Hiking Mount Rainier's Wonderland Trail

Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail Guide

The complete guide book to the 93 mile trail


Kautz Creek on the Wonderland Trail

Longmire to Devil’s Dream Day: 1 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 5 miles (8 km)

Kautz Creek on the Wonderland Trail

Mount Rainier’s Longmire Village

Longmire is the Wonderland Trail’s greatest brush with civilization. This is the most popular place to start and finish the 93 mile loop and it is buzzing with tourists most days of the summer. Longmire is an entertaining mix of people – some reeking of perfume, others reeking of body odor after days on the trail. You will find people preparing for summit attempts, others clambering off of tour buses, and in the restrooms you might just spot a man in a suit washing his hands next to a “ripe” backpacker drying his socks on the hand dryer. If this isn’t your cup of tea, you will find it refreshing to leave Longmire behind you as you embark on your adventure.

Though a popular choice, Longmire isn’t the only place to start the Wonderland Trail

Rather than join the masses and start your trip at Longmire, Mowich Lake and Sunrise also make fine places to start and end the trip. Starting at Sunrise, I find it to be a nice treat to arrive at Longmire around lunchtime on the fourth day of the hike. Here you can pick up a food cache at the ranger station, give your face a good scrub with warm water, and have an espresso and a sandwich at the Longmire lodge if you would like.

Longmire to Rampart Ridge

If you’re headed clockwise arouth the Wonderland Trail, the direction of the day is skyward. This stretch of trail climbs in two sections, separated by Kautz and Pyramid Creeks to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, just above Devil’s Dream.

The climb out of Longmire towards the top of Rampart Ridge is steep and can be a bit tiring. If this is your first day on the Wonderland Trail and you find yourself questioning just what you’ve gotten yourself into, consider this section a rude introduction to what life will be like over the next week and a half.

The climb to Rampart Ridge is a well maintained trail that switchbacks through the thickly-forested Cascade foothills. The first few miles is often quite crowded with day-hikers from Longmire who do a popular loop hike over Rampart Ridge. After about 2 miles the Wonderland Trail intersects the Rampart Ridge trail, marking the end of the first climb.

Kautz Creek on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier

Kautz Creek

Over the next mile, the trail descends a few hundred feet in elevation to Kautz Creek. This is a point of frequent winter washouts, and the fact that the valley bottom is devoid of any mature vegetation hints at the violence of the snowmelt engorged springtime flows. Sedimentary soil crumbles continually from the steep walls bordering the river bed, and where the trail descends the embankment, one should hurry along to minimize time in spent under the loose ledges. The trail is marked across the valley bottom by cairns which lead to foot logs that span the river.

Lahars

Though somewhat infrequent, lahars – flows of ice, mud, and debris resulting from an edifice failure such as calving of a glacier – can come roaring down from Kautz Glacier and the mountain above. In the 1940′s the Nisqually-Longmire road was buried by dozens of feet of mud and rock from an enormous lahar which swept down Kautz Creek. Don’t worry about lahars unnecessarily – you probably won’t be lucky/unlucky enough to see one, but just be aware that these happen every once in a while and take this advice: If you think you hear a freight train nearby, note that there aren’t train tracks anywhere in the vicinity. Drop your pack and book it for the trail out of the river bed.

Lahar from Mount Saint Helens Eruption, USGS Photo from 1980

Pyramid Creek Camp

From Kautz Creek the trail climbs the west bank of the creek and continues across the valley to the nearby Pyramid Creek Camp at 3,765 feet. This is a small campground with only a few sites and no space for large groups. For hikers passing through, Pyramid Creek makes a good place for a mid-day meal break to load up on fluids and carbs before making the 1,300 foot climb to Devil’s Dream.

Devil’s Dream Camp and the Western Rainier Seismic Zone

Devil’s Dream Camp is spread out over a steep, forested hillside. There is a prominent fault line here that runs right past several of the nicer camp sites. As you head northward from this point, you are entering one of the most seismically active sections of the park, known as the Western Rainier Seismic Zone. Interestingly, the local seismicity originating from this area may be due entirely to tectonic activity from the subduction of the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate under the North American continental plate, and not the volcanic activity from Rainier. It is though that the shallow earthquakes in the WRSZ can trigger the edifice failures on the mountain responsible for the above-mentioned lahars.

The campground’s water source is Devil’s Dream Creek, accessible by a short way-trail leading north into a small canyon just below the campground. This is a lovely place to cool your feet in the stream and chat with other hikers after a long day on the trail. If it is late in the season this may be dry. Water is available from a small lake about half a mile up the hill. Beware that the outhouses at Devil’s Dream are well ventilated, and some of the nearby campsites downwind much of the time. If occasional whiffs of ammonia bother you, move to one of the camp sites either at the bottom of the campground and right at the top.

Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, The Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground

If you get to Devil’s Dream with much daylight to spare, I recommend a late-afternoon walk up to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, about a mile up the trail from the campground. This is a stunning section of the Wonderland Trail that passes by shallow lakes surrounded by wildflower meadows – and photo ops abound. The light is often best for photographs just before the sun dips behind the trees to the west. Keep your eye out for famous views of the mountain in this area. Most well-known nature photographers have visited the Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground section of the Wonderland Trail more than once.

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
Emerald Ridge from the Wonderland Trail - Mount Rainier Guide Book

Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park Day: 2 (10 day itinerary) Distance: About 9.8 miles (15.8 km)

Devil's Dream to Klapatche Park - Wonderland Trail Map

The start of a long day

If you stay at Devil’s Dream overnight, I recommend getting an early start. The section between Devil’s Dream and Klapatche Park has some spectacular highlights, and you will want some time to soak them up. But this leg of the Wonderland Trail makes for a challenging day, and if you don’t feel up for 10.2 miles of steep descents and long climbs, consider staying at South Puyallup River Camp (6.3 miles) rather than Klapatche Park.

Devil’s Dream to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground

Leaving Devil’s Dream the trail climbs a short way to the sub-alpine meadows surrounding Squaw Lakes in the area known as Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground. This is one of my personal favorite stretches of trail in the park. You will pass an intersection with the Kautz Creek trail here which provides a 5.7 mile access route to the Nisqually-Longmire road.

Side-trip to Mirror Lakes

If you have the time, don’t miss the 0.6 mile side-trip to Mirror Lakes. The trail branches from the Wonderland Trail just past the ranger patrol cabin and goes NE across the meadows to some ponds that perfectly reflect Mount Rainier when the air is still.

Descent to Tahoma Creek

After passing the Mirror Lakes way-trail, the Wonderland Trail drops rapidly away from Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds and descends 1.6 miles to Tahoma Creek. Here a large suspension bridge carries one high above a deep gorge where evidence of violent lahars may be readily observed. After crossing the canyon, the trail begins a steady and unrelenting climb to Emerald Ridge.

Climbing to Emerald Ridge on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Climbing to Emerald Ridge

In about half a mile you will cross a small stream on a log bridge. Hydrate yourself well and top your bottles off before proceeding. This is the last source of water until you descend Emerald Ridge to the South Puyallup campground and you will need a lot to get over this dry, wind-whipped hump of tortured earth. The trail then begins a steady climb towards the ridge. It carries you hundreds of feet over an expanse of glacial moraine through which the headwaters of Tahoma Creek decorate like a ribbon of silver. On the far side of the valley, Glacier Island towers like a foreboding castle.

