Mailbox Peak. What a 'fun' hike. The original Mailbox Peak trail features a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike with 4,000 feet of elevation gain. If you do the math, then you're hiking 2.7 miles from the trailhead to the peak. Doesn't sound that bad at first, right? Well, factor in the 4000 feet of elevation gain, and you're looking at about 1500 feet of elevation gain per mile. If you spit your coffee out reading that, I can understand why.
Hiking the Mailbox Peak Old Trail took me 2 hours and 13 minutes to reach the peak and 2 hours to hike the new trail back to the car. The Mailbox Peak Old Tail is not for the faint of heart.
This trail is so strenuous that the Washington Trails Association decided to build a new, gentler path to the peak. The new trail sits at 9.4 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 850 per mile. You're still climbing a total of 4,000 feet in elevation, but it is not nearly as strenuous. Here's a little comparison of the Mailbox Peak Old Trail versus the New Trail:
For the sake of this post, I'm going to discuss what to expect hiking Mailbox Peak on the Old Trail.
Hiking The Mailbox Peak Old Trail
The trailhead to Mailbox Peak is about 40 minutes outside of Seattle and is very easy to get to from Interstate 90. Once you arrive at Mailbox's parking lot, it is essential to note that there will be two parking lots. A lower lot, and an upper lot. If you think you are going to be hiking past 8 pm, do not park in the top lot. The trail's association closes the gates to the top lot at 8 pm, and they will not wait for cars to clear out. We got to the trailhead just before 5 pm on a Tuesday, so we parked in the lower lot.
You will start your hike on a well-maintained gravel path. You'll quickly see the trailhead for the new Mailbox Peak Trail on your left- hand side. To find the old trail, stay on the gradual gravel pathway for about a third of a mile. Once at the Old Trail's trailhead, you'll see a giant warning sign - reminding you, once again, that this trail is not for the faint of heart.
The hike starts in a relatively gradual fashion, winding you through the forest. You'll hike alongside a river for a small portion, and you might even have a spec of hope that the hike won't be as strenuous as you've heard. But, it doesn't take long for the gradual incline to turn into a steeper one.
About a quarter of a mile into the hike, you'll start hitting some steep switchbacks. The trail, in total, doesn't have many switchbacks, but you'll go through a handful of them at this point. They last for about another quarter mile or so until they disappear, and suddenly, you have a trail that continues the steep climb without the aid of switchbacks. This point is where the fun begins.
Once you're half a mile into the hike, for forest turns relatively dense. The sunlight doesn't shine through the thick tree canopy; it's just you with nothing but the trail, roots, moss, and surrounding trees. I recommend hiking with a friend to avoid feeling any loneliness within the darker spots of the hike and if anything should happen on the trail.
During the hike, you'll need to watch your step. There are a ton of roots covering the trail. At some points, these roots can be helpful and act as steps up the steeper portions, but other
times they can be hazardous if you forget to pick your tired feet up.
It will help if you also look out for small silver diamonds nailed to trees along the path. The trail can be challenging to find at times, and the diamonds provide a way to guide your hike. Every time you see a diamond, look ahead at the trees in front of you and spot another diamond, this will allow you to stay on the trail throughout the hike's duration.
Throughout the hike, you'll get a few sections where the trail evens out, and you get a small breather before climbing upwards again. Make sure you enjoy these, as they don't last long!
Just before you get to the hike's 2-mile mark, you'll notice some green vegetation becoming more prominent alongside the trail. As you look around you, you'll also see the sun shining through the trees as you exit the dense, dark section of the woods. Not long after this, you'll come to a part where the Old Trail merges with the New Trial. If you want a slightly more gradual hike at this point, you can take the new trail to the right, or you can continue straight ahead onto the old trail. We decided to keep burning our legs on the old trail. After a third of a mile, the trees will open up, and you will see views of the valley below. If it is a clear day, you'll even get your first views on Mount Rainier.
Not long after this, the trail will open up to a giant boulder field, otherwise known as a Talus Deposit. From here, the trail features human-made steps carved into the rocks. Compared to hiking up the steep rooted sections of the old trail, this portion is a breeze and a welcomed change of pace.
The path through the Talus Deposit features a few sweeping switchbacks. As you climb higher, you'll see amazing views of Rainier and Seattle in the distance. Once you reach the top of the boulder field, you get your first view of Mailbox Peak. You'll have a quarter-mile left to go in the hike, with about 600 feet left to climb. The home stretch is a real leg burner.
Steep, strenuous switchbacks stand between you and Mailbox Peak. As your legs will likely be exhausted at this point, you may have to use your hands to climb a few of the steeper portions. When you're about 100 feet away from the peak, the Mailbox will come into view. Finish your final strides and touch the Mailbox in glorious victory! Take in all of the views of the surrounding mountains. We didn't hike on a super bright day, but we could still see Rainier, Glacier Mountain, Mount Adams, Mount Baker, and tons of other surrounding peaks. It was a fantastic viewpoint.
In total, the hike took us 2 hours and 13 minutes, according to my FitBit, and a total of 3.6 miles from the parking lot to the peak. 3.6 miles is a little longer than I expected, but I didn't pause my watch during our breaks, and I did walk back and forth for filming a few shots, so that could explain the extra distance.
After enjoying some celebratory beers and snacks at the peak, we began the hike back to the car. On our way down, we decided to take the New Trail, as hiking down the Old Trail is very difficult. Walking down the Old Trail presented a lovely way to stretch out legs after the strenuous hike up. We got back to our car just as it was getting dark - We had started our trek at 4:38 pm, and we finished at 8:40 pm. In total, we hiked 9.47 miles for 4 hours and 1 minute. What a trip!
Taking the old trail up Mailbox Peak is a challenge. There is a reason a warning sign is present on the trailhead. The sign states that "Search and rescue teams are frequently called to the trail for distressed hikers." If you're not ready for a hike that climbs over 1400 feet of elevation per mile, then maybe stick to the New Trail for your safety. Regardless, make sure you pack tons of water and snacks for Mailbox Peak. You're going to need all of the fuel you can get.
The hike was a fantastic experience, and I am stoked to have done it, but I'm not sure I'll be doing it again soon. I think I can still feel my legs burning a week later.
Stay safe out there and happy hiking!
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