Best on sunny days May through November.
Mailbox Peak Overview
The old trail up Mailbox Peak was the stuff of legend. It inspired potential Rainier climbers, challenged adventurous day hikers, and occasionally Mother Nature used the trail to bite back. The number of injuries and rescues on the old trail, as well as terrible erosion caused by the masses of daily visitors, prompted the Department of Natural Resources to create a new trail to the top. While still relatively steep, this new route, built in part by WTA volunteers, offers a safer way for folks to attain the summit of this formidable peak. But you’ll still climb 4000 vertical feet in something like 4 miles.
The reward is the view from the top – just awesome. Make sure to bring hiking poles along with food, water, energy bars, and the “10 Essentials”… and watch the weather. Your hiking partners need to be capable of doing a tough hike – otherwise you’ll all be headed down early. After finishing this, you’ll know why locals roll their eyes when you tell them you just climbed Mailbox Peak…….it’s just a tough one. If you go in the winter, I really recommend having spikes for once you cross the snow line. Bring poles regardless. Also bring plenty of food and water, 2 gallons should be enough.
Mailbox Peak Trail
Trailhead and Starting Out
Your trip begins along the Middle Fork Road. The hike is wildly popular–on a typical weekend, the trailhead can have upward of 50 cars at any given hour. The new trail also came with a new upper parking lot, but even so, don’t expect to get a spot in the parking lot unless you arrive very early.
Hang your Discover Pass in your car and head out, walking for a short jaunt along a paved DNR road. Approach a gate and slip around it. About one hundred yards past the gate, an inviting opening indicates the location of the new trail. Set out for the summit here, along a trail that switchbacks along the northwest face of Mailbox Peak.
The new trailhead is well marked and close to the parking area. The old trailhead is about half a mile further down the road on the left.
The New Mailbox Peak Trail
Bridges and creek crossings await you in the lower section of the hike, and then the switchbacks start. At roughly 850 feet of elevation gain per mile, your thighs will feel the burn once you start climbing, and it won’t let up until you’re standing triumphantly next to the Mailbox. Distract yourself by taking a look at the construction of the trail. A multitude of WTA volunteer crews worked to create rock fords and turnpikes (elevated sections of trail) that keep your feet dry as you cross many creeks.
The switchbacks continue for about 4 miles, before rejoining the old trail at elevation 3860 feet for your final push to the summit. There are no views until you cross the tree line although on hot days the shade is appreciated. From here it’s another mile or so to the peak. This last push consists of 960 feet of elevation gain in half a mile–hopefully the approach warmed you up for the final assault! If your energy flags, remember what views await you at the summit. The final push to the top is more or less a scramble over a boulder field and high incline angle which you’ll find yourself using three points of contact to keep from slipping.
While dogs are allowed, this is not a dog friendly trail. There are not many places to find water, a tough climb, and lots of rocks to climb over.
The Old Mailbox Peak Trail
The Old Trail is HARD. It is pretty much a 45% or more incline the whole way. The trail is pretty crude, and you need go step carefully so you don’t slip. Once you get closer to the top it is very exposed and you need to be extra careful, especially when you come back down. Many hikers choose to go up the Old Trail but most come down the New.
The first maybe 1/4 mile of trail you are meandering in a forested area with a few nice cold creeks running through. You will find these useful to soak your tired feet when you get back down. This little jaunt doesn’t last long as the trail goes into full business mode with the quickness. No transition, no feeling out process, just you looking at this straight up, root stepped, steep as hell thing saying “DAMN!”
Mailbox Peak Summit
The peak’s position at the end of a long ridgeline means you’ll have an even better vantage point for panoramas than you might on other summits like Granite or Bandera. Rainier is in your face, and to the northwest, the Middle Fork Valley stretches before you like a lush green carpet. If nothing else, think about what might be in the mailbox itself besides the summit register. Folks have found beer, toys, even a fire hydrant at the top! What might you find?
Wildflowers and Fall Colors
The wildflowers and colors above the tree line on Mailbox Peak change from month to month.
Take exit 34 from I-90. Head north on 468th Ave SE for approximately half a mile until the intersection with the SE Middle Fork Road. Turn right onto the Middle Fork Road. Follow SE Middle Fork Road 2.2 miles to the stop sign at the junction with SE Dorothy Lake Road. Head left onto SE Middle Fork Road and drive .3 miles. Take the turnoff to the trailhead on the right and continue a short distance up the paved road to the paved parking lot with 40 spots and a vault toilet.
On weekends and holidays from late April until the end of October, Trailhead Direct provides a seasonal bus service from the Issaquah Transit Center Bay 5 to the North Bend Park and Ride and on to the Mailbox Peak trailhead. Rides leave every half hour from North Bend to the trailhead from 803am to 306pm. Return trips depart the trailhead every half hour from 1030am until 630pm. See https://trailheaddirect.org/mailboxpeak/