Little Mashel River Waterfalls via Bud Blancher Trail

Little Mashel River Waterfalls via Bud Blancher Trail

Eatonville, Washington (2017)

It all began in April. I was in my home state of Washington helping my mother after she had surgery. In the years I’ve been living on the east coast, my mom settled down in a small town about twenty-six miles from the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. What a beautiful place to live!

I saw this little deer grazing as I was walking down Center St E in Eatonville.


Center St E in Eatonville.
Coming into town from the Bud Blancher Trailhead.

I am, what my mother refers to as, “physical.” Needless to say, being cooped up in a one bedroom apartment, trying not to disturb my mom, wasn’t easy for my ceaseless energy. She encouraged me to get out and explore the area.

I walked around Eatonville, getting my bearings to where things were like a place to eat a veggie burger and drink coffee. I frequented Cruiser Cafe and Gypsy Wagon Espresso in April because they were pretty great – consistent and friendly.


Of course I needed more as far as walking was concerned. I began my exploration at Millpond Park. I believe I went there every day after I found it. I walked so many laps around that park in April!

Millpond Park

Nowhere else in the Unites States does coffee like Washington State. With my 16oz, quad shot, white chocolate mocha from Gypsy Wagon Espresso in hand, I was honestly hoping to see Mount Rainier when I stumbled upon Millpond Park. Instead of Mt. Rainier, I found a little Stage Stop Museum, playground, skate park, picnic area, with walking trails next to a little pond where if the weather was just right, you’d be able to see the mountain. There are public restrooms too!

The Van Eaton Cabin
Eatonville’s First Home
“T.C. (Thomas Cobb) Van Eaton, a native of Minnesota who came west at age 27 to start a town, built this cabin in 1889 from hand hewn old-growth timber, helped by his cousin Nate Williams. It was home for widower T.C. who was remarried to Mary Jane Osborn from Ashford. T.C. being a very generous man, this home also became a refuge for travelers, a trading post for settlers and Indians, a post office, a store and a stage stop. Originally built near what is now the center of town, it was moved here in 1995.”


My nephew Dillon and I playing in the rain.


Mill Pond.


Smallwood Park

One of my last days in Eatonville, I was able to meet up with my dear friend Jeannette, who I used to work with back in the 90’s. It had been nineteen years since Jeannette and I saw each other last and we decided to meet at Millpond Park.

With easy flow of conversation, we started walking and came across Smallwood Park. Neither of us knew that Smallwood Park was there and we went adventuring. We found a little trail that ran along the Mashel River and we walked, talked, and took pictures of everything!

Eventually Jeannette and I came to a bridge crossing the Mashel River. We spent some time on the bridge as we crossed it, and then followed a wide trail (past the water treatment area) to where the Bud Blancher Trail begins.

Me and Jeannette.


Ken Kildahl Kids’ Pond.


Mashel River

A sign to the left of the Smallwood Park parking area had information about restoring salmon habitat in the Mashel River as well as a brief history of the area.
The First People
“The Mashel River flows through an area that has been part of the traditional lands of the Nisqually Indian Tribe for thousands of years.
The Mashel River is one of the largest streams that flows into the Nisqually River which empties out into Southern Puget Sound.
The Nisqually People had villages on the upper and lower Nisqually River and its tributaries, including the Mashel River. The village on the Mashel River was called the Meschal and was associated with a traditional fishing station where the people from the village would fish for salmon.
Salmon have always been one of the most important foods for the Nisqually People. Much of their way of life traditionally and currently centers around the streams and rivers that make up the Nisqually River Watershed because of the salmon that return every year.”
The Beginning of Eatonville
“Indian Henry, a local Nisqually Tribal member guided the town’s founder, Thomas C. Van Eaton to the present site of Eatonville in 1889. Area settlers and Indians were in need of goods, which “T.C.” provided at his trading post. Supplies were carried by his stage from Spanaway over a rough trail through the dense forest.
For years, Eatonville was a waypoint for visitors to Mt. Rainier. In 1902, the Tacoma Eastern Railroad arrived, providing freight and passenger service and a vital link to Tacoma. Soon after the railroad’s arrival, several small lumber mills sprang up in the vicinity.
The town was incorporated in 1909, after the Eatonville Lumber Company brought in more people to work in its mill.”
Mashel River.


An intriguing old foundation on the Mashel River.


I found this little painted rock hanging out in a tree by the Mashel River.


Photo taken by Jeannette.


Bridge crossing the Mashel River – Bud Blancher Trail.


Mashel River.

After I returned to my home in Upstate New York, I did some research and learned there are waterfalls that can be reached via the Bud Blancher Trail. I told Jeannette about this and we agreed, if I came to Eatonville again and we had time to meet up, we would go see about these waterfalls. Waterfalls, because there are three separate waterfalls along the Little Mashel River.

I also learned the trail to the waterfalls from the Bud Blancher Trail was a left turn after the second bridge. I was delighted that there was a second bridge!

I flew out to help my mother again. I ended up walking anywhere from one to three hours every day while I was in Eatonville. I wanted so badly to find this second bridge I had read about, and of course see some waterfalls! The water levels in the Mashel River changed every day I was there and I had promised my mother I wouldn’t go to the waterfalls alone. It was well known in the area that two people died in 2016 at the lower falls, so I stuck to exploring the Bud Blancher Trail.

I wasn’t disappointed. Every day the woods looked different and the sunsets never got old. So many things catching my eye and so many ponderous thoughts walking alone in nature.

The first evening I wasn’t sure how far to go with daylight fading. I walked from my mother’s home to the trailhead on Weyerhaeuser Rd, and made it to the bridge I discovered with Jeannette in April quite quickly. I refer to this bridge now as “the bridge.”


