Three waterfalls, multiple viewing areas, and two different trailheads provide great choices for an excursion to Little Mashel Falls. The tallest waterfall plunges over 90 feet. The falls are not “little”. The names derive from the Little Mashel River (pronounced like “Michelle”). The official names are Lower Little Mashel Falls, Little Mashel Falls, and Tom Tom Falls, but they are more commonly referred to as Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls, respectively.
The two trails, Pack Forest and Bud Blancher, meet at a 3-way junction between the Lower and Middle falls. Both involve walking a crushed rock road/trail for much of the route. The newer Bud Blancher trail is shorter, easier to follow, and less muddy. It is more urban, passing by a portable toilet and a small park. Its scenery includes crossing two rivers on stout bridges. Both trailheads are open year-round.
From the Bud Blancher trailhead, walk gently downhill on the wide crushed rock path. Drop 40 feet in elevation over 0.2 mile. At the bottom of the slope is a portable toilet. From there, stay on the wide rock path, crossing a stout wooden bridge over the Mashel River at 0.3 mile, passing by George Smallwood Park at 0.5 mile. At 0.9 miles, a rock road on the left abuts the trail, then a road at the right joins it at a confusing intersection. Stay left on the road/trail that has a yellow bollard preventing vehicular traffic. Turn around and look at the path you just left so you know what it looks like. On the return, you will need to get back on the trail, which is immediately to the left of a row of boulders, between the two roads.
At 1.4 miles, cross the Little Mashel River on a stout wooden bridge just like the earlier one. A mere 350 feet past this bridge, a sign pointing left indicates the start of the Little Mashel Falls trail. At 100 yards along the dirt trail is a junction. A small yellow diamond-shaped sign on a tree, reading “Falls Trail” points to the right. Climb moderately through salal, ferns, Oregon grape ̶ the usual lowland vegetation.
At 1.8 miles, after gaining 225 feet of elevation, is a side trail dropping away to the left. A Forest-Service-brown sign on a tree reads, “Lower Falls”. This trail is a 0.4 mile round trip down to the Lower Little Mashel Falls. Crushed rock and a crib ladder help you negotiate your way down the muddy, slippery path to water’s edge. Back on the trail, continue uphill one-tenth of a mile to a 3-way junction. Sharply left leads to the next falls; straight ahead is the access from the Pack Forest trailhead.
From the shared junction, uphill to the northeast 450 feet is another junction. To the left (unmarked) is the Middle Falls, the tallest and arguably the best. For Middle Falls, go left 100 feet to an unsigned junction. Left again leads to the base of Middle Falls; right leads to the top. Proper footwear is essential here. Footing can be treacherously slick, and fatalities have occurred. Be careful.
When back on the main trail, follow the sign to the right about 800 feet for a view of Upper Falls, about 150 feet distant. At the top of the falls, the Little Mashel River splits. Part of it tumbles down a terraced cascade to the south, which then makes a U-turn to the north. You would need to wade this to get close to the falls.
Note: The land surrounding the falls has varied ownership, by the University of Washington, the city of Eatonville, and the City of Tacoma (the railroad above Tom Tom Falls - strictly off limits.) Please know where you are, and respect property rights. This is not a park, and there are no garbage cans. Pack it in; pack it out.
WTA Pro Tip: The best times to visit the falls are not during peak runoff, when heavy spray can interfere with photography and staying dry.