In spring this is a great hike for a good dose of rhodedendrons in bloom. But if you are looking for a shoulder season hike that will get you beyond the Issaquah/North Bend foothills, this will do, too. Mt. Zion is a lesser-known option. This 4200-foot high summit is an outlier on the east side of the Olympics. It’s like a little brother to much bigger, bolder Mt. Townsend, a few miles southwest across the valley. This hike also makes a nice starter for a weekend in the Olympics, and doesn’t require a crack of dawn start from Seattle.
The trail starts out smooth and well graded, and pretty much maintains this pleasant tread for most of the scant 2 miles and 1300 foot elevation gain. You’ll soon notice that the underbrush is a goblin’s forest of giant rhododendrons. Depending on elevation, sunlight, time of year and exposure you may find blooms going strong in some rhodies but not others. Around 1.2 miles, occasional partial views to the west open up, revealing a forested valley and the broad, enticing summit of Mt. Townsend (you might consider this hike a warm up and head to Mt. Townsend next). Around 2 miles, you’ll encounter a pair of short switchbacks, and just off the trail, an exposed outcrop that is a nice, though treacherous view point. This little sidetrip is not recommended for small kids!
The summit is a pleasant rocky knoll with room to spread your picnic. Views to the west, finally! You’ll see Puget Sound, Mt. Baker, and maybe even buildings glinting in the sun. The view is satisfying, but not quite what it might have been, since trees have grown in front. Oddly, there is an outhouse a few yards before the summit, and a flat area big enough for a tent.
For even better views keep walking from the summit on the ridge trail that eventually leads into Snow Creek. In about a half mile you’ll come to a ledge, where much bigger views open up to the west and south.
Directions: From Seattle, take the Bainbridge or Edmonds ferry and cross the Hood Canal Bridge. Turn south on 101 towards Quilcene. One and half miles north of Quilcene turn west into Lords Lake Loop. At a T intersection at Lords Lake turn left, then in another 0.7 miles turn right onto Forest Service Road 28. The road climbs about 5 miles to a three way junction called (but not marked) Bon Jon Pass. Take the road to the right, called 2810. The trailhead is a large parking lot on the left.
Miles/elevation gain: 3.6 RT/1300 foot gain to Mt. Zion Summit; 4.6 miles RT/1300 foot gain to additional viewpoint.
Passes required: Northwest Forest Pass
Type: Out and Back day hike
Books/maps: Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano/Green Trails No. 136/Tyler Peak
Facilities at trailhead: Good parking lot and outhouse