This is the sixth in a series of articles about local trails, campgrounds, parks, etc. – simply about places to enjoy the outdoors without traveling too far. Ideally, this will encourage folks to get outside, get some exercise and forget that we have been cooped up for months.
The focus will be on destinations in our own back yard and all will be of the “day trip” variety. Previous weeks have featured outings like the Melmont Ghost Town Trail, Black Diamond Open Space, the Old Mine Trail, Flaming Geyser State Park; this week we’re headed to Mud Mountain.
The target audience is the novice or, at least, not a seasoned veteran of the woods. Nothing here will involve summiting Mount Rainier or spending days trekking the Wonderland Trail.
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While there’s always a strong pull to head uphill for a long day of hiking, there’s occasionally a desire to stick closer to home and spend just a couple of hours on the trail.
That’s where Mud Mountain Dam can satisfy. Just a few miles up state Route 410 from Enumclaw, the area around the dam traditionally provides three options. But in a COVID-19 era, tradition often flies out the window. But more on that in a bit.
First, a quick history lesson about Mud Mountain Dam.
Aside from the trails, the grounds usually provide a family-friendly destination spot. It’s a place for picnics and there’s play areas for kids.
But the good times are secondary 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.
NOW FOR THE BAD NEWS
The Mud Mountain Dam recreation area is off-limits to the public, having closed in March due to the ongoing pandemic. That means no access to what is called the Vista Trail, which is accessed from an observation deck that (in more normal times) a head-on view of the dam.
Also off-limits is the River Trail. It was closed in August due to hazardous conditions and, despite some work being done, remains officially closed. Park personnel noted this week that the trail has become overgrown.
When in service, the River Trail leads directly from the Rim Trail and adds seven miles (round trip) to a day’s excursion.
THAT LEAVES JUST THE RIM TRAIL
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.
Peak times can see the trail a bit crowded but timing is everything. On a Wednesday morning last week, there were just two cars in the lot and a two-hour hike meant crossing paths with just three others.
SOME THINGS TO KNOW
The Mud Mountain area is open year-round and requires no permit.
Dogs are permitted on trail but must be leashed. Horses and anything motorized is not allowed.
Convenience is a major selling point, as it’s a quick 10-minute uphill trip from downtown Enumclaw to the trailhead. Just head east on state Route 410 – the large sign indicating a right turn to Mud Mountain is hard to miss. After the turn, it’s about 1.5 miles to the trailhead parking lot and, when it’s open, the play area.