Close this search box.

Hiking Mailbox Peak Loop

Hiking Mailbox Peak, up the Old Trail, down the New Trail

There are two main routes leading up infamous Mailbox Peak, and this loop takes you up one (the “Old” trail) and down the other (the kinder, gentler “new” trail). This is the summit mountaineers train on when winter weather shuts down access to higher peaks. And for good reason, the old trail climbs over 4,000 vertical feet in less than three miles. It’s gnarled with roots, slick with mud (or snow and ice, depending on the season). Unsuspecting and underprepared hikers are prone to get lost, hurt or both, and the stories of rescues on the original trail are well documented.

Trail Details
Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: 4-6 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 4,237 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: Year-round, but expect snow at the top in winter
If the old trail is torturous, the new trail is a walk in the woods. It’s longer, yes, but the gentle grades, well-engineered switchbacks and smooth, nearly root-free path is a pleasure in contrast. I figured for the complete Mailbox Peak experience I’d hike them both; up the old trail, and down on the more forgiving new trail. This forms an 8.3 mile loop that rewards with stunning views (on a clear day) and a challenge.

Getting to the Trailhead

This place is crazy popular on summer weekends, so much so that even after building a second parking area, there is now a shuttle that operates on weekends, running from Twin Falls Middle School to the trailhead every 20 minutes. It’s $2.75 per rider, but you won’t need a Discover Pass.

If you do park at the trailhead, a Discover Pass is required. There is a parking area outside the gate for the early starters. Pro tip: Be an early starter. The gate to the upper parking area is open from 7am to 8pm. You can get turn-by-turn driving directions here via Google Maps.

Hiking up Mailbox Peak

Before you hike Mailbox Peak, realize that taking the old trail is entirely optional. It’s risky business, so if you have any doubts about your ability to navigate or handle a dangerous, unmaintained trail, take the new trail both ways– up and down. No question; it’s still a challenge, as is any hike with over 4,000 vertical feet. But it’s a trail that is darn near impossible to get lost on, and it’s a much nicer, well-built and maintained trail.

Having said that… let’s take a look at the climb up the so-called old trail up Mailbox Peak.

Continue past the new trailhead, following a gravel road that doesn’t even appear to be marked. There was no sign saying “old trail, this-a-way”, probably to discourage you from even considering it.

Dirt road to the Old Mailbox Peak trailhead

After about 0.3 miles, you reach the information sign marking the old trailhead. Read the warnings. Be prepared to heed them. Consider whether you should really be hiking up the new trail instead.

The main warning reads: “Mailbox Peak Trail is a very steep, wet, unmaintained, difficult, challenging trail. It is 2.5 miles one way to the top and gains 4,000 feet in elevation. Search and rescue teams are frequently called to this trail to assist distressed hikers. Please respect your own ability.”

Now wipe the look of shock and awe off your face and decide whether to continue on, or head back to the new trail.

The old trail starts out innocently enough. You might be fooled into thinking that the stories are overblown (they are not).

A modest start up Mailbox Peak

The trail soon starts climbing, going from steep to steeper.

Steep and steeper

If you look closely at a topo map, you’ll see that it follows a ridgeline. The trees and their roots form your steps and handholds on the way up.

At times, the trail become a web of informal footpaths, weaving in and out of the trees in a chaotic fashion. To stay the course, watch for the silver diamond markers on the trunks.

Eventually, the old trail intersects the new. The signpost here (not securely anchored when I hiked this) directs people on the new trail. There was an old section that headed straight across the new trail, but at this point you may as well enjoy the respite from the climb.

Intersection of the old and new trails

As they say, you need to slow down and smell the roses. Or the wildflowers, which were plentiful.

Another 0.2 miles up the trail, you reach a talus field. There are carefully crafted steps up the field (if there hasn’t been recent slide activity), making it a fairly easy climb.

Talus field near the summit of Mailbox Peak

Once at the top of this, a series of steep, short switchbacks up the final push to the summit. When people ask you (on your way down) if they are almost there, you can honestly tell them they in fact, ARE almost there.

The final push to the summit of Mailbox Peak

And then, the mailbox appears. And the views open up. On this particular day, it felt like we could reach out and touch Mount Rainier.

This is the spot to pause, hydrate, refuel and recharge. Soak in those views (on a clear day) or catch your breath (on ANY day). Make a new friend. Odds are good that you won’t have the summit to yourself.

Heading down, you retrace your steps back to the bottom of the talus field, this time following the well-built and easy-to-hike new trail.

Taking the new trail down from Mailbox Peak

Yes, the new trail is twice as long, but it is kinder to your knees, hips, and feet. There are stretches were you might even break into a jog. It’s a really pleasant hiking experience.

Once back at the bottom, kick the dust (or mud) off your shoes and head to Twede’s Cafe in North Bend for a celebratory slice of Twin Peaks cherry pie and “a damn fine cup of coffee.”

You’ve earned it.

Mailbox Peak Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: mailbox-peak-72418-62904am.gpx


Mailbox Peak Tips and Resources

And for those who were wondering, yes, Mailbox Peak made the cut. It will be on the Pacific Northwest Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge.

Mailbox Peak Weather Forecast

[forecast width=”100%” location=”98045″]

Originally hiked on July 24, 2018. I was duped by Moosefish😉

Share the Post:

Related Posts