The Wonderland Trail aims directly at the base of Tahoma Glacier as it rises out of the stunted sub-alpine forests into barren grass and shrub-lands. In clear weather, the sun exposure intensified by the light reflecting the the glaciers and snow can be harsh and sun pomay be appreciated. Rising to the top of Emerald Ridge (5,600 feet), the sparse grass turns to a lush meadow surrounded by sweeping views of Tahoma Glacier as it rises towards the summit, framed to the north by the Puyallup Cleaver and to the south by Tahoma Cleaver.

Emerald Ridge on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

From Emerald Ridge, the Wonderland Trail begins to descend the north side of the ridge – precariously in some places, hundreds of feet above the lower reaches of the glacier. The sounds of falling rock and ice echo through the vast chasm, punctuating the steady whistling of the breeze. Passing through patches of lupine, bellflowers, and paintbrush, the rocky trail winds more steeply down the hillside and the views begin to vanish behind the trees.

Andesite columns form the Devil's Pipe Organ - The Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

The Devil’s Pipe Organ

After dropping nearly 1,500 feet in elevation in over 2 miles, the hiker reaches a junction with the South Puyallup Trail. Take a moment to visit the remarkable andesite columns known as The Devil’s Pipe Organ located just 0.1 miles west from the Wonderland Trail on the South Puyallup Trail.

South Puyallup Camp to Saint Andrew’s Lake

Saint Andrew's Lake on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

The South Puyallup River camp is located at 4,000 feet and is sheltered in the trees alongside the canyon wall. For those headed to Klapatche Park, 3.9 miles ahead, the trail crosses high over the South Puyallup River and begins a 2+ mile switchback ascent to Saint Andrew’s Park (5,800 feet). At the top, Saint Andrew’s Lake tempts the weary traveler to stop and stay a while, but the cool prevailing westerly winds can quickly chill, and encourages one to move on. In dry months this is a good place to get water, as Klapatche Park’s water source is a little further on the funky side than some might like.

From Saint Andrews Park one can see Andrews Peak immediately to the SE, and Tokaloo Spire to the east. The trail continues on, curving westward as it carries one over a low saddle that affords one a glimpse of the North Puyallup Valley. Keep an eye out for wildlife, particularly foraging black bears in the brush below and above this saddle. From here, the trail skirts the southern slope of Aurora Peak not far below the summit, as it descends to Klapatche Park.

Klapatche Park Camp on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Aurora Lake at Klapatche Park Camp

Perched on a high plateau, Klapatche Park camp lies along Aurora Lake and steep cliffs that drop off to lowlands in the west. Framed by the lake and the surrounding hills, from here one is offered picturesque views when the mountain is out. Right alongside the western edge of the camp, the hillside drops away abruptly. With the trees and vegetation growing right up to the edge of the cliffs, one may not at first realize the extent of these heights. A careless trip to empty one’s bladder in the night could turn into a happy feast for the vultures and scavengers, so be wary of your location in the dark.

Aurora Lake at Klapatche Park on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

The sunset views from Klapatche Park can be excellent. When western Washington is socked-in and overcast you will likely be above it all to enjoy the sight of the rolling foothills of the Cascades vanishing below into an ocean of clouds. To the north, one may even see the aptly-named Golden Lakes (likely your next day’s destination) shimmering in the distance. Hopefully the sights make up for lack of good water at the camp. In dry summers, Aurora Lake can shrink into a murky mud puddle crawling with tadpoles and other aquatic life. This is Klapatche Park’s only water source and it’s an act of bravery to drop your water filter into something teeming with so many squirming critters. I chose to both filter and boil my water here and it still had an “off” taste. Someone suggested omitting the filtration step and just having pollywog soup. I recommend bringing in as much water as you’ll need from Saint Andrews Lake – you certainly won’t regret it.

The camp sites are semi-private and comfortable. Obese chipmunks wander from camp to camp looking for hand-outs and unattended foodstuffs, so as anywhere in the park, keep a close eye on your food whenever you don’t have it hanging on the bear pole.

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
The Wonderland Trail over the North Puyallup River - Wonderland Trail Book

Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes Day: 3 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 7.8 miles (12.6 km)

Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes Map - Wonderland Trail Guide

Klapatche Park to the North Puyallup

After the physically challenging trip from Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park, one may appreciate making the next leg of the journey a reduced-mileage rest day. This is a good day to sleep in, have a second cup of coffee, and spend some time stretching and enjoying the beautiful scenery before heading off into the wilds of the North Puyallup Valley. A slow morning can lift the spirits and make you feel all the stronger for the coming climb at the day’s end. The trail between Klapatche Park and Golden Lakes is a fast descent to North Puyallup River at 3,750 feet, followed by a steady climb to Golden Lakes, and it’s much easier than the previous day’s march.

A lenticular cloud above Mount Rainier from Aurora Lake at Klapatche Park

Leaving Klapatche Park, it is well worth pausing to take in the last great views from this vantage point. The trail rounds the lake and drops away over the edge of the ridge towards the rugged landscape of the North Puyallup valley. As one descends, the hillside becomes dense with patches of wetland vegetation where streams saturate the soil and precipitation falls much of the year. The color green may have well been invented on the western slopes of the Cascades. After several miles of switchbacks, the melodic rushing of the North Puyallup becomes louder and the trail comes upon the heavy masonry of a roadside viewpoint that once marked the end of the West-side Highway, closed now for many years. Patches of tall grass and young alder grow up through what was once the parking lot, testament to how quickly nature can bring a disrupted ecosystem back toward balance.

The Silver Forest, Near Golden Lakes on the Wonderland Trail

Continuing further, a large, well-built bridge spans the river right where it tumbles over a shelf of bedrock into a cavernous plunge pool perhaps thirty or more feet below. Clouds of mist rise from the waterfall and photographers will find themselves making an effort to keep their lenses dry when taking snapshots from here.

The Silver Forest

Passing the sign for the North Puyallup Campground, the trail then climbs away from the valley floor, leaving both the views and the sounds of the river behind as it enters the cover of the thickly forested hillside. After about two miles of steady ascending, the trail enters an old burn area called the Silver Forest. A thin forest of young trees and old snags decorate the hillside where wildflowers and blueberries abound. After another mile of forest, the trail continues its climb across a burned hillside, and the views of the mountain become grander as the blueberry-engorged hiker nears the top of the ridge. Passing over the ridge, the trail continues for the next 1.5 miles northward across sub-alpine meadows dotted with small lakes and wetlands before arriving at Golden Lakes.

Golden Lakes

Golden Lakes has a spacious campground and many of the tent sites have complete privacy. This makes it a good place for a sponge bath after hauling water up from the lake. The mosquitoes can be quite bad here in early August, but by the time cold nights return in mid-September, the air is relatively still. There is a ranger patrol cabin on one of the lakes that is usually staffed most of the season and the ranger will likely stop by your camp late in the evening to check your permits. If you time your sponge bath right you’ll be in for some entertainment.

