Mowich Lake to Carbon River, Dick Creek, & Mystic Lake
8.5 miles (13.7 km) to Carbon River, 13.4mi (21.6 km) to Mystic Lake
To burn through some miles, take the lowland expressway through Ipsut Pass. Alternately, take the Spray Park highland route if the weather is good and you'd like another helping of alpine splendor.
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.
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 to Ipsut Pass, and from here it’s all downhill to Ipsut Creek Campground. After a few miles, the trail enters dense forests of Douglas fir, western hemlock, and Alaskan and western red cedar. From here, the views are few and the scenery is pleasant but largely unremarkable. From Ipsut Creek Campground, travel is swift along the valley bottom as the trail gently climbs southeast to Carbon River. For sturdy hikers itching to put miles behind them, it is quite reasonable to reach Mystic Lake by nightfall, but beware the uphill grade gets quite steep beyond Carbon River, and this can make for a tough finale at the end of the day. See the description for the trail between Carbon River and Mystic Lake below.
Carbon River to
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. 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 geologic 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.
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 arriving at Moraine 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). Before arriving at Mystic Lake, however, you must first climb to a low saddle below Old Desolate ridge. You will know when you get there; you’ll be way up on a ridge and the lake will be visible in the meadow on the other side.
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. 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.