Hike of the week: Little Mashel Falls and Mashel River

Hike description: The falls created as the Little Mashel River flows into the Mashel River are delightful. Visiting them involves a lowland winter hike through the Pack Forest. On this hike, it's recommend that you visit the Middle Falls and then wander down to the river to sit on the rocky beach before slogging back up the hill.

With map in hand, from the gate house head up Road 1000. The first part of the road is paved, but this quickly gives way to a gravel road that is softer on the feet. Be sure you have your map readily accessible; there are a lot of junctions in the forest and not all are marked. Road 1000 takes you up the hill through forest. In two miles, you will come to a Y junction. Road 1000 goes to the right. You will stay straight, on a road that is numbered 1070 on one map and 1097 on another. In about a third of a mile you will pass the field of Murphy’s Ranch. The road continues on ahead but you will make a hairpin turn to the left, following the arrow on a sign painted on a rock: “To the Falls.” The trail goes through the grass and then heads down the hill. Watch for the intersection at the bottom of the hill. The trail continues straight but you will go to the right, into forest. You will come to another intersection. Take the trail to the left, signed “Middle Falls.” The trail straight ahead looks like the remnants of the old road that it is and goes out of Pack Forest and onto private land and an area sometimes used by skeet shooters for target practice.

When you’ve had your fill of the falls (does this ever really happen?), go back up the trail to the junction and continue on the trail down the hill toward the Mashel River. You will pass a sign on the right for the trail to the Lower Little Mashel Falls. Pass it. Keep going down the trail to the river for waterfront dining. If, after lunch, some in your party are game for something more challenging, follow the sign to the lower falls, but know that the trail is steep and, in season, very muddy and slippery. This trail is not recommended for the faint of heart or the weak of knee. When you’ve heard all the roar of the falls you need, you’ll retrace your steps along Road 1000 back to the gatehouse.

When done, you will have spent the better part of a day in Pack Forest, owned by the College of Forest Resources of the University of Washington. It is named for Charles Lathrop Pack, who donated the land in 1926. The forest is used for graduate and undergraduate academic programs, research, conferences, continuing education and public outreach. Depending on when you are there, you may see new forests in progress and/or clearcuts and other evidence of the forest-as-laboratory-as-hands-on-learning. Along with the educational component, this trip is a wonderful dose of being out in the “wilds” while still close to home.

Directions: Take state Route 7 south from Tacoma or state Route 161 south from Puyallup. The entrance to Pack Forest is on state Route 7, 0.2 miles west of the junction with state Route 161. Park at the entrance, by the gate house.

Difficulty rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult)

Miles round-trip: 7

Elevation: 200 feet

Best time of year: Year-round

Map: Download map at www.packforest.org/education/11x17_low2.pdf.

Pass: None needed

Also: The gates are generally closed on the weekends. Park by the gate house, outside the gate. There is a public restroom, open during summer months, in the gate house. Bicycles are welcome on the roads but the hiking trails are for feet only. Horses are allowed on designated horse paths. During hunting season, be sure to dress appropriately – fluorescent orange makes a dandy fashion statement. Please pack out all trash.

Information: Harvey Manning’s “Best Winter Walks and Hikes in Puget Sound,” Mountaineers Books, has a good description of Pack Forest and other hikes in the area.

Hike of the Week is presented by The Mountaineers Tacoma Branch Hiking/Backpacking Committee. For other hikes, visit www.theolympian.com/hiking.