More photos from this section of trail:

Descending into the North Puyallup Valley on the Wonderland Trail

Lush vegetation of the North Puyallup Valley hints at the level of annual precipitation

Tokaloo Rock and Tokaloo Spire in the North Puyallup Valley on Rainier

A plunge pool near the headwaters of the North Puyallup on the Wonderland Trail

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
The Mowich River from the Wonderland Trail - Mount Rainier Guide Book

Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake Day: 4 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 10.2 (16.4km)

Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake - Wonderland Trail Book Map

Overview

The trail from Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake is best appreciated for the subtle beauties of a virgin temperate rainforest. Unlike other parts of the Wonderland Trail, the views are modest, and the most notable sites will be Golden Lakes and later the broad valley of the Mowich River. It is a pleasant, shady walk and one can make fast time until the last three miles when one runs head-on into the steep slopes of Paul Peak and the climb to Mowich Lake. The easy downhill stretch is convenient because the South Mowich River crossing is safer earlier in the day before the sun hits the western slopes of Mount Rainier, adding more meltwater to the drainage.

If you started your trip from Sunrise, it is perhaps on this day that you will realize how much stronger a week on the trail can make you. Furthermore, you are likely to be running low on food at this point, making your step all the lighter. The climb to Mowich Lake is tough, but you have a carrot dangling in front of you: if you cached your food and the postal service came through, you likely have a bucket of deliciousness waiting for you at the top of the hill.

Golden Lakes to the Mowich Valley

Leaving Golden Lakes the trail climbs gradually northward to the top of the ridge. The Mowich Valley comes into view, and the trail plummets fast and furiously (over 2,000 feet in elevation) in switchbacks toward the river below. The evergreens become draped with moss as one approaches the valley floor.

Mushroom Hunting

Depending on the season one may spot numerous patches of chanterelles and other mushrooms in this stretch. Mushroom hunters regularly come to the Mowich Lake area for the abundance of edibles, and this specific hillside lies just beyond the practical reach of most day-hiking mushroom pickers. A conversation with one fungi aficionado revealed that the region is a great source of edible boletes. Just make sure you know what you’re doing before eating any wild mushrooms – nothing would spoil a vacation on the Wonderland Trail like renal failure.

The Mowich River in early autumn, during low flow.

Give your knees a rest when you arrive at a series of little footbridges that pass over the clear-running stream near the valley floor. The forest has a magical feel about it here, and when the day is heating up, this is a great place to filter water and have a snack.

From here the trail emerges from the forest into the open flood plain. A series of temporary log bridges span the anastomosing channels of the South Mowich River.

Fording the Mowich River

Early in the season you may find this to be a formidable crossing and it is possible that the log bridges have met their demise during the peak flow earlier in the year. Unless heavy rains have fallen overnight, the water level will be lower in the morning. Choose your fording location carefully. Before wading into the river, unbuckle your backpack and use your hiking poles. Go with the flow and angle your crossing towards the opposite shore slightly downstream. A lightweight pair of Vibram Five Fingers or some cheap water socks will make the crossing much easier on your feet. Fortunately, by the end of August there will likely be a bridge in place and you’ll not be remembering this crossing for its difficulty.

South Mowich River Camp

From here the valley bottom is forested in sections and you will pass by the South Mowich River Camp (2,605 feet) in a stand of forest. The north fork of the Mowich River is reached soon after. Just to the west of this crossing, the two forks of the Mowich join together and collectively drain a watershed that includes most of the northwest corner of the mountain.

North Mowich River to Mowich Lake

Traveling northward, the Wonderland Trail soon begins a long climb out of the valley, up the southern slopes of Paul Peak. In about half of a mile you will pass a junction with the Paul Peak trail which leads to the Mowich entrance station. The trail continues for over a mile across the steep hillside before running parallel to the Crater Creek drainage for the rest of the way to Mowich Lake. This can be a tough climb but it’s a good opportunity to break a sweat and see what several days on the trail can do to condition your legs.

Mowich Lake on the Wonderland Trail

Mowich Lake Campground

Mowich Lake Campground (4,929 feet) is a re-purposed parking lot with thirty sites: rows of evenly-spaced, gravel-filled boxes for tent sites, each with its own picnic table, and hardly a drop of privacy (or shade). One can only hope that resident cougars do not come to make use the gravel-filled boxes at night. The campground is just past the current parking lot and tourists mill about, inviting conversation and posing for pictures in front of the lake. Considering the steady stream of traffic, this might not be the best of places to leave valuables lying unattended in the open. Though infrequent, there have been reports of theft of food caches from the storage bin near the ranger cabin.

The perks of the campground include international-class outhouses with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. In addition there is a large bear-proof box for easy food storage. If you have sent yourself a food cache, you can find it in a bin on the porch of the patrol cabin. Hopefully you have had the foresight to include several large bars of chocolate and a good screw-top bottle of wine.

The beauties of Mowich Lake more than make up for the parking lot campground. Enjoy a quiet afternoon reading on the smooth bedrock points that protrude from the shore. Mowich Lake is the largest and deepest lake in the national park, a glacial cirque, with a surface area of over 120 acres and a maximum depth of around 90 feet. The visibility in the water is extremely high, testament to the lake’s oligotrophic, or low-nutrient status (don’t count finding large fish here). This will likely decrease with time as atmospheric deposition of inorganic nitrogen and sulfur from human sources is causing both eutrophication (increase in nutrients) and acidification of this and other sub-alpine lakes in the Cascades.

Mowich Lake - Infrared B&W

The surface water is quite chilly, but brave souls will enjoy an invigorating splash. If you hike around the lake shore beyond the patrol cabin, there is a semi-secluded beach that can’t be viewed from the parking lot.

With the lack of tree cover around the tent sites, consider sleeping on a picnic table if the stars are out. On a clear night, the great depths of the sky can give one a sudden sense of vertigo. Nothing is quite like stargazing from the warmth of your sleeping bag. You won’t forget it.

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
The Carbon River valley - Wonderland Trail Book

Mowich Lake to Carbon River via Ipsut Pass Day: 5 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 8.5 miles (13.7 km)

Ipsut Pass Map - Wonderland Trail Book

Route Options between Mowich Lake and Carbon River

This section of the guide covers the trail between Mowich Lake and Mystic Lake. Most of the Wonderland Trail hikers I’ve met in this area were traveling to Carbon River from Mowich Lake. This makes a short day if you take the lowland route through Ipsut Pass and I would recommend continuing to Dick Creek or Mystic Lake if you’re on an itinerary of 9 days or less.

While the distance to Carbon River via the alternate Spray Park route only adds about half a mile in distance, this path is somewhat arduous and takes much longer, and therefor Carbon River and Dick Creek both make good stopping points for the day if you choose this direction.

Carbon River via Ipsut Pass (7.6 miles)

The official Wonderland Trail continues northward over the nearby Ipsut Pass and descends to Ipsut Creek Campground. Ipsut Creek was for many years an access point to the Wonderland Trail, however the Carbon River Road washed out in 2006 and has remained closed since. A new ranger station is currently being built at the campground, and plans are underway to develop the closed section of road into a non-motorized mixed-use path.

