After a weekend in Lummi Island, I headed south to Elbe, a gateway town to Rainier. I’m not exactly sure how I selected Elbe, Washington. Perhaps the train cars on the main highway caught my attention as I drove through it on my way to the Olympic Peninsula the week prior.
I just knew I needed to head south for my journey back to Colorado for July and August, and it seemed like there was some hiking around. Additionally, since I’ve wanted to see Mt. St. Helen’s and that National Monument was sort of on the way to Mendocino where I planned to visit some friends for the weekend.
History of Elbe
Originally known as Brown’s Junction, the Town of Elbe was founded in 1890. It was named for the pioneer settler Henry Lutkens who came from the Valley of Elbe in Germany. When the Tacoma Eastern Railroad came to the area, it created a logging boomtown. Elbe once boasted a hotel, hospital, school, and store!
When train passenger service between Ashford and Elbe ended in 1924, however, the town shrunk. Now, only about 50 people call Elbe home. Despite the small population, there are a handful of things to do in Elbe and the surrounding area.
Where to Stay in Elbe
First, it’s hard to miss the train cars. They line the southwest side of Hwy 7. While there is an engine on display, most of the cars are cabooses and make up the Hobo Inn. In fact, the Hobo Inn encompasses one of the largest collections of cabooses in North America. Children and train enthusiasts would enjoy a night in these cars. Even dogs are allowed in #7.
Of course, since I was in VANgo, I just found a dead-end road off of Skate Creek Road. Based on the cement barricade and grass covered asphalt at the end, it looked as though a portion of the road which leads to the Nisqually River washed out a while ago. Other narrow forest roads branch off this dead-end street which provided nice evening walks with Annie
Where to Eat in Elbe
Visitors to Elbe may also dine in some refurbished cars. Try the pizza at Pizza Express or American cuisine at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Co. There are a few other choices that aren’t in train cars, including a coffee shop, a burger spot, and a bar and grill. For more options, Ashford and Eatonville are larger (though still small), nearby towns.
Things to Do in Elbe
Buy the Cherries
I mean how can you pass up Rainier cherries when you are only 13 miles away from the Nisqually entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park? While I visited in June, there was a cherry stand set up across Hwy 7 from the Little White Church.
The best part was you could buy a small basket of cherries for only $2! Seriously?!? A lot of times I don’t’ buy cherries because they go bad before you can eat a giant bag of them. This little stand sold multiple sized containers so everyone could enjoy!
Just be sure to keep them away from you dog as the stems, leaves and pits all contain cyanide which can be toxic to man’s best friend.
Visit the Little White Church
The Little White Church is also located on the southwest side of Highway 7, next to all the train cars. The church was originally built as a schoolhouse in 1906 by German immigrants. The second smallest church in the Nation can accommodate 43 people and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It holds Evangelical Lutheran services from March to November and may be booked for small weddings.
Take a Scenic Drive in Mount Rainier National Park
Since Elbe is so close to Mount Rainier National Park, it would be sinful miss. With my dog, Annie, in tow, I couldn’t do much but take a scenic drive and marvel in Mount Rainier’s majesty since dogs aren’t allowed on the trails. I don’t know if is because there are no other tall mountains around or what, but this 14,000-foot, active volcano was a site to behold. It is massive!!
From the Nisqually entrance on the southwest side of the park, the most popular entrance from Seattle, there are many places to visit on the way to Paradise Inn, 26 miles up the road.
Historic Longmire, once the park’s headquarters, is the first major stop along the way. The old headquarters is now a historic district which features a museum.
Further up the road is Cougar Rock which is a nice place to take in the sunset. Continuing on, Narada Falls is easily accessible from the road.
Finally, Paradise Point and Paradise Inn provide magnificent views of Mount Rainier. I had hoped to leave Annie behind for a few hours to hike up to Myrtle Falls to watch the sunset, but the mountain was still covered in snow in mid-June. In fact, a small river of water constantly ran through the parking lot as the snow melted. As a result, took in the sunset from the deck on VANgo at Paradise Point and also enjoyed nearly a full moon!
Certainly, the afternoon I spent in the park isn’t even close to enough time to fully get the feel of it. With four entrances, the huge, remote park deserves at least a week for the basics!
Explore the Pack Forest
Since I couldn’t get any hiking at the National Park, I visited the dog friendly Pack Forest. The Pack Forest is an experimental forest. With the help of a gift from lumberman, Charles Pack, in 1926, the University of Washington purchased 334 acres.
Over the years, the University has opened and closed a sawmill, added many roads, trails, and buildings, planted a variety of trees to see which fare the best in the Pacific Northwest climate, built an insectary, served as a weather station, purchased more land, and continued to teach forestry management and conservation.
Little Mashel Falls
Visitors may hike the trails for free, but be sure to go early, as cars get towed from the parking area after 2:30. The first day I visited, I intended to hike to Little Mashel Falls. A University staffer asked me to park a certain direction and warned that parking lot would be full with 20 cars by 9 am.
Due to his comment, I quickly scanned the information and rushed off to hike. The board mentioned that hikers currently had to follow the road, so I thought the AllTrails map might be wrong since a road isn’t mentioned. I vaguely remembered from the reviews that there were three waterfalls and the paths are marked by diamonds.
Consequently, when I saw the first diamonded marked path off the road, I took it. I climbed and climbed toward nothing through a forest with a few scattered interpretive signs. There was no creek and ultimately no waterfall. I came out on a narrow, dirt road!
At this point, I did not want to turn around and join the masses at the waterfall. Especially because I was the only one on the trail which gave Annie freedom to roam. Upon reviewing the AllTrails map, I saw I could connect several trails and roads to make a loop back to the car and settled on this route.
The route passed through logged areas and super grassy areas, provided an occasional view, descended a steep single-track trail called “Advanced”, and zigzagged on a few roads. In all, is was a little dull and rather remote considering just a stone’s throw away is a heavily trafficked hike. Later, after reading the board more closely, I learned the diamonds were color coded. Some meant waterfall while other signified trail.
Also, there was only about ten cars in the parking lot. I suppose that’s busy for a weekday, but I probably could have just turned around and done the waterfall hike. Oh well…we got our exercise!
Bud Blancher Trailhead
Not to be deterred from seeing the three waterfalls, the following morning I returned. Only this time I began at the Bud Blancher Trailhead. Since it didn’t begin in the forest, I thought it might be quieter. I quickly learned this is the a popular dog walking trail for the City of Eatonville residents.
Once we reached the turnoff to the falls, however, we enjoyed a quiet, single-track trail to ourselves. While the hike is labeled as easy because most of it is flat, there are short stints of steep terrain. One section gains 200 feet in elevation over 0.2 miles.
Descending to each portion of the Little Mashel Falls, lower, middle, and upper requires another stint up. The trail is narrow and rocky in areas but visiting all sections of the falls is worth it. The lower and middle falls are particularly worth it with unobstructed views. The entire hike is 4.6 miles and almost all the 564 feet of elevation gain is in half a mile.
While I feel like I got a sense of Elbe, three days in the area was not enough time. Returning to see more of Mt. Rainier National Park will be added on to the bucket list. Next time, however, I’ll plan an August or September visit to allow for less snow! ETB