The Wonderland Trail – Mount Rainier

The Complete Backpacker's Guide to Exploring the 93 Mile Trail

Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes

Distance:

7.8 miles (12.6 km)

Synopsis:

Visit the wettest corner of Mount Rainier as you pass through the headwaters of the North Puyallup. Here you'll pass by the old terminus of the abandoned Westside Highway before spending the afternoon gorging on blueberries in an old burn area know as The Silver Forest.

Wonderland Trail Map - Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes

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.

Copyright 2011 – Jonathan Greeley

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