Eunice Lake and Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout side-trip

Tolmie Peak fire lookout above Eunice Lake and Ipsut Pass, Mount Rainier

For Wonderland Trail hikers, Ipsut Pass is the fast and easy direction. From Mowich Lake the trail rises only a few hundred feet in elevation climbing to Ipsut Pass.  Just before Ipsut Pass at 1.6 miles, the trail reaches the Eunice Lake / Tolmie Peak Lookout trailhead.  This 1.8 mile (one-way) route makes a great side-trip, and the views of Eunice Lake and Mount Rainier from the Tolmie Peak fire lookout are superb when the weather permits.

Ipsut Pass on the Wonderland Trail

Ipsut Pass is an unmistakable notch in the ridge where the trail passes abruptly from one side to the other.  From here the trail switchbacks steeply along the cliffs of the valley head.  The vegetation is lush and springs emerge from the hillside.  Crossing a small stream, the headwaters of Ipsut Creek, the descent becomes gentler passing into the ever-thickening forest in the shadow of Castle Peak and then along the northern slopes of Mother Mountain, a dense forest of Douglas fir, western hemlock, and Alaskan and western red cedar.

Ipsut Valley below Ipsut Pass on the Wonderland Trail

Following Ipsut Creek as it grows in strength, the trail crosses three tributaries that tumble down the hillside in steep, moss-draped cascades.  At 3.6 miles from Ipsut Creek, it reaches a junction with the short trail to the Ipsut Creek Campground.

Ipsut Creek on the Wonderland Trail

Ipsut Creek Campground

Ipsut Creek campground was once a bustling car camping destination, but now is only reachable by foot, five miles from where the Carbon River Road was washed away in flooding in 2006.  As such, it now offers some luxuries not typical to most walk-in camps — a sprawling array of campsites to choose from, picnic tables, deluxe pit toilets with hand sanitizer, and large metal bear boxes for storing your food.  It makes an excellent place to stay the night.  Don’t miss the quick side-trip to Ipsut Falls, and if you find yourself with extra time to kill in the afternoon, consider walking along the old road 1.2 miles to the Chenuis Falls trail.

Sunset at Carbon River near Chenuis Falls, Mount Rainier National Park

Chenuis Falls Side-Trip

Just 1.2 miles from Ipsut Creek Campground on the abandoned Carbon River road, the 0.5 mile trail starts near an old picnic and parking area, crosses the milky waters of the Carbon River, and leads to the crystal clear cascades of Chenuis Falls.

Chenuis Falls near Ipsut Creek Campground, Mount Rainier National Park

The Carbon River from the Wonderland Trail near Ipsut Creek Campground

Ipsut Creek Campground to the Carbon River crossing

From Ipsut Creek Campground, the Wonderland Trail follows the Carbon River westward for 1.9 miles. Here you can see the harshness of the Carbon River as through time its channels constantly sweep back and forth across the valley, wiping out juvenile stands of forest that become established when the river’s path shifts away for a decade or two.

The Carbon River from the Wonderland Trail near Carbon Glacier

The valley is lush with growth, and huckleberries line the trail in abundance. The mountain looms from the head of the valley, and the roar of the river is punctured only by the industrious activities of the woodpeckers, occasional thuds of activity from the nearby glacier, and high-pitched whine of mosquitoes as they do low passes along your ears.

Carbon River suspension bridge on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier

At 1.9 miles from Ipsut Creek, hikers are directed across the Carbon River to the east side of the short Carbon River loop where the trail junctions with the Northern Loop trail. The traditional Wonderland Trail ran alongside the west bank of the river, but it has been recently closed for a 0.9 mile stretch between this point and the large suspension bridge near Carbon River campground. The detour runs parallel on the east bank of the river until it meets up with the Wonderland Trail at the suspension bridge after 1 mile. If your destination is Carbon River camp, you will need to backtrack the short distance from the suspension bridge westward to the camp.

Carbon River to Mystic Lake

At Carbon River, a spur trail crosses a log bridge to the campground. Carbon River campground has four camp sites. Turning east, the Wonderland Trail soon reaches a large cable bridge which spans the Carbon River.

Carbon Glacier from the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier

The path takes one up through the deep glacial canyon. On the eastern edge, the crumbling Northern Crags vanish towards the sky, and on the western side, the Echo Cliffs rise thousands of feet to Seattle Park. The climb starts out sharply just below the lower terminus of the Carbon Glacier. This is a rocky and desolate glacial landscape, and is one of the more intimate views the Wonderland Trail provides of a glacier. The trail immediately runs parallel to the edge of the rock-covered glacier as it climbs the cliffs toward Dick Creek. One is offered dramatic views of the ice and rock falls from the edge of the glacier. The layer of rocks that blankets the glacier is from edifice failures that come crashing down from the Willis Wall — the most unstable face of Mount Rainier. The first mile of travel from the suspension bridge is both awe inspiring and a bit nerve wracking. As you watch the glacier calve and crumble you come across rocks the size of basketballs sitting squarely in the middle of the trail, reminding you that you are in an area of rapid geological change. There is strong evidence that small rock avalanches sometimes rain down from the Northern Crags above. This will put a little spring in your step as you grind up the difficult path which rises nearly 1,000 feet in the next mile in steep switchbacks across the hillside.

Carbon Glacier danger warning on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Once you arrive at Dick Creek, the dangers of falling rocks diminishes. This is a small camp with only two sites and no room for large groups. Clear and cold water rolls down from marshy Elysian Fields, just a mile above. I consider Dick Creek a nice place to stop for the day, as it allows you to split the long ascent to Mystic Lake into two parts. If you are just passing through, this is a good place to see how much chocolate you can eat. You will need a lot of fuel to finish the climb.

Mystic Lake lies 3.6 miles ahead, and the trail ascends steeply from Dick Creek, rising nearly 1,000 feet in the next half mile. Rounding inland past Goat Island Rock, Carbon Glacier again comes into view. The trail hugs the glacier closely for the next two miles before nearing Moraine Park.

Moraine Park on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

If this is the end of a long day, it is quite easy to overestimate your mileage at this point. Looking up the valley it seems likely a glacial cirque lake lies just over the next rise (and then the next one). During the summer, the path is flanked by lush patches of lupine and Castilleja (Indian paint brush), and as you near Moraine Park, the view of the volcano and the Willis Wall can be superb when the sky permits.

Moraine Park from the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

Moraine Park on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

The hike to Moraine Park is nearly magical, a sub-alpine sanctum of wildflowers where fog frequently drapes the narrow valley. The warning whistles of marmots announce your presence as you arrive at a large open meadow. You will pass through to a steep hillside where you should muster your best efforts and lean into the final climb before Mystic Lake. Rising off the meadow floor, the trail switchbacks steeply up the ridge. Finally the crest is reached and Mystic Lake will be visible in the treed marshland below. It is reached in 0.8 miles of long switchbacks.

Mystic Lake on The Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

It is a nice place to camp and can be a social place as it’s often fully booked with overnight backpackers from Sunrise. Don’t come without a reservation. In addition to many small tent sites, there are two large group camps here. The campground is on the far side of the lake, partway down a wooded hillside. Some sites offer views towards the passage to Berkeley Park, past the south side of Skyscraper Mountain. Beware of the mice.

