It’s been almost two months since we first started Heading Out — the Nisqually Valley News’ equivalent of a love letter to trails and conservationist efforts in the area. Ever since I took to Little Mashel Falls for our first piece in this series, I’ve been craving a proper return to the University of Washington Pack Forest near Eatonville.
This weekend, I got just that opportunity.
If you’re like me, your love for getting outside is probably contrasted by some minor, yet inconvenient challenge. For some, the pollen that comes around during spring and lasts through summer is, at times, spiritually debilitating. The hurdle I face? Getting burned by the sun. And some trails — if overhead foliage is sparse enough — will turn me into a lobster. So I was pleased when I arrived at the Hugo Peak Trail last Sunday evening because I knew my hike was going to be a cool one.
A short 5-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of nearly 900 feet, according to the Washington Trail Association, the Hugo Peak Trail is one workout of a hike that offers some pleasing views of the Nisqually Valley and, on a clear day, the Olympic Peninsula.
As it goes with the Pack Forest, Hugo Peak Trail is only one of a dozen or so great trails within the small 4,300-acre nature reserve. Other trails, as well as a trail map with more information on Pack Forest, can be found online at packforest.org/trail-map.
The trail is a trek that whips, whirls and weaves through 2.5 miles of Douglas fir trees and western red cedars. Wild raspberry plants and luscious ferns line the narrow ascent up toward the peak and along the ridge. Simply put, taking time on the trail in this cozy reserve away from the sweltering summer sun is a joy.
With a modest dose of sunscreen on the face and a few apples in the backpack, we headed out from Yelm around 6 p.m. with intentions of a cool, quiet hike. It took us roughly 30 minutes to get to the trailhead, which is at the entrance of Pack Forest just off State Route 7. According to the WTA, only a few vehicles can fit at the entrance, but additional parking can be found up the road near the Little Mashel Falls trailhead. Keep in mind that the Hugo Peak Trail does intersect a few Forest Service roads.
The trails start off a little narrow with some spots of overgrowth. The incline is fairly conservative to start out, but will ramp up within the first 1,000 feet — it’s here that you’ll also note the addition of primitive wooden boards that line intermittent portions of the trail.
While tennis shoes are perfectly suitable for the excursion up, note that the trail can make for a pesky descent. Make sure to take your time when you trek back and, on wetter days, consider strapping on your hiking boots. If you pick up a map at the entrance of the Pack Forest, you could also pursue a lengthier route by taking one of the many services roads that the trail intersects.
Take note also of the stinging nettle plants that can be found dangling over some portions of the trail. One plant pierced my skin. But don’t worry, because there’s plenty of ferns to be found.
A half-mile in, you’ll notice the grade of the incline begin to increase to somewhere around 35 degrees. You’ll also be faced with a few major switchbacks that play host to some tantalizing beautiful views of the prairie. This makes for a good spot for a water break.
The trail’s grade will then even out and the tall canopies of the Pack Forest will greet you again on your trek. In another half mile, you’ll reach the top where you’ll find a view of the valley below, a small meadow and a trail register.
Overall, the trail makes for a great mid-week workout spot that’s not too far of a drive from anywhere in the South Sound. Bring your family or your pets and enjoy the quaint seclusion of the Pack Forest and Hugo Peak.
Eric Rosane is a reporter with Nisqually Valley News and a local hiking enthusiast. For story ideas on hikes off the beaten path, contact him at email@example.com.