Located in Eatonville, Washington, Pack Forestoffers horse, bike, and hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. There are no parking or entrance fees, as it is not a national park. It is owned by the University of Washington’s Center for Sustainable Forestry.
Upon entering the park, there is a conference center, cabins for students, a picnic area, and restroom facilities. There is also a map that you can look at before heading into the forest. Sometimes, there are paper maps available to take with you. If they haven’t been restocked, you will find maps at certain points along each trail. All trails are clearly marked, so getting lost isn’t really a concern. Still, it is always a good idea to carry a compass. After all, it is one of the ten essentials.
I've been hiking in Pack Forest on several occasions, and the two most memorable times for me were the first and last. On each of those visits, my best friend and I hiked one of the two most difficult trails. The first time we took the Falls Trail and, just last month, we hiked the Hugo Peak Trail.
I have to say that my favorite was the Falls Trail. It was the most challenging and also the most rewarding. According to the map (which we didn't have with us when we hiked the Falls - we managed to get our hands on one just last month), the upper and middle falls are on private property, and hikers should stay on the maintained trails. Oops! We hiked the lower, middle, and upper falls, even though we were supposed to stay near the lower level. I felt a little uneasy around the upper and middle falls. We came across at least a couple of small tents out in the woods, and I worried that there were derelicts (or axe murderers) out there watching us. At the time, we had no idea that we were on private property.
To get to the falls, there was some climbing involved. The trail gets very steep in certain areas, and it is necessary to use your hands. I would not recommend hiking the Falls Trail during rainy season either. It was just dry enough for us not to have too much trouble, but there were a few places where we couldn‘t go around the mud and had to take care not to get our boots stuck. I think it was July, but this was a couple of years ago, so I'm not exactly sure. Once you get to the falls, you'll want to hang out and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Be careful though, because the rocks are slippery.
This last time, we hiked Hugo Peak Trail. It is a difficult trail that is a four mile round trip. The time listed is two and a half hours. It took us about four hours, but we stopped for lunch in a clearing, and we detoured onto other trails on the way back down. Our only trouble was with the elevation gain, as our lungs were not used to it. The trail ends on Hugo Peak, where the elevation is 1, 740 feet. We ascended very slowly, so as not to get winded. The view from the top was well worth the ascent, plus our calves and glutes really got a great workout.
The forest offers easy, moderate, and difficult trails. The three easy trails range from a short ten minute walk to a two-mile round trip. The five moderate level trails are the ones that take the longest. The shortest of the moderate trails is a three-mile loop that takes approximately three hours. The longest trail is a seven mile round trip that takes about five hours or so to complete. And, of course, there are the two difficult trails previously mentioned.
You might see some wildlife on your hike. We’ve seen deer, a bunny, squirrels, and some birds, but the forest is home to a variety of critters. Last month, all we saw were a couple of caterpillars and a ladybug. Oh, and an angry wasp hung around me for a couple of miles one time. That I could’ve done without.
If you’re looking to go swimming or kayaking, Pack Forest is not the place. Also, there is no camping. (The conference center, dining hall, andaccommodationsare for UW students. All other visitors who wish to use the facilities for a conference or overnight stay are required to fill out a request form. The visit must be for educational purposes and is subject to approval). However, if hiking is what you love, you will not be disappointed.