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
Spray Park - The Wonderland Trail Book

Spray Park Day: 5 (alternate route) (10 day itinerary) Distance: 8mi (12.9km)

Spray Park Map - Wonderland Trail Book

Carbon River Via Spray Park

The other route choice between Mowich Lake and Carbon River is via the Spray Park trail. This delightful area is best explored later in the summer when the snowline recedes to high elevations and wildflowers explode into their brief moment in the sun. When the weather cooperates, the scenery is exquisite offering expansive views of Mount Rainier as the hiker reaches nearly 6,400 feet in elevation.

Early season warning

Spray Park can be under snow-pack until late summer, making route-finding difficult and footing treacherous. Always check with a ranger for the latest trail conditions before hiking this section. Carry and map and compass, and know how to use them. Consider bringing a GPS receiver as well. Avoid hiking solo, and be prepared in case you can’t make your destination by nightfall.

Spray Park from near Hessong Rock, Mount Rainier National Park

Bad weather warning:

You might opt for taking the route down Ipsut Pass on overcast days. Bearing the brunt of the frontal systems that frequently come wandering in off the Pacific Ocean, this face of the mountain is often socked-in with dense fog. In addition to the rough and rocky trail, this could make for a disappointing day.

Mowich Lake, Mount Rainier National Park

Mowich Lake to Spray Falls

From the Mowich Lake Campground, backtrack a short distance down the Wonderland Trail to reach the junction with the Spray Park trail. From here the path flanks Fay Peak and crosses Lee Creek before rounding the base of Hessong Peak.

Eagle Cliff viewpoint on the Spray Park Trail, Mount Rainier

Your first stop of the day will probably be at Eagle Cliff, a fenced viewpoint a thousand feet above Spray Creek and the north fork of the Mowich River. The trail then passes Eagle’s Roost Camp (4,885 feet, no group site) followed soon after by a short way-trail to Spray Falls. This impressive waterfall delicately veils the face of an andesite cliff and is bordered by fir trees and thick mosses.

Spray Falls, Mount Rainier National Park

After intersecting the Spray Falls way-trail, the main route switchbacks steeply up the hill crossing Grant Creek before reaching the gentler slopes of Spray Park. From here the trail rises steadily and it is a pleasant walk through remarkable scenery. The mountain looms beyond Ptarmigan Ridge, and this offers a great view Spray Park, Liberty Ridge and the Willis Wall.

Spray Park

The Willis Wall

The Willis Wall was the last rugged face of the mountain to ever be climbed. Covered in overhanging ice cliffs, the Willis Wall is considered the most dangerous route up the mountain. It is continually pummeled by avalanches, some including massive ice chunks the size of train cars. Still this has not deterred a handful of wild souls from successfully making the ascent.

Spray and Seattle Parks

One can take in these splendid views of the mountain reflected in small lakes on the way to the high point in the Spray Park route at 6,400 feet. Turn off the autopilot here and don’t lose sight of the small flags marking the way through the boulder-strewn snowfields. The path begins its descent and crosses alongside the edge of Seattle Park, several hundred feet above the flats of Mist Park. See if you can spot black bears in the valley below. Views of Western Washington may be glimpsed through the jagged ridge line of Mother Mountain on the far side of Mist Park.

Seattle Park near Spray Park, Mount Rainier National Park

Russel Glacier from Seattle Park, Mount Rainier National Park

From here the trail continues a knee-wobbling descent to Carbon River, about 3,000 feet below. Be sure to look back to catch the last few glimpses of the mountain above the rugged slopes leading to Russell Glacier.

Cataract Valley Camp on the Spray Park Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

At 4,620 feet one passes Cataract Valley Camp, located in a stand of forest. If you want to enjoy the magic hour of light in Spray Park, consider booking a campsite here. Just be careful to make your way back down before darkness has completely fallen.

Wonderland Trail and Spray Park Trail junction near Carbon River Camp, Mount Rainier National Park

Descending below the Echo Cliffs, the Spray Park trail connects back to the Wonderland Trail near Carbon River camp (3,195 feet), 2.5 miles east of Ipsut Creek.

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
The North Face of Mount Rainier - The Wonderland Trail Book

Mystic Lake to Sunrise and White River Day: 6 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 10.6 miles (17.1 km) to Sunrise Camp

Mystic Lake to Sunrise Map - The Wonderland Trail Book

Entering Mount Rainier’s Rain Shadow

Rounding the north face of the Mount Rainier between Mystic Lake and Sunrise provides an excellent demonstration of the major differences between the western and eastern faces of the Cascades. The wettest section of the park lies between Longmire and Carbon River, and now as you move further east, you will be leaving the temperate climate for more arid country in the rain-shadow. Here, rainfall is less than half of that of the western slopes. Sweeping vistas of rolling alpine meadows lead to the edge of permanent snowfields and talus slopes. Below, forests of white-bark pine and Englemann spruce choke the watershed drainages. Compared to the western Cascade foothills, the air is drier, the low temperatures are lower and the highs are higher.

Mystic Lake to Winthrop Glacier

From Mystic Lake the Wonderland Trail continues towards the northeast, dropping steeply for the first half mile until the crossing of the west fork of White River is reached. Here on the lower slopes of Mineral Mountain, log footbridges span two creeks just above where they merge to become the west fork of the White River. Paralleling the stream, the trail then reenters the forested moraine for a short while as it veers northward to avoid Winthrop Glacier. After reaching the moraine below the glacial terminus, the trail approaches the channel of Winthrop Creek, emerging into great views of the mountain and the second largest glacier on Mount Rainier.

Winthrop Glacier at Mount Rainier

Thick forest clings to the fringes of the rough and tortured terrain of the moraine and river bed. Spring surges and debris flows scour out channels that can reinvent their direction overnight. This short stretch of drainage originates at Winthrop Glacier. The water escapes the deep time of glacial captivity as a turbulent, milky flow thick with rock flour. It flows into the White River just over a mile downstream from the footbridge. After crossing the river, the trail turns southward and climbs steeply alongside the rock-covered glacier, passing the lovely Garda Falls a short time later. Continuing skyward, the path ascends switchbacks up and away from the frozen, yet dynamic landscape, and one is buffeted by the cool gusts of wind that roll down from the icy wastelands above. Slipping away into the shelter of sub-alpine forests, it is a steady climb for the next 1.5 miles to Granite Creek (5,765 feet).

Granite Creek Camp to Berkeley Park

Granite Creek is an attractive place to camp; there is good water and the few sites are spread out generously along the thinly-wooded hillside. They share one of the man-made wonders of the Wonderland: without walls, a liberated pit toilet sits right in the wide open of a wildflower meadow. Unashamedly utilitarian in its bold placement, this could almost be argued to be a work of art.

Panorama of Mount Rainier and Skyscraper Mountain

From Granite Creek, the trail climbs in a series of long switchbacks through meadow towards a broad saddle below the summit of Skyscraper Mountain. As you near the top of the rise, the panorama becomes increasingly impressive. To the south, Little Tahoma rises into view above Burroughs Mountain. Tracing the horizon westward, Disappointment Cleaver breaks from the ice fields on the far side of Emmons Glacier. The brilliantly white snowfields of the Winthrop and Emmons Glaciers merge to form the smooth snow dome at the eastern summit of Rainier. On the north face of the mountain, Curtis Ridge jaggedly protrudes from the western edge of Winthrop Glacier, shading Willis Wall until mid-day. Looking further west, you can trace the day’s walk from Mystic Lake to where you now stand. Nearby, the summit of Skyscraper peak beckons, just a short walk to the north. To the east of the divide, a thick forest of evergreens carpets Berkeley Park in the valley below. The Northern Loop Trail passes through there on its way to the high plateau of Grand Park, visible in the distance. Further to the east, the Mount Fremont fire lookout stands out against the sky at 7,181 feet. There is so much to see from here — it is hard to leave it behind, but the thought of food at Sunrise helps to pry one from this pleasant vantage.

