Total Ascent: 1300ft
Highest Point: 1728ft
Total Distance: 7.0 miles
Location: N 46° 50.5560, W 122° 17.5080
Required Permit: None
This week we headed out to Pack Forest, an old favorite from our childhood. It had been years since we wandered along Pack Forest’s trails and we thought it would make for a decent winter hike. After doing a little research and plotting out a rough route, we packed up and headed out to Eatonville.
In the 1920s, Charles Lathrop Pack was one of the richest men in the United States. His wealth was built on timber and real estate, and in 1926, he gave the University of Washington College of Forest Resources enough cash to purchase 334 acres of forestland. The Charles L. Pack Experimental Forest was born. Today, Pack Forest has grown to a sprawling 4,300 acres, dedicated to forestry research, education, and recreation. With more than 50 miles of lowland trails, Pack Forest attracts hikers, bikers, equestrians, and hunters year-round.
Our first destination was Hugo Peak, the highest point in Pack Forest, named for a former dean of the College of Forestry, Hugo A. Winkenwerder. The Hugo Peak Trail begins at the Gatehouse and heads somewhat steeply up the mountainside. At just over 1700ft, Hugo Peak is not exactly imposing, but the rough and narrow trail is a little overgrown in places, making the ascent a little more challenging. The route cuts across a few trails and roads along the way, including the 1000 Road, a large loop open to vehicle traffic during the week. If you choose, you can cut out the lower section of the Hugo Peak Trail and just pick up the trail along the 1000 Road.
Near the top, the trail suddenly changes into 1081 Road, and you are soon at a somewhat confusing intersection. Head uphill to find the small, grassy clearing that is Hugo Peak. Over the years, trees have grown to block out most of the view. Currently, the view is limited to a narrow opening in trees looking north toward the surrounding valleys. Take in the view, sign the summit register, and head back down to the intersection.
Our next destination was the waterfalls along the Little Mashel River, which are in the northern section of the park. To get there, just head downhill on 1080 Roadtoward Kirkland Pass, where most of the park’s major roads meet. If you have some extra time, take a short stroll through the Trail of the Giants, a walk through a section of Pack Forest’s old growth. From Kirkland Pass, the more direct route is to follow 1000 Road east to connect with 1070 Road and eventually the Falls Trail. However, if you are looking for more trail time, you can take the Reservoir Trail which heads north and eventually leads to 1000 Road.
Whichever way you go, you will soon be walking down 1070 Road to the Falls Trail, which leads down into a canyon carved by the Little Mashel River. There are three waterfalls to see: starting with Tom Tom Falls, then Little Mashel Falls (often referred to as Bridal Veil Falls), and finally Lower Little Mashel Falls. The Falls Trail skips Tom Tom Falls, though you can catch glimpses of it by wandering a bit offtrail. The wide path quickly descends toward the river, with side trails branching off for views of the falls.
Follow the first branch for Little Mashel Falls, the largest of the three waterfalls. You’ll have a choice between exploring the upper falls or the lower, we recommend you start with the upper, which takes you to the wide, flat rocks above the falls. This is the perfect place to settle down for lunch or a snack. If you prefer a closer look at Little Mashel Falls, take the steep trail down to the river. The trail can be very slippery, so use caution as you approach the falls. During the summer when the river flow is a little lighter, you can easily climb over the rocks and walk behind the falls. Again, the rocks are often slick, so be careful when clambering around beneath the waterfall.
To reach the final waterfall, Lower Little Mashel Falls, head back to the main Falls Trail and continue downward to the next branch. This trail is very overgrown, rough, and often muddy. Expect to be climbing over blowdowns and fallen logs. The trail ends in an overlook of the multi-tiered Lower Mashel Falls, which are easily worth the extra effort to see them. After you’ve had your fill, head back out to 1000 Road and follow it back to the Gatehouse.
Pack Forest is always open, and almost always free of snow in the winter. While some of the trails can be a little challenging, forest roads can take a hiker nearly anywhere in the park. With minimal elevation gain and easy access, this is a great pick for winter walks, hiking with youngsters or bringing out the dog for an adventure. We suggest that you bring along a map, as the multiple roads and trails can be confusing, and maps are not always available from the Gatehouse in the winter. If you make it out to Pack Forest, we highly recommend you take the time to head out to the waterfalls, which are well worth the trip.
To get there, take I-5 South to Tacoma, taking Exit 127 for Highway 512. In about two miles, take the State Route 7 exit toward Spanaway. Continue on SR 7 for roughly 22 miles to the signed entrance to the University of Washington Pack Forest on the left. -Nathan
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