Old Mailbox Peak Tail

Take on the challenge of this old short-cut approach to the top of Mailbox Peak.
Total Distance: 5.0 miles
Total Ascent: 4000ft
Highest Point: 4841ft
Difficulty: Hard
Our Hiking Time: 4h 10m
Required Permit: Discover Pass
To get there, take I-90 to exit 34 and take a left onto 468th Ave. Follow the road past the truck stop for about a half-mile until you reach SE Middle Fork Road, also known as Forest Road 56. Turn right and follow the road for a few twists and turns, keeping left when the road splits. After 2.2 miles reach SE Dorothy Lake Road. Turn left and continue .3 miles find the road up to the parking area on your right. View Google Directions >>
From the parking area, the trail begins, as it has for decades, by walking around a gated forest road and finding a trail junction a few dozen yards down the road. Here find signs directing you to the left for the new route to the summit complete with a detailed trail map. Ignore this and continue straight ahead, winding through a low forest of alder and vine maple for about a mile before the trail abruptly angles skyward. Prepare for a workout as you climb your way up the trail, navigating plenty of rocks and roots along the way. Eventually the forest opens up into an old burn and the trail begins to switchback its way up the ridge. As you climb through the burn, salal and other sub-alpine scrub slowly creep into the trailside as more and more sky becomes visible. At about 3500ft, the begins to level out at the base of a talus field.
Here you will connect with the new trail and begin the final push to the top. The last half-mile is something of a scramble, as the trail steeply climbs the ridge over a tangle of roots and rocks. Not far from the junction you will emerge from the trees to see the summit in the distance. Press upward along the exposed ridge, following the train of people over loose rock and soil to the mailbox. Most likely you’ll be sharing the spectacular views with some fellow hikers, so find a quiet place to take it all in.

To the north find Glacier Peak and Mt. Pilchuck on a clear day. Swing east and pick out the crags of nearby Russian Butte with other peaks of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley beyond. Kaleetan Peak is easy to pick out before your views are blocked by the next prominence along the ridgeline, sometimes called Dirtybox Peak, for its location between Mailbox and Dirty Harry’s Peak. Turn south passing over McClellan Butte’s distinctive crown to find Mt. Rainier dominating the skyline above the interstate. Find Mt. Washington almost directly across the valley from you and as you swing north you can see Rattlesnake Ridge stretching back toward Seattle. Pass over neighboring Mt. Si and Mt. Teneriffe as you complete your 360-degree tour.

Mailbox Peak is a popular destination for those looking for a great training hike or relatively quick access to big views. Tough but rewarding, Mailbox Peak is something of a rite of passage for any avid hiker and with the opening of the new trail in 2014, there is more than one way to experience this hike. Our suggestion is to follow this older, more traditional route to the top, and opt for the new trail on the way back down. This allows you experience the trail you’ve heard all those stories about while getting you to the views as quickly as possible. It also makes coming down much more enjoyable.

History

Before the 1940s, few hikers ventured up the steep sides of the then-unnamed Mailbox Peak. In 1956, Valley Camp was established near the base of the peak and some adventurous souls began regularly bushwhacking their way to the mountain. Around 1960 Carl Heine, a Seattle letter carrier by day and the camp’s director in his free time, had decided to lug a mailbox to the summit. Campers were then sent up the mountain to sign the summit register left in the mailbox. Over the years, hundreds of boots pounded out a steep path straight up the mountainside.

While the original trailhead started from Valley Camp, logging operations in the 1970s cut a road across the trail and cleared the trees between the road and the camp, effectively obliterating that portion of the trail. Unsigned and still relatively unknown, the hike remained something of a secret amongst a small community of hikers. The hike’s low profile was helped by the difficult to find trailhead tucked a few tenths of a mile behind a gated forest road and famously marked only with toothbrushes jammed discreetly into the ground. That changed in 1991 when Sally Pfeiffer wrote an article for Signpost, the Washington Trail Association’s monthly publication, revealing the location of the trail to the hiking community at large. She also suggested a name: Mailbox Peak.
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