The sub-alpine meadows of Mount Rainier’s Sunrise

View of the northern section of Mount Rainier National Park

The trail rounds the scree slopes and leads to the large open meadows that make Sunrise such a memorable place to visit. Soon, the Northern Loop Trail junction is reached, and a sign indicates that Sunrise is only 2.3 miles away. The wind whips unimpeded through the alpine fields and marmots decorate the boulders lining the ribbons of streams. On the weekends, the trail starts to become crowded, and as you pass groups of sharply-dressed walkers, you may feel occasionally assaulted by clouds of perfume. At Frozen Lake, a five-way intersection of trails gives one some choices: The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail leads to a dead-end at the guard tower, 1.3 miles to the north. The official Wonderland Trail follows a slightly circuitous route to Sunrise Camp (6,245 feet) and Shadow Lake before bringing one close to Sunrise Lodge. Just 0.6 miles up the trail, however, you will intersect a 0.9 mile trail to the visitor’s center. This gentle descent is the most direct route to the lodge. The remaining option is to follow Sourdough Ridge 1.1 miles before descending to the parking lot (another 0.6 miles). If you’re after views or don’t plan to stay at Sunrise Camp, take the Sourdough Ridge route. This path is usually quite crowded with tourists and grows to the width of a roadway as you near the visitor’s center. It offers memorable views of the Sunrise development with a backdrop of Emmons Glacier.

More photos from this section of trail:

View from Sunrise on the Wonderland TrailThe Winthrop drainage

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
Looking South from Sunrise - The Wonderland Trail Book

Sunrise to Summerland Day: 7 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 10.8 miles (17.4 km)

Sunrise to Summerland Map - The Wonderland Trail book

Hiking from Mount Rainier’s Popular Sunrise to White River Campground

High above Emmons Glacier, Sunrise offers some of the best views available from a roadway in the park. Quite appropriately, it is a tourist hot spot and is usually crawling with visitors. After a week on the trail, you might find it nice to shoot the breeze with foreign vacationers for a change, but if the crowds make you anxious for backcountry solitude, you will likely enjoy the sudden silence of slipping away from the visitor’s center on the least-trafficked trail in the area. The 3 mile path that descends to White River campground promptly leaves the views behind, and serves primarily as an expressway for southbound Wonderland Trail hikers. I have hiked this section on a summer’s afternoon and not seen anyone else on the trail.

The Sunrise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park Wonderland Trail

Leaving Sunrise

Follow the signs for the Sunrise Rim trail to White River Campground from the south side of the Sunrise parking lot. Beginning on a service road, you will soon reach a junction where the trail to White River begins a steep descent of the ridge. Across the valley lies the jagged ridge-line of Goat Island Mountain. From here, the scenery slips past quickly as you descend nearly 2,200 feet in just a few miles. The forest density increases as you leave the alpine meadows behind. Two streams are crossed on the way down, and the woods become dark and shady as you approach the valley bottom. The smell of campfires waft up through the trees, and the trail arrives at the back corner of White River Campground. This is a great place to stay, and while it is a car campground with fees for sites, Wonderland Hikers get to stay here for free in the limited tent sites. There are bathrooms with potable water, a place to do your dishes, and garbage cans. If you’re charismatic enough, you might even be able to bribe some campers for a hotdog and a beer.

Crossing the White River on the Wonderland Trail

White River Campground to Fryingpan Creek

The Wonderland Trail leads from White River Camp towards the flood plain and crosses the river on a sturdy log bridge. Continuing southward, the mountain begins to vanish behind a forested ridge that ends abruptly where the White River has carved a path through it. Continuing into the forest, the trail rolls along the valley bottom for the next two miles before running a stone’s-throw from the road for the rest of the way to Fryingpan Creek. This is a popular trailhead for overnight trips to Summerland. From here, the path turns sharply away from civilization and heads straight for the mountain.

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead to Summerland

Gently climbing through the forest for the first couple of miles, the trail crosses several tranquil streams. To the south, glimpses of the cliffs below Tamanos Mountain can occasionally be seen through the trees. The trail begins a series of switchbacks, taking the hiker high above the rushing Fryingpan Creek. Rounding a bend in the trail, the east face of Rainier stands prominently steps into view above the tree tops. The forest thins to meadow opening up grander views of the mountain. If the season is right, this is a good place to collect blueberries.

Fryingpan Creek section of the Wonderland Trail

When you cross Fryingpan Creek you are close to Summerland, however it’s nearly a thousand feet above and you have to ascend a flight of switchbacks to get there. Summerland is at the crest, an open meadow in the warm months overlooking an eye-popping view of Rainier and the surrounding landscape. There is no question of why this is such a popular destination. Great Island mountain, whose base you have been skirting all day, rises from the moraine to the north like a sea of green carpet. Beyond, the cliffs of Mount Ruth and Steamboat Prow jut from the far edge of Emmons glacier. Here, two popular base camps for climbers can be found. Camp Schurman is located in the notch above Steamboat Prow, and Camp Curtis is just above Mount Ruth. If you sleep under the stars at Summerland, you will likely see the lights of climbing parties ascending towards the summit in the early hours before dawn.

When the sun rises on a clear morning at Summerland, it is like a switch is flipped and the mountain suddenly turns on. The glacier-capped peak catches the sun’s first light which quickly falls to the slopes below, and long before you feel the sun’s warmth on your face, the glow from Mount Rainier grows to such intensity that you’ll be reaching for your sunglasses. Campers come stumbling out of their tents and go straight for their cameras.

Photography tip: bring a graduated neutral density filter to help compensate for the brightness of the mountain. Otherwise try shooting high dynamic range — the difference in exposure values can be enormous between the foreground and the mountain in the early dawn.

More photos from this section of trail:

A small stream near Fryingpan CreekFryingpan Creek areaA glimpse of RainierDawn near the headwaters of Fryingpan Creek

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
Mount Adams from Panhandle Gap - The Wonderland Trail Book

Summerland to Nickel Creek – Panhandle Gap Day: 8 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 10.9 miles (17.5 km)

Summerland to Nickel Creek - The Wonderland Trail Book

Early season warning

Panhandle Gap is the highest point on the Wonderland Trail at 6,750 feet. It is often covered by snowfields until late summer. Consequently, it can be a challenging and dangerous route, particularly early in the hiking season (before August) when melting snow erases the outline of the trail, making route-finding difficult. Rapid snow-melt forms transient streams and snow bridges, and footing can be treacherous. A fall on one of the steeper snowfields could carry a hiker far from the trail.

