Thursday, April 5, 2012
Little Mashel Falls (Charles Lathrop Pack Experimental and Demonstration Forest)
Pardon the pun but you can pack a lot of fun into Pack Forest near Eatonville. Pack Forest is named for Charles Lathrop Pack – Pack was a lumberman from the east coast who gifted the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources with the means for the University of Washington to purchase land in the 1920s. In addition to it being a year-round gem for hikers, equestrians, bicyclists and hunters (during hunting season) the 4,300-acre forest provides an outdoor classroom for forest management students.
In spring Pack Forest is especially beautiful, our favorite season to hike there. Late March and April are when the wildflowers begin to bloom, birds sing and waterfalls roar. In late March we saw Coltsfoot, red flowering currant and Indian plum.
While road junctions are signed first-time visitors may find it tricky to get to the waterfalls. In spring (or during rainy periods) the trails to overlooks can be slippery so if you hike with children exercise caution near the overlooks.
The names of the waterfalls can be confusing (there are three main waterfalls). Little Mashel Falls is correctly named; however it is also known as Bridal Veil Falls and trail signs refer to it as Middle Falls. There is also an upper Little Mashel Falls (Tom Tom Falls) and a lower waterfall (Lower Little Mashel Falls) that is difficult to reach on a rough trail partially blocked by blowdowns.
En route to and from Little Mashel Falls you’ll come across signs on trees that alert you when you are leaving Pack Forest property; trails outside Pack Forest are rough, not maintained and potentially hazardous (you can hike on those trails but you hike at your own risk).
When you get to Little Mashel Falls you may well wonder why it is called “little” as the waterfall is a far cry from “little”, especially in spring. The “little” is because the waterfalls originate from the Little Mashel River.
The hike to Little Mashel Falls starts at the upper trailhead parking lot (left) inside Pack Forest across from the administration buildings. There is also a lower parking lot (with portable toilet) between the gatehouse (entrance) to Pack Forest and the upper lot.
From the trailhead walk a short distance up the main road to Road 1000 (Lathrop Drive) and turn left. Hiking clockwise bypass all numbered roads until you reach a Y (about 1-1/2 miles from the trailhead) and a metal signpost designating the Falls Trail. Turn left onto Road 1070.
You’ll soon come to a boulder (left) with blue hand-painted letters signed “Falls” with a directional arrow and another metal signpost. You’ll see two trails off to the left. The first is a rough path blocked by branches - take the other path as it crosses a grassy area and skirts a small pond. From the pond the trail makes a brief descent to a junction designated with three yellow diamonds; turn right. Then turn left at another marker for Middle Falls and you’ll soon come to wooden steps that descend to an overlook of Little Mashel Falls (also known as Bridal Veil Falls and Middle Falls!!).
The view of Little Mashel Falls is stunning though in spring the force of the spray from the waterfall is more like wind-driven rain than mist. A rope at the overlook bars access to a slippery, steep path that descends to the base of the falls – it’s dangerous and a fall could be fatal. You can descend little further from the overlook on the trail to a lower overlook, a good turnaround this time of year.
To extend your hike walk back to the trailhead and continue along Road 1070 a short distance to where it descends to an old railroad grade. Turn left to see an old railroad trestle that spans the Little Mashel River. The river makes a big bend as it goes under the trestle before it pours over a lip to form Upper Little Mashel Falls (also known as Tom Tom Falls).
The Eatonville cut-off road is just above the trestle; the area near the trestle used to be a popular party spot but the trestle is on private railroad property (do not cross the trestle). Cars that do park above the trestle will be towed.
To get there: From Seattle drive south on Interstate 5 to Tacoma, get off at Exit 127 for Highway 512 and in about two miles exit onto State Route 7 (toward Spanaway). Continue on State Route 7 to the entrance of Pack Forest, 780 feet elevation. Enter Pack Forest and continue to upper parking lot (903 feet elevation).
The hike is about 5-3/4 miles round trip with approximately 700 feet gain including minor ups and downs.
Additional Information: There are usually trail maps available at the administration buildings but on our recent visit there weren’t any available. You can print one out from their website before you go: www.packforest.org . For additional information call 206-685-4485 (Seattle).