Sometimes the desire to escape is just too strong; there’s a primal need to get away, get outside and get moving. But then reality rears its ugly head and we realize there are just a few unclaimed hours in the day.
Luckily for those on the Plateau, there’s nature at every doorstep. And when minutes are precious and few, the Mud Mountain Dam recreation area offers an easy getaway.
Not too many miles (and only a few more minutes) from downtown Enumclaw, the facility is more than just the namesake earthen dam. And it’s more than the playground and picnic sites sitting just inside the entry gates.
For those looking for trees and trails, the area – operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – has three distinctly different trails ready to welcome anyone’s hiking boots.
The good news during the past year came with the re-opening of the River Trail. A dozen months ago, natural forces had conspired to create hazardous conditions and, as a result, prompted Corps personnel to deem the trail off-limits.
Now, it’s open and greeting visitors.
Here’s a quick overview of the three primary trails in the Mud Mountain system.
This segment branches off the Rim Trail, clearly marked with a big, bold sign. It can be accessed by parking at the trailhead and trekking the couple of miles on the Rim Trail or, for those wanting a shorter journey, parking at a large entry point along the entry road, well before the trailhead.
Despite its name, the River Trail doesn’t always hug the banks of the White River. It wanders some along the mud flats of the valley floor, offering occasional glimpses of the river as it continues its upstream path.
It’s an out-and-back trail that isn’t particularly arduous. While some maps might show the trailing extending further, it effectively ends at Scatter Creek.
The only intimidating part is the long, graveled road that leads from the Rim Trail junction to the valley floor. While it’s an easy walk down, it’s a longer, slower slog on the return trip.
Quoting from a review printed a year ago in this newspaper: This is a relatively easy four miles (round trip), following the path of the White River with minimal elevation gain. There are a couple of uphill climbs that get non-athletes huffing and puffing, but it’s not terrible. Along the way, hikers can look down at the river canyon while getting a feel for the geologic (volcanic) events that shaped the landscape.
The trailhead is just outside the Mud Mountain gate, so look for the lot on the left while approaching the entry.
This isn’t exactly a destination hike, but it’s a nice add-on when tackling the other Mud Mountain trails.
The bonus is the front-and-center view of the dam.
Access the Vista Trail by passing through the gates and into the park. Make a left turn, find a parking spot and head for the observation deck. It is home to signs explaining the history of the dam and its importance.
To the far side of the deck is the access to the steep trail. Follow the switchbacks – it’s only about a third of a mile – and you’ll be staring into the face of the dam. Then climb those same switchbacks on the way out.
The recreational aspect of Mud Mountain is a nice accompaniment to the dam’s original and ongoing mission. An operation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the dam was built during the 1940s – interrupted by World War II and completed in ‘48 – as a way to prevent downstream flooding. Water is held behind the dam during times of heavy rain or rapid snowmelt, then slowly returned to the White River. It’s said the dam protects the homes and businesses of perhaps 400,000 people living near the White and Puyallup rivers.
The reservoir behind the dam is usually empty except for the normal river flow. When fully backed up, however, it can stretch five miles or more and cover 1,200 acres.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Getting there: Just follow state Route 410 uphill out of Enumclaw. About 10 minutes from the heart of downtown, there’s a hard-to-miss sign indicating a right turn off the highway. In a couple of minutes, drivers will spot the informal parking area that provides quick access to the River Trail. Travel just a bit further to a parking lot just outside the gate for access to the Rim Trail. Head through the gate for play areas, picnic tables and the observation deck/Vista Trail access.
Entry fees: There are none; no fees and no permits needed.
How about dogs? Your furry friend is welcome at Mud Mountain, as long as it remains on a leash.