Review from Seattle PI
Mailbox Peak is a good winter tonic -- it's nasty but good for you. This hike is bitter medicine unless your quads are made of iron, but Mailbox should be done once a year if you are a serious hiker.
You'll earn the respect of your fellow hikers at a holiday potluck if you casually mention, "Yeah, I did Mailbox last week -- 2-1/2 hours up, 1-1/2 hours down." Chances are good they didn't climb Mailbox Peak. Chances are good they haven't even heard of the place.
A serious hiker can always embellish a hike, throwing in hazards here and there, and omitting such niceties as the fact that Mailbox is only a stone's throw from a hot bowl of chili at the truck stop off Edgewick Road. Throw in a pair of snowshoes and an ice ax (whether needed or not) and earn even more respect.
However, having accomplished the hike, you might not want to get out of bed the next day. Plan this hike on a Saturday if your work requires you to show up bright eyed and limber on Monday. However, if you can hike up Mailbox Peak and get out of bed the next day, you are in moderately good condition. If you climbed Mount Si the day before, you are in excellent condition.
Hardy folk sometimes climb to the summit of Mailbox during the winter and do the last few hundred feet (or more) as a snowshoe trip depending on where the snow level is.
Afterward you'll enjoy sitting in the local restaurant with the drivers of big rigs over a bowl of chili, gazing toward the summit. True, the summit is not as shapely as McClellands Butte or even Mount Si, but dramatic enough to qualify. And the summit really does have a mailbox.
In years past there would be no other cars at this unmarked trailhead, since only a few knew of the trail. Now the hike is well enough known that just a mere week ago there were eight cars at the trailhead.
Don't let the notion of a mailbox fool you into thinking this is a tame and easy hike. It's not. It's definitely not for the children. It's 6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet, and the trail never catches its breath. Once it begins to climb it doesn't level out until the very end.
Experience a variety of terrain -- the trail begins in the forest before it begins its stubborn climb to the summit. Much of the steep stuff is in the trees, a relief on a hot day. The tread becomes more obscure when the trail breaks out of the trees and is flagged through beargrass, heather and shrubs. A small rock slide and steep heather lead to the summit at 4,841 feet.
Drive Interstate 90 and get off on Exit 34 (Edgewick Road), turn left, pass the Seattle East Auto Truck Plaza and turn right on Middle Fork Road. The road splits at the end of the pavement and rejoins at Valley Camp (2.1 miles from the turn onto the Middle Fork) -- it doesn't really matter which road you take. Three-tenths of a mile further look for three roads off to your right. The middle road (gated) is the beginning of the hike. You'll find plenty of room to park.
Start by hiking the road. Even if the gate is open, park below the gate. After two-tenths of a mile a road veers left -- keep straight and at three-tenths of a mile look for the trailhead.
If you pass a small stream you've gone too far. The unmarked trailhead will be on your left and may be flagged, though the trail is becoming more obvious as it gets more use.
The trail wanders through forest crossing several small streams before it begins to climb. Stay on the main path. Some flagged routes lead to Grouse Ridge, so navigation skills would be needed. The trail is easy to follow until it breaks out into open slopes, where the views begin (oh yes, it is worth it). Follow flagging (or tracks in the snow) to the summit.
If you don't like the rock slide, you can bypass it on the left -- a rough path climbs beside it through the trees, but personally I prefer playing on the rocks.
If it's a nice day, you can stay long enough to read the "mail," probably a spiral notebook filled with the names of those who have conquered Mailbox and moved on.
Take care coming down -- it is easier to lose a trail coming down than going up.
6 miles round trip, elevation 4,000 feet. Harvey Manning's "Hiking the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway" (The Mountaineers, 215 pages, $12.95) has the best information on the hike.
Only RSVP YES if you know you are going to attend. If your plans change, update your RSVP to NO as soon a possible to give someone else a chance to go in your place.
Directions. We will meet on the ground floor of the new Issaquah transit center to carpool to the trail head.
Bring some cash to cover the car pool fee and a stop for ice cream after the hike. 10-15 cents per mile is suggested for riders.
Note: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trail head.