Tull City can still be found today. Despite digging nearly 1,500ft into the mountain, the mine was never able to turn a profit. In 1912, an avalanche destroyed the heart of the operation and the mines were abandoned by 1920.
For the next 30 years, the area remained quiet. Then, on January 19th, 1952 a modified B-17 returning from a search-and-rescue mission off the coast of British Columbia became disoriented in a blizzard and crashed into the ridgeline above Tull Canyon. The plane slid 2,000ft down the steep mountain, scattering parts across a massive debris field. Somehow, five members of the eight-man crew survived and were rescued the next day by another team from their own unit. Now, even 60 years later, the wreck lingers – parts of massive wheels, large chucks of wing, and pieces of the B-17’s four engines are easy to find.
The Tubal Cain Mine Trail begins in a young forest of fir, hemlock and rhododendron. Wide and flat, the trail gently guides you past the Silver Creek shelter and over a log bridge spanning the creek. Soon the trail climbs up into Copper Creek Canyon and the Buckhorn Wilderness, before flattening out along the slopes above Copper Creek. After about three miles of smooth trail, you’ll reach the Tull Canyon Trail and an exploratory adit dug by the mining companies. The tunnel only goes back 50ft or so, though we don’t recommend you do any exploring.
From here, head upwards along the Tull Canyon Trail for about a mile to find the remnants of the B-17 and the leavings of Tull City. The trail is a sharp contrast to the Tubal Cain Mine trail; steep, rocky and narrow. Climb for a little less than a mile to the site of the wreckage, scattered amongst the trees, ponds, and creeks. Linger here, or continue along the trail to the meadows at the far end of the canyon where Tull City once stood. When you’re done exploring, retrace your steps back to the Tubal Cain Mine Trail and continue onward toward the mine.
Before long you’ll pass by the few rusting remains of Copper City and should see a large slope of tailings from the Tubal Cain Mine on the left side of the trail. A short climb up the mountainside leads to the mine and the creek that spills out from its depths. If you’re looking to add some more mileage, you can return to the trail and press on for another two miles to a short trail leading down to Buckhorn Lake or continue further to climb up to Buckhorn Pass for decent views of the surrounding Buckhorn Wilderness.
This hike has a little bit of everything, from lakes and creeks to canyons and mountain passes. With multiple destinations along the trail, you can tailor this hike depending on your time and company. The trail to the mine is a good choice for a late season hike and should be approachable for almost every hiker. And while Tull Canyon Trail is more challenging, the promise of plane wreckage provides ample motivation. The trek out to Buckhorn Pass is for those folks looking to put in a ten or eleven mile day. Whatever you’re looking to do, find some time to head out to the Olympics to explore the Buckhorn Wilderness along the Tubal Mine Trail soon.
To get there, take the Bainbridge Island Ferry, following State Route 305 through Poulsbo to State Route 3. Follow SR 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge, taking a left over the bridge onto State Route 104. Follow SR 104 as it merges onto US 101 and continue another 18 miles and turn left onto Palo Alto Road. Continue about eight miles to Road #2880. Veer right and steeply descend down to the Dungeness River, past Dungeness Forks Campground. In about two miles head left on Road #2870 and continue about 11 miles to the Tubal Cain Mine Trailhead. -Nathan
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