Since arriving back in the PNW this past Thursday, I’ve felt more than ever that the clock is ticking on our time here at JBLM. I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m so glad because the op tempo here for Ryan – and our family, as a whole – has been incredibly hard. On the other hand, I’ve been a bit sad because we’ve definitely made it a priority to explore, see, do, and experience as much as possible at each duty station, and there is so much more yet to be accomplished on our PNW bucket list. A lot of the little things we’d hoped to do, like visiting the tulip and lavender farms, the hot air balloon festivals, and more were all canceled this year due to COVID. Thankfully, however, the trails remain open, and we’ve been enjoying every second we have to get outside. That’s how we found ourselves out in Mason County this past weekend, cliff jumping at Lake Cushman.
For those who’ve been following this blog and my instagram for some time, you’ve probably seen we cram as much in on the weekends as we possibly can. I do work, and the kids do currently go to preschool, so we’ve made a point of getting out every weekend to see and do something new. I’ve had my eye on Lake Cushman for a while. Just over an hour from JBLM, I figured it was the perfect easy day trip for the kids and I, and our sweet friend, Sierra (you may remember her from our trip to Portland while Ryan was deployed last year) graciously came with us.
As with most outdoor spaces in this region, we knew it would fill up fast on the weekend, so we decided to head out early on Saturday morning, leaving JBLM around 9 AM. We were lucky, in a sense, because it was cloudy on Saturday morning, and the clouds and mist weren’t scheduled to burn off until later in the day. I’m not afraid of a little mist, so we decided to aim for a mid-morning arrival in the hopes that most crowds would wait until the sun decided to really come out – and we succeeded! When we parked, there were only a few other cars, and we parked right by where Sierra and I hoped to jump.
The best part about cliff jumping at Lake Cushman is that you have a lot of options of where to jump. The most popular rock from which to jump is situated right by the side of the gravel road though, and we knew we wanted to start there. When we arrived, there were only four other kids out there, and they were so sweet. Everybody kind of kept their distance, we got the kids in the water, did our best to convince them that jumping from 20 feet, though fun, wasn’t on the agenda for them, and instead got them swimming in the shallows below. Then, Sierra and I took turns climbing to the top of the rock. Fun fact – you can’t just boulder your way. I mean, I’m sure you can, but they’ve graciously placed a rope down the easier side, and you sort of walk/climb your way to the top. Then, you have a few options; jump from the far side, which is about 25ish feet, or jump from the shorter side from which those on the ride can see you. That side is about 18-20 feet. I decided to opt for the latter.
Pro-tip: if you’re scared to jump, find some little kids to shame you from the sidelines. They’ll count down and cat-call at you until you jump. It. Was. Exhilarating.
Like I said, there are a lot of places to jump. At the far end of Lake Cushman where most of the jumping spots are located, there are a lot of little rock formations in the middle of the water that make for perfect jumping-off points. There’s also a bridge at the very end of the lake before you enter the park grounds. At about 15 feet above the water, that’s a popular jumping point, as well. Because we had the kids and because the sun was fickle during the start, we stuck to the large rock, and I must’ve jumped about 10 times before we decided to move on down the lake to find a shallower area for the kids to swim while the mist burned off. Honestly, it was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back with Ryan when he returns home. If cliff jumping at Lake Cushman is on your JBLM bucket list, here’s what you need to know:
Trail Length: This isn’t a hike BUT there are lots of great hikes nearby. If you want to combine your cliff jumping trip to Lake Cushman with a hike, check out Mt. Ellinor or Staircase Rapids. We definitely plan to go back for the latter.
Cost: Free, but you should know where to park. If you go past the bridge at the far end of the lake, you’ll enter forest grounds and will need your Northwest Forest pass. Until that point though, all roadside spots, including those were you can boondock and camp along the lake, are free.
Parking: There are plenty of places to park along the lake, and there are lots at different “resort” spots, but if you’re hoping to continue, just keep driving along the dirt road. You can park anywhere you find a spot, as long as you’re as far over on the shoulder as possible. Also, note that parking does fill up fast on good weather days, and I highly recommend getting there early.
Dog-Friendly: Yes! Dogs are welcome on leashes. We did see some well-behaved dogs swimming off-leash, and I’m guessing that’s completely okay. Just be careful because they can fine you if they’re ticketing. We didn’t see anyone ticketing though.
Tips: Be there early. Like I said, Lake Cushman fills up fast. Also, note that there’s no real “shore” per se. We had to scale down the side of an embankment with the kids to get to the shallows after we left the most popular cliff-jumping spot. It’s not super hard, but it’s harder for little kids, so I’d recommend either doing it barefoot or with some sort of proper hiking shoes.