A Dream within a Dream
Surrounded by nature with nightfall approaching
I stood in the light of the fading sun, mesmerized by a river’s song.
Ever Changing.
I was startled when I first saw you.
You manifested in my waking Hours
with an exhilarating presence impossible for me to ignore.
I wondered at your magic.
Love of Life and Hopeful Youth.
Vibrant and pulsating with the rhythm of MY heart
your radiance caressed my soul.
time stood still.
I tried to look away, but you saw me.
Resplendent warmth, dancing with hazardous beauty.
Drawn to your beautiful face and wild blue eyes, I saw you.
All Knowing.
giddy from your vivacity
our souls flirted innocently
Hopeful Youth
So Delicious to Devour
your name is whispered upon obsessed lips
Copyright © 2017 Alicen K. Hutcheson. All rights reserved.


Bud Blancher Trail

Each day I explored the path, taking my time, until I had a good idea of exactly how the trail went before reaching the turnoff for the Little Mashel River Waterfalls.
Trailhead at 400 Weyerhaeuser Rd N, Eatonville, WA.

Begin at the parking area, take the path down past the water treatment area, and cross the bridge. You will hear the Mashel River before you see it. There are many wild flowers, trees, and sky to distract you before making it to the first bridge. In fact, you can see Mount Rainier from the parking area when she decides she wants to be seen.

I honestly can’t recall ever seeing this flower in New England or Upstate New York.


Daisies lining the trail near the Eatonville Water Treatment Center.


View from trail near the parking area.


Blackberries at sunset.
View from trail near the parking area.

The Bridge & the Mashel River





A short distance from the bridge you will see Smallwood Park on the right, with a dirt road running along the trail on the left. The path is smooth, wide, and easy to navigate.

Smallwood Park parking and picnic area.


Bud Blancher Trail with 437th St E (I believe) on the left.


View from the Bud Blancher Trail near Smallwood Park.


As you continue to walk the trail you will see Washington State Route 161 with a couple of cows grazing in the pasture across the road.


The path turns to the left and you can see a yellow pole marking the end, or beginning, of this section of trail.


A little trail that runs along the road (Rt 161). A right turn if you are coming from the Bud Blancher Trailhead.I never went down it, but I imagine it leads to the entrance of Smallwood Park.


Just a short distance from where the path turns left, you will get to an area that looks like a gravel parking lot. Numerous signs are posted to NOT park here. Cross the open area and you will see the trail continues on the other side. There are homes on the right side of the trail, and on the left side just the wild.

Eventually, you will come across an area that I refer to as the “red rock.” The path kind of goes around it, turning left. Now, if you listen closely while inspecting the oddity of the red rock, you can hear the Little Mashel River!

Red rock and foxglove.


That’s right! The second bridge!!

Little Mashel River

Little Mashel River from the second bridge.


Little Mashel River from the second bridge
Me on the second bridge over the Little Mashel River.

Once you cross the second bridge, the path on the left that takes you to the waterfalls is very close. The trail is marked with a yellow dot on a tree just inside the woods.

Looking at the second bridge from where the waterfall path begins off of Bud Blancher Trail.


Looking at the path that leads to the Little Mashel River Waterfalls from the Bud Blancher Trail.
The tree with the yellow dot is on the right hand side and you might not see the marking unless you are looking for it.


Tree with yellow dot that marks the trail leading to the waterfalls.

Little Mashel River Waterfalls

I have no real good estimate about how far away the waterfalls are from the Bud Blancher Trail, but I did read somewhere that the Bud Blancher Trail is 2.3 miles from the trailhead to the second bridge. The trail to the falls is more narrow than the Bud Blancher Trail and can be muddy in some places.


As you go along, you’ll want to stay to the right when the path forks. There is a little yellow sign directing you to the falls.


The majority of this path is admittingly uphill, but I promise it’s worth the climb. Be careful not to rub against any stinging nettle. I unfortunately recognized the plant after it brushed along my collarbone, so I got the itchies and a silly rash.

Probably the stinging nettle that got me.

Lower Falls
You will encounter the lower falls first. Here, there are a few signs expressing to exercise caution down by the falls. To be aware of falling debris as well as slippery rocks.




My first view of the Lower Falls.


Getting closer!

Some stairs to help get towards the bottom of the falls. Lots of people and their dogs were congregated at the bottom so I only went to the bottom of these stairs.


Lower Falls.

A short ways up from where the lower falls trail branches off to the left, there will be another path on the left that takes you to the middle and upper falls. When you see a sign for the Upper Falls, there will be a path, with a little yellow marker that directs you to the Middle Falls (Little Mashel Falls).

Little Mashel Falls (Middle Falls)

Sign directing hikers to the Upper Falls.


Marker indicating the trail for the Middle Falls.


One of my first clear views of Little Mashel Falls.
Stairs leading to the bottom of the falls.


Little Mashel Falls.

I never made it to the Upper Falls (Tom Tom Falls), but it gives me a goal to accomplish the next time I visit my mother.

Ultimately I learned if you wanted to you could shorten your hike to the waterfalls by parking at Smallwood Park and accessing the Bud Blancher Trail from any of the trails near the Ken Kildahl Kids’ Pond.

Below are some photos of different things along the trail that captured my interest.



The huge tree stump with the bridge in the background.


Such amazingly tall trees!


This cedar tree was utterly distracting.
Some purple flowers, not sure what they are.


Wee lil’ snail.


Cotton Candy Sunset.


Magic filtering through the trees!


Bleeding Heart.


Salmon Berry!

All photos were taken by me unless otherwise stated.