Please take care when hiking in this area. Always ask a ranger about trail conditions before hiking over Panhandle Gap. Even on a clear day, it can be easy to lose your way between Panhandle Gap and Indian Bar if the trail is buried under snow, and descending prematurely into Ohanapecosh Park rather than Indian Bar could spell disaster. Consider carrying a GPS receiver in addition to a map and compass and know how to use them. Avoid hiking solo.

Summerland

Summerland is a gateway to the highest section of the Wonderland Trail where it crosses Panhandle Gap at 6,750 feet. This is also one of the most visually impressive sections of the trail, offering expansive views of both Mount Rainier and much of southern Washington. On clear days, Mount Hood can even be seen poking above the hills in northern Oregon. It is common to hike from Summerland to Nickel Creek in one day (11.3 miles), but if you’re going to drag your heels anywhere, this is the place to do it. You could do this stretch in two days and stay at Indian Bar (about 4.5 miles from Summerland) if you want to have time to soak up the sights.

Summerland to Panhandle Gap

As the trail leaves Summerland it rises like a staircase through the highland meadow, pausing briefly by a mossy stream bordered by a bouquet of wildflowers. Above, a web of cascading waterfalls is highlighted by the green carpet of mosses it feeds. Summerland is the headwaters of Fryingpan Creek, and all of the streams in the area leave via this drainage. As you climb away, the meadows thin to nearly lifeless expanses of glacial moraine. Early in the summer, this area will likely be buried under snow, and if the trail is not visible, keep an eye out for the flags marking the route. The trail crosses a busy stream via a footlog and continues across the moraine, passing by green, milky tarns as the views become more grandiose with each step. The path then turns to a series of steep switchbacks as it approaches Panhandle Gap, and climbs right past a pyramid-shaped crest to the east. From here, the next mile of Wonderland Trail has undoubtedly made Fuji and Kodak a lot of money back in the days of film cameras.

Leaving Summerland on the Wonderland Trail

When clouds roll over, a sense of desolation consumes the alpine landscape; passing through here in the fog is a phantasmagorical experience. The great geologic forms of eroded volcanism and the outlines of twisted, ancient trees appear and vanish in the shifting fog.

It is quite a different story on a clear morning: the delectable views remind you that you are in the middle of every element of landscape that one might hope to find in the Cascades. In summer, the snowfields stretching down the mountain turn into vibrant green hills that become densely covered in forest as they roll away to the south. The snow-capped ridge-lines of Goat Rocks Wilderness beckons nearby, and beyond, the pristine profiles of Mount Adams and Mount Hood mark the backbone of the Cascade Range. Turning around, the views of Rainier could neither be more rugged nor more complete: like a great castle of rock and ice the volcano fills up the sky; the parapet of Little Tahoma peers over Whitman Crest, piercing the blueness of space.

Mount Rainier from Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland Trail

Panhandle Gap to
Indian Bar

Descending the other side of the divide, the trail rolls through high alpine meadows above Ohanapecosh Park. This is often covered in patches of snow until autumn. Boulders jut from the smooth terrain where they lie fallen from avalanches high up the mountain. Early in the season, finding the route can be a slight challenge here as the through-traffic may be insufficient to keep a well-defined trail in the rapidly melting snow. If you lose your way, head to Indian Bar at N46o 49.59′, W121o 38.27′, but take care to avoid descending the mountain prematurely into Ohanapecosh Park where a number of streams and a ridge must be crossed in order to reach your destination. The route continues across the high plateau and gains about 300 feet in elevation to reach a viewpoint of the glacial cirque of the upper Indian Bar valley. If you briefly become concerned that you have taken a wrong turn and are headed up a climbing route, you’re probably going the right way. After a short climb, the glacial cirque valley of Indian Bar comes into view and far below you should be able to make out the outline of the emergency shelter against the valley bottom. The path then begins a fast drop down the ridge which separates Indian Bar from Ohanapecosh Park.

Indian Bar shelter on the Wonderland Trail

At 5,120 feet, Indian Bar is a pleasant campground and courageous individuals can even shack up with the mice on one of the shelter’s wooden bunk beds. In 2009, the structure got a partial remodel including a new roof and a few other repairs. A half-century’s worth of pocket-knife graffiti covers the inside and could provide enough reading material for an entire evening. Two streams converge right below the camp before tumbling off a short falls (over which a bridge has been tastefully built). Following this downstream just a short hike from the campground, you will find the much larger Wauhaukaupauken Falls.

Indian Bar to Nickel Creek

Heading south, the next stop is Nickel Creek, about six miles from Indian Bar. The trail piggybacks a ridgeline, and Indian Bar will likely be the last source of water until you get to Nickel Creek – drink up. Climbing steeply out of Indian Bar, the path follows the ridge through the sparsely-forested meadow. The views steadily improve as the mountain steps into full view behind Cowlitz Park. This ridgeline is like a series of dull saw teeth and the walk is strenuous as it covers each rise. Sometimes the path seems to lead straight into the sky next to Mount Adams in the distance. Looking back, the sights of Rainier rising above the sub-alpine meadows are magical. In the valleys on either side of the ridge, bears can often be spotted in the summer as they gorge on berries. If one is preoccupied with the views, the miles can slide past quickly. Before long the trail drops from its heights, losing 800 feet in elevation to the junction with the Cowlitz Divide trail. Here, the Wonderland Trail turns sharply westward, and begins a rapid two mile descent to Nickel Creek, losing another 1,500 feet elevation over the remaining distance.

Mount Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

Nickel Creek Campground

The camp at Nickel Creek (3,385 feet) is located in the deep forest and is a peaceful place to stay. Ten years ago, the sites were located right near the creek, but now they have been moved up the hillside a short distance due to blow-downs. This was once a wild zoo of rodents and the mice partied hard all night as they combed through the backpacks and scampered around the outside of the tents looking for crumbs. The last time I stayed here, however, I didn’t see a single mouse or chipmunk. It was a huge improvement and I heavily suspect the park service had something to do with it. Please keep track of (and hang) your scented goods here to avoid another mouse population boom.

More photos from this section of trail:

Mount Adams and SW Washington from Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland Trail
The headwaters of Fryingpan Creek
Sunrise near Summerland on the Wonderland Trail
Below Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland TrailNearing Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland Trail
Daylight fading on Mount Rainier - Dusk at Summerland
Mount Rainier from Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland TrailPanhandle gap early in the seasonSW Washington and Mount Adams from Panhandle Gap -- the highest point on the Wonderland TrailPanhandle GapPanhandle Gap -- The Wonderland Trail -- Mount Adams in the distanceVista near Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland TrailHeading to Indian Bar on the Wonderland TrailCrossing snowfields near Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland TrailSubalpine vegetationDescending towards Indian BarIndian Bar Valley on the Wonderland TrailIndian Bar Valley on the Wonderland TrailThe big thaw -- July at Indian Bar on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National ParkIndian Bar ValleyThe hills of SW Washington from The Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National ParkClimbing out of Indian Bar on the Wonderland TrailHeaded to Nickel Creek on the Wonderland Trail - Mount Adams on the horizonLenticular cloud formation of Mount Rainier from the Wonderland Trail near Indian Bar

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m
Paradise Falls - The Wonderland Trail book

Nickel Creek to Longmire Day: 9-10 (10 day itinerary) Distance: 14.5 mi (23.3 km)

Nickel Creek to Longmire Map - The Wonderland Trail Book

Possible Itineraries

If you started your trip at Longmire, you have now nearly made it home again. If you’re feeling strong and your pack is not too heavy, it would not be unreasonable to hike from Nickel Creek to Longmire in one day (13.6 miles), but beware the first half of the day is a tough grind. For an easier day, you can spend the night at Paradise River (about 10 miles). If you are not finishing your trip at Longmire, Paradise River to Devil’s Dream makes a good next leg of the journey. Another option is to stay at Cougar Rock Campground, a popular car campground just over a mile from Longmire.

