Federation Forest State Park

Area: Enumclaw Hike Type: Family-friendly Pass: Discover Pass
Distance: 1.5 mi loop  Duration: 1.5 hrs Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Start: 1,673 Elevation End: 1,700 Elevation Gain: 0
Snow-Free: Year-round    

Though the siren of high country trails is calling, don’t be misled – there’s still snow at higher elevation trails. Fortunately there are trails near Mount Rainier you can hike without getting into snow. Federation Forest State Park is a textbook example of such a trail. Any time of the year is good to visit the park, stroll through the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center and enjoy a picnic on beautifully arranged picnic grounds above the White River.

In early July it felt like summer – only a few weathered trilliums remained to remind you that spring has quietly passed and has transitioned into summer. For spring flower displays, visit in May and for Technicolor displays of vine maple visit in fall – in fact, in past years we’ve even enjoyed a picnic in December. In July it simply felt like an old-fashioned sleepy, summer day and we were grateful for the park’s shady trails.

The two Fred Cleator Interpretive Trails meander through the forest; the West Loop (1 mile) and the East Loop (1/2 mile) that runs along the old river terrace. The trails are named to honor Fred W. Cleator, an early forester and conservationist.

As you hike the West Loop trail, take time to read interpretive signs describing the medley of evergreens as well as a rich understory of native shrubs and woodland flowers. In July we discovered pinesap, a saprophyte emerging from the soft carpet of pine-needle-covered earth near stately conifers.

Even without interpretive signs, Douglas firs with their charred, protective bark tell of ancient forest fires. Here the focus is on handsome evergreens ranging from spruce trees to not-so-majestic yew trees dwarfed by larger evergreens (Noble fir, Alaska red cedar, Douglas fir).

In late June through July, flowers you may encounter include bleeding hearts, Canadian dogwood, bead lily and trilliums (already gone to seed).

Though main trails are signed, secondary trails bisect the main ones; all trails lead back to the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center, the White River or Highway 410. There are approximately 12 miles of trails, including a stretch of the historical Naches Trail. That segment dates back to 1853 as the Naches Wagon Road when the Naches Trail connected Puget Sound to Eastern Washington.

The park is also an ideal spot to picnic on your way to or from Mount Rainier National Park, Crystal Mountain or as you tour the Chinook Scenic Byway. The park provides picnic shelters and picnic tables, including one quietly tucked away in shady forest. The upper picnic area provides a covered shelter, restrooms with running water, braziers, a drinking fountain and an ADA-compliant restroom. The lower picnic area beside the White River is a pretty place to linger and watch the changing light on the White River as it surges downstream with its gay, summer border of foxgloves, alders and thimbleberry shrubs with fat white blossoms (by mid-summer those thimbleberries are ripe and ready-to-eat).

Gardens at the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center highlight edible and poisonous native plants from different regions of Washington. Montgomery was considered a pioneer in education with a passion for conservation. Inside the interpretive center are interpretive displays that elaborate on the differences in ecosystems ranging from the east side to the west side of the mountains.

The park was originally called Big Tree Park and situated near Snoqualmie Pass. By the 1930s logging, windstorms and fire had damaged the forest to the extent that advocates of the park sought a better location to protect old-growth forest. They anticipated a future in which few old-growth trees would remain outside of national parks; and with logging going strong, the park was relocated along the White River and dedicated in 1949. With the support of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Washington (GFWC-WS) and with the cooperation of state legislature, State Parks was able to purchase land for the park in 1941. Much of the parks development took place when Montgomery willed a generous sum to the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs (her bequest was used to build the interpretive center).

Today there are over 600 acres of forest within the park with some 18,000 feet of shoreline along the White River. The park has something for all visitors ranging from history buffs to families with children. Looking for the Hobbit House? A kiosk near the Upper Picnic Area displays the trail system, including where to find the Hobbit Trail though it does not show on the park’s handout – when the Interpretive Center is open you can borrow a more extensive trail guide. Whether 6 or 60; you’ll be delighted if you discover Hobbit House with its arrangement of thumbnail-sized mailboxes (complete with flag), gardens, fences and wee figurines tucked away in the nooks and crannies of stumps, trees and rocks.

Due to time constraints we didn’t find the Hobbit House on our last visit – even so, all trails at Federation Forest State Park feel like Hobbit Country. Having found Hobbit House only twice in several visits, we’ve come to the conclusion that finding it may be more to serendipity than skill. Finding Hobbit House is an unexpected gift, even more delightful when it finds you. No matter – whether or not you find Hobbit House, you will be enchanted by all the trails at Federation Forest State Park.

To get there: From Enumclaw travel east on SR 410 about 18 miles, at milepost 41 find well-signed Federation Forest State Park on the right-hand side of the highway.

Additional Information: Camping is not allowed, dogs must be on leash and under physical control. Fires are only allowed in fire rings in designated picnic areas. Bicycles are allowed on paved roads only. The park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk (year round). For additional information on this park, including closures, rules and regulations, visit the Washington State Parks website.

– Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert

Waypoints

Starting Point: 47.153179,-121.68408 End Point:

Notable Waypoints:

Entry Gate: N 47° 09′ 10, W 121° 41′ 03

For lodging near the Federation Forest click here