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Originally published Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 7:04 PM

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Walkabout

Thousands of acres to roam (with Fido) at Pack Forest

The University of Washington forestry school's experimental forest near Eatonville is open to the hiking public.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Location: Charles L. Pack Experimental Forest, Eatonville

Length: Short, accessible loops to a seven-mile round-trip hike.

Level of difficulty: Level to steep; some muddy patches

Setting: The University of Washington's School of Forest Resources runs a forestry research center near the base of Mount Rainier that is open to the public for hiking. Located on 4,300 acres of working forest land, trails pass through terrain ranging from recently logged land to old-growth forest. The relatively low elevations here (up to about 1,800 feet) make this a handy, generally snow-free place to hike year-round, and a great place to bring dogs.

Highlights: As this place is a research facility and working forest, the public can access the trails here but you're on your own as far as guidance. The wide range of trails here can be a little overwhelming. Several trails marked "easy" on the brochure are short and level. For the best exploration of this area, allow at least a half day.

The relatively difficult Hugo Peak Trail gains about 900 feet of elevation and passes through a wide variety of forest types and ages to access views of the Nisqually River Valley and the Olympics (park at the gatehouse; about four miles round-trip; allow 2 ½ hours). A more moderate walk (but longer) curves around the flanks of Hugo Peak on a forest road to reach the Trail of the Giants, a one-mile loop with some old-growth trees. From the main visitor parking lot, walk up Road 1000 to the intersection of Road 2000 at Kirkland Pass (six miles round-trip, allow four hours). A short spur road (No. 1080) connects the top of the Hugo Peak Trail to the Trail of the Giants.

Facilities: Seasonal restrooms at the gatehouse (closed in winter). Pick up the trail brochure with map to orient yourself (well-stocked at the gatehouse and the main visitor parking lot). The map is also on the Web site; the educator's guide describes the trails on Page 22.

Restrictions: As this is a working forest, certain trails or roads may be closed due to forest activities. Dogs need to be under voice control. Hunting is allowed in season (generally September through January; for more information, see www.wdfw.wa.gov).

Directions: From Interstate 5 in Tacoma, take Highway 7 south toward Mount Rainier. After passing two left turnoffs to Eatonville, turn left into the center's well-marked entrance. Park at the gatehouse, or drive in and park at the lower parking lot on the left or the main visitor parking lot beyond that on the left. Visitors need to walk to the trailheads via the numbered roads.

For more information: 206-685-4485 or www.packforest.org/education. The forest office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: nwwriter@hotmail.com

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