The section of Wonderland Trail between Nickel Creek and Paradise River is a busy stretch of trail. The sights are varied and the day hikers are many, especially as one nears the popular roadside attraction of Mirror Lakes.

Nickel Creek to Stevens Canyon

Climbing Stevens Canyon on the Wonderland Trail

Leaving Nickel Creek the trail passes through the forest and comes to the Box Canyon trailhead in less than a mile. If it’s early in the morning, you will beat the crowds and have the restrooms to yourself. Give yourself a few minutes to bask in the luxuries of running water and flush-toilets. After a good scrub, take the time to go visit the short trail to Box Canyon overlook where the forest floor vanishes in a sheer drop to the water, about 180 feet below. The Wonderland Trail continues from the trailhead, passing up and over the top of the tunnel through which the road runs. From here it climbs a short distance before dropping to Stevens Creek. Here a bridge crosses where the stream has smoothly ground and polished its way into the bedrock. The remarkable formations are worth a close look. Continuing on, the trail crosses two more creeks in the next mile before arriving at Maple Creek Camp (2,815 feet). A short distance ahead, the trail begins making the long and steady ascent of Stevens Canyon.

A Backpacker’s Reflections on Stevens Canyon

I have climbed through Stevens Canyon here on a number of occasions and have had vastly different experiences depending on the season. On a hot day in late July, the canyon can be baking in the sun, thick with humidity and mosquitoes (think Panama Canal). This makes the ascent slow and arduous, an opportunity for self-pity and daydreams of the luxury automobiles, probably carrying hamburgers and cold milkshakes as they glide up the Stevens Canyon Highway, just across the valley. Fast-forward to late September and almost the entire hike up the south side of the canyon will be in the deep shade. Any sunlight will serve simply to ignite the yellow and orange fringed foliage on the opposite wall of the canyon. At this time of the year the air is clean and cool, the bugs are few, and this will be remembered as a pleasant autumn walk, not a cruel milkshake deprivation experiment in which you had to carry a boulder up a jungle mountain chock-full of West-Nile infected mosquitoes in suffocating weather.

Stevens Canyon to Reflection Lakes

The trail leaves the valley bottom as a steady grade, making its way through stands of mixed forest and thick brush as it climbs towards the valley’s head. The summit of Rainier can be seen just above the ridge-line. Time your first rest stop for the lovely Sylvia Falls, which can be viewed from a moss-draped (and shady) stand of cedars. Another mile up the hill, Martha Falls also makes a nice stop, especially on hot days when the mist from the plunge pool cools the air and clears the mosquitoes. From here the climb steepens, and the trail crosses the Stevens Canyon Highway in about half of a mile. Keep an eye out for cars here – after days of snail’s pace through the quiet wilderness, I was quite surprised to have a Mustang to come roaring around the corner at seventy miles an hour.

Crossing the highway, the trail continues its climb to the pristine Louise Lake, marking the end of Steven’s Canyon. Rounding the south end of the lake, the day tourist density thickens as the trail approaches Reflection Lake, less than a mile ahead. For a roadside attraction, Reflection Lake is quite beautiful, but you might find yourself hurrying along to escape the crowds. If warned that if you show up here at noon on a Saturday during the height of tourist season, it can nearly be an assault to the senses: a traffic jam, idling tour buses, crowds of foreign tourists listening to guides, cigarette smoke, perfume, thumping music from passing cars, kids running around, and curious folks wanting to chat with backpackers. This is an exception, however, as most of the days there are no more than a few small groups here at any one time.

Mount Rainier from Reflection Lake on the Wonderland Trail

Reflection Lake to Paradise River

Pushing onward, the trail crosses the highway and after running in parallel with the road for about half of a mile, begins a descent towards Narada Falls and Paradise River. This path is wide and well-maintained and travel is easy. Narada Falls is reached within twenty or thirty minutes. It is worth the short side trip to view the 168 foot plunge of the Paradise River. From here, Paradise River Camp lies just over half a mile down the hill.

Paradise River Camp (3,805 feet) makes a good stopping point if you are traveling from Nickel Creek. Tucked into the deep forest, in many ways it bears resemblance to Nickel Creek, except that the river is a longer walk from the camp.

Paradise River to Longmire

Carter Falls on the Wonderland Trail

From Paradise River Camp, the trail crosses the two channels of the creek and continues along steeply at times as it follows the drainage towards Madcap Falls and Carter Falls. Here a well-built railing runs along the edge of the overlook. Further down the hill, remains of an old water pipe from a hydroelectric operation can be seen at times along the side of the trail.

It is a fast walk to the Nisqually River crossing which is just below Cougar Rock Campground on the west bank. Stepping out into the river bed, Mount Rainier comes into view, a strikingly different perspective than when it was last seen at Reflection Lakes. This face is more pyramid-shaped, and it looks like a completely different mountain than the famous silhouette on the Rainier Beer can. After crossing the braided channels of the river, Longmire is just a short walk ahead through the forest. If you are either finishing your trip here or picking up a food cache, the excitement will likely kick in at this point and you will hardly notice the last mile to the Longmire visitor’s center.

More photos from this section of trail:

Stream near Box Canyon
Waterfall in Stevens Canyon from the Wonderland Trail
Sleeping-in at Nickel Creek Campground
Paradise River on the Wonderland Trail
Crossing the Paradise River on the Wonderland Trail near Cougar Rock Campground
Mount Rainier visible above Stevens Canyon on the Wonderland Trail
Box Creek
Stevens Canyon waterfall from the Wonderland Trail

Wonderland Trail Elevation Profile

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m

Pyramid Creek

3765 ft 1148 m

Devil's Dream

5060 ft 1542 m

South Puyallup River

4000 ft 1219 m

Klapatche Park

5515 ft 1681 m

North Puyallup River

3750 ft 1143 m

Golden Lakes

5130 ft 1564 m

South Mowich River

2605 ft 794 m

Mowich Lake

4929 ft 1502 m

Ipsut Creek Campground

2300 ft 701 m

Carbon River

3195 ft 974 m

Dick Creek

4185 ft 1276 m

Mystic Lake

5570 ft 1698 m

Granite Creek

5765 ft 1756 m

Sunrise Visitor's Center

6400 ft 1951 m

Sunrise Camp

6245 ft 1903 m

White River Campground

4300 ft 1310 m

Fryingpan Creek Trailhead

3800 ft 1158 m

Summerland

5940 ft 1811 m

Indian Bar

5120 ft 1561 m

Nickel Creek

3385 ft 1032 m

Maple Creek

2815 ft 858 m

Box Canyon Trailhead

3300 ft 1006 m

Reflection Lakes Trailhead

4850 ft 1478 m

Paradise River

3805 ft 1160 m

Longmire

2700 ft 858 m