(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a summer series by reporter Eric Rosane on interesting local hikes.)
As I drove out Saturday afternoon to the trailhead leading up to Little Mashel Falls in the Pack Forest of the Mount Rainier Institute, it seemed like a perfect day. A vivacious, jazz cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hissed and hovered over the radio as the forested groves framed the curvy road of State Route 7. Only a few passing clouds drifted across the sky as my nearly 20-year-old Buick cruiser bumped into the gravel parking lot filled with a half dozen vehicles.
What a perfect day in Washington state.
Although not as remote as some of the hikes one could find around Mount Rainier or the northern Cascade Mountains, where I’m from, there’s a lot to appreciate about the wide, gravely roads and trails that weave throughout the Pack Forest, eventually careening, like the Little Mashel River itself, off of rocks and steep cliffs surrounded by pristine forest basin.
It’s fun for hikers of every age, every skill set. And at a 5-mile round trip (according to information from the Washington Trails Association), it’s perfect for an afternoon visit during the busy work week.
Starting from the kiosk at the bottom of 1000 Road North, the gravel road often used by forest workers or other emergency vehicles, hikers will notice that there’s not much in the way of resources. The sun-bleached map within the kiosk, from afar, doesn’t add much in the way of information either, but stapled colored signs should offer direction enough to find the waterfalls.
Follow the shaded gravel road of 1000 Road North 2 miles, then turn left where a rock is painted with the words “FALLS.” Even from this point, nearing a half mile from the falls, the rattle and ambience of the water crashing down can be heard. This narrow trail then winds downhill, giving access to three spots with good views of Little Mashel Falls — the upper, middle and lower falls.
Viewing only one of the falls is a sin — take in the beauteous views from every angle at each of the three bases of the falls.
The middle falls offer possibly the most breathtaking view, with a 90-foot drop plunging waves of water down into smaller streams as hazing rainbows drift around the waterfall’s base. With its bloated roar, this part of the river would make a better spot for pictures rather than conversation.
By contrast, Little Mashel’s lower falls offers a more tranquil spot to reflect and relax. From this vantage point, the river’s roaring waters turn and drop on cliffs easily half the size of those that preceded them. The water seems to roll and slip off the lower falls’ moss-covered rocks.
Because the trail is so heavily used by locals, campers and tourists alike, be wary of trash. Also be aware of where you hike; the short but steep trail that declines down to the falls can be slippery on a wet day. I would recommend a good pair of hiking or tennis shoes with some dependable traction.
One advantage to this trail being so close to Eatonville, or perhaps for some looking to escape civilization it may be noted as a disadvantage, is that cell service along the trail is plentiful. Throughout most of the 2.5 mile hike, there seemed to be no problem with keeping two bars of service for music streaming. But of course, with gorgeous, colorful groves of evergreens lining the road and good friends by your side, why would you want that distraction?
Eric Rosane is a reporter with Nisqually Valley News and a hiking enthusiast. For story ideas on hikes off the beaten path, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.