Hike description: There are two ways to the top of Mailbox Peak. One is legendary. The other is relatively new.
Veteran hikers will tell you that to truly experience Mailbox Peak, you must at least ascend via the old trail. The old trail climbs 4,100 feet in less than 3 miles. The trail is steep and primitive. Hikers have been injured on this trail, so be careful when picking your route.
The new trail, opened in 2014 thanks to more than 10,000 hours of volunteer work, takes 4.8 mile miles to climb the peak, and it is much less steep. Many who go up on the old trail choose to come down on the new trail to reduce the strain on their knees.
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The trails merge about half a mile from the 4,822-foot summit. At this point you have a few more switch backs before reaching a boulder field. There was a time when hikers needed to find their own route over the boulders, but now trail crews have set an easy-to-follow path that in places feels like a staircase.
In this section, the views you’ve worked so hard for start to unfold. Interstate 90 snakes along the valley below, more evergreen-covered peaks are visible in every direction and, on clear days, Mount Rainier, is visible to the south.
Situated on the summit is a large mailbox stuffed with letters, trinkets and a summit register. (On our Oct. 2 visit we didn’t actually see a summit register, but we’ve signed it on previous trips.) This unofficial mailbox, which has been replaced many times over the years, is a popular photo opportunity.
Directions: Take Exit 34 on I-90 and drive on north 468th Avenue Southeast. Turn right on Southwest Middle Fork Road. Continue left at the junction with Dorothy Road and go a short distance to the parking area. Parking is available near the road or drive to the upper parking lot if the gate is open. The gate closes at 7 p.m. The parking lot is closed Mondays-Thursdays.
Difficulty rating: 4-5, depending on which route you choose (5 is most difficult, 1 is easiest).
Miles round trip: 6-9.6.
Elevation gain: 4,100 feet.
Best time of the year: May-November.
Map: Green Trails 206: Bandera.
Pass: Discover Pass.
Also: Be sure to check weather forecasts and trail conditions before attempting this hike. Road work is taking place on Middle Fork Road, so visitors may encounter delays. White diamond trail markers affixed to trees show the way on the old trail. The Washington State Fire Training Academy is located at the base of the mountain, and graduating classes often scale the mountain before graduation. Some years, they’ve been known to haul a fire hydrant to the top. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead. Dogs on leashes are permitted on the trail. Several geocaches are hidden along the trails. Visit geocaching.com for more information.