Trailhead: 4002 N Waterview St. (along north-side fence)
Length: .3 miles
Overgrowth: 5 to start, 2 for most
With the amount of thorns guarding the entrance to this trail, you’d think there was a princess hidden in a castle somewhere behind them. As soon as you step off the pavement, you’re greeted by a shrubby black locust tree with enormous thorns. Immediately following that, you’ll have to make your way through about 100 yards of blackberries. After that though, the trail opens up and the rest of the walk is quite pleasant.
The mouth of Mason Gulch has been occupied by the award winning (no joke) North End Sewer Treatment Plant since 1966 and has thus been more or less off the radar of hikers and explorers ever since. There used to be access from the southwest end off N. Stevens and N. 38th streets but blackberry brambles and disuse have all but eradicated the steep trails.
The nice part of the trail only goes about a quarter mile back from the edge of the treatment plant but it’s quite unique among the north end gulches. The trees are less dense, the base of the gulch is broader, and the sides more gentle slopes than cliffs. That combined with the wide dirt road, periodically maintained by the treatment plant, gives the whole space a much more open feel; some place you could hang out in instead of just pass through. These qualities have not gone totally unnoticed and there have been proposals for turning it into a park, similar to the Puget Creek Natural Area. When or if that might happen is hard to say at this point.
Every step of the way, you can hear water trickling down through the overgrowth from seeps and springs into mossed-over catch basins. One spring about halfway down the path was used from the late 1800s into the 1920s as the north end’s main water source. The water would probably be the cleanest and freshest anywhere around if it weren’t for the old rusty pipes it spilled out of. Everywhere there’s water you’ll find hundreds of invasive European Black Slugs nearby. Fun fact: when threatened, these slugs will smush into a lump and sway from side to side; a behavior unique to this species.
At the end of the maintained trail, you’ll find something rather special. In 2012 a large maple tree fell over but managed to keep enough of its roots in the ground to go on living. The branches that wound up on the top each sprouted tiny branches of their own, creating a sort of miniature forest from a single tree. Up the hill to the west, a staircase used to run down into the gulch from the end of N. 39th St. to a small building. Its foundation can still be seen under the fallen maple.