Pack Forest is packed with wonderful trail running opportunities!
Located just south of Eatonville in the Nisqually River Valley is the University of Washington’s 4,300 acre Pack Forest. Originally established in 1926 for forestry research and demonstrations, the Pack Forest continues that tradition today with an emphasis on sustainable forestland management. Housing the Center for Sustainable Forestry; the Pack Forest hosts throughout the year a wide array of students, scientists, professionals, policymakers, and visitors. What many of these folks soon find out about the Pack Forest_is what many of the locals have long known_the Pack is packed with trails! And they’re open to the public.
There are miles of trails traversing this large tract open to hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. Trail runners will especially be pleased with the trail network. For one thing, nearly all of the Pack’s trails and forest roads (which are closed to vehicles), and there are miles of these, are suitable for trail running. All of these roads and trails interconnect creating countless loop options of varying degrees of difficulty. Seasoned trail runners will love some of the more challenging trails that climb up steep hillsides, while beginners can stick to double tracks that wrap around those hills or climb them on a gentler grade.
While much of the property consists of second and third growth forest displaying varying harvesting and forestry techniques, there is a substantial tract of old-growth forest within the Pack. And there are plenty of other scenic delights here too, including waterfalls, ravines, and scenic viewpoints. Wildlife is abundant with good chances you’ll run into an elk or deer or two. Note that the Pack Forest is open to hunting, so take the necessary precautions during the fall, like donning orange and staying on the trails.
Because the Pack Forest consists of generally low ridges, it is mostly snow-free throughout the year giving trail runners some excellent terrain to train on during the winter months. However, some of the secondary trails can get quite muddy, so stick with the main routes and the roads_unless you enjoy plodding through puddles and kicking up some mud. And how many trail runners don’t like doing that?
Trails are fairly well-marked, but it’s easy to get confused on the Pack’s large and interconnecting network of trails and roads; so definitely take along a map. You can download one from www.packforest.org or pick one up at one of the trailhead kiosks or the Forestry Center near the gatehouse.
Looking for a good warm-up run of four to five moderate miles? Take the 1000 Road to the 1070 Road to the Falls Trail. Then enjoy running through one of the more scenic stretches in the Pack Forest. Take in some nice views of Mount Rainier hovering in the east before veering off onto the Falls Trail. Then drop down into a small canyon carved by the Little Mashel River leading to a series of impressive waterfalls. Tom Tom Falls, the first in the series is hidden from the trail. But Little Mashel Falls (also known as Bridal Veil Falls) and Lower Little Mashel Falls are trail accessible. Little, which plummets 120 feet is not little at all and during the wet winter months thunders and is quite impressive. Plan on taking your snack and stretching break here. You can make a loop back to the gatehouse where you began by following the old Weyerhaeuser Road, or just retrace your steps.
If you’re up for a good challenge with varying terrain and some scenic payoffs _ Hugo Peak is where you want to set your trail running shoes. From the Forestry Center it’s just over two miles and 850 vertical feet to the top of this 1,740-foot summit via the Hugo Peak Trail. The way can be steep at times and the footing requiring a little concentration. But most of the way is on good single track through cool forest. There are good views from the top and along the way through some clearings. Be sure to pause to take in the surrounding countryside_and on clear days you can see all the way out to Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
There are lots of options to make a loop out of Hugo Peak. You can head back on one of the forest roads for a gentler longer descent_or down the Advanced Horse Trail for a steep quick return. The trail cuts through thick salal and can be muddy and slick. The roads are wide and offer better footing.
Consider a run on the Trail of the Giants accessed by taking the 1080 Road a short way from Hugo Peak to Kirkland Pass. As the name denotes, this route takes your through a stand of towering old-growth, one of the few large stands of ancient forest remaining in the Rainier foothills. You can continue on from there to the Windy Ridge Trail or the 2000 Road for an ascent to the Pack Forest’s highest point at just over 2,000 feet. From Kirkland Pass you can return to the gatehouse on the 1000 Road for a nice three mile easy on the knees descent. The Reservoir Trail which parallels the road is a good option if you want something a little wilder. En route you’ll pass by a small retention pond.
Ultra runners can have a field day heading out on the numerous roads and trails less traveled in the Pack’s eastern fringes. With such a large interconnecting trail and road system, countless variations can be made guaranteeing that any return trips will still harbor elements of surprise and discovery. You can easily pack in the trail running miles at the Pack Forest.
Getting to Pack Forest: From Tacoma, follow SR 7 south to just before La Grande. Entrance to Forest is just past the junction with SR 161. Park at Gatehouse or proceed a little farther to parking at Forestry Center.