The Wonderland Trail is a challenging hike. Even with training and fitness preparedness, most people will be tested by the constant long-hauls up and over the steep ridges.

The Wonderland Trail is about 93 miles (145 km) in total. There are numerous side-trips that can be tacked-on, adding to the total trip mileage. Almost every day on the trail is spent climbing or descending the steep glacially carved valleys of the stratovolcano’s base. The cumulative elevation change over the 93 miles is about 22,000 feet (6,700 m). According to the Park Service, the average Wonderland Trail backpacker hikes this distance in 10 days.

View map of the Wonderland Trail

Most people I’ve spoken with who are in good shape prefer a nine or ten day itinerary. This means that hiking is your full-time job, particularly if you want to spend additional time exploring your surroundings.

On this schedule, you’ll need to break camp and be on the trail fairly early. It’s also likely that on the longer days you’ll find yourself pulling into camp as dusk settles.

If you give yourself longer than ten days to hike the Wonderland Trail, you’ll have plenty of time to rest, let your body repair itself, and reflect on the incredible scenery. If you’re not completely confident in your hiking abilities, consider giving yourself more time to complete the trail. An extra day could be the difference between a great vacation and an often miserable experience.

A handful of hikers take as long as twelve to fourteen days to make the trip.

As you slow the pace, hiking becomes a secondary experience to spending time in some of the most beautiful country in the world.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the one-percent of individuals who go ultralight and clobber and trail-run the route in three to five days. At four days, this is the equivalent of trail-running a marathon over an extremely challenging course for four consecutive days, all while wearing a backpack.

It’s easy to be optimistic about your fitness abilities when you’re not on the trail, but do exercise caution with this trip. Talking with backpackers on the trail, The Wonderland Trail is often cited as the most challenging hike many people have experienced.

Where should you start your trip on the Wonderland Trail?

There are currently a number of trailheads giving one access to the Wonderland Trail. Check out trailhead access to the Wonderland Trail for more info.

Most backpackers start at Longmire, Mowich Lake, or Sunrise. These trailheads are roughly equidistant from each other, and conveniently, food caches can also be sent to these locations.

Each trailhead has its pros and cons for starting your trip. Longmire is the most popular choice, but hiking clockwise from here takes you into three challenging days on the trail. An easier choice would be starting from Mowich Lake and hiking clockwise through Ipsut Pass, a gentle first day. If you’re not with the program and want to hike the trail counterclockwise, another option is to leave from Sunrise. Hiking counterclockwise from Sunrise puts you into two days of net elevation losses as you descend to Carbon River. Be warned, however, that this section can be harder on the knees when hiked down rather than up.

You Need a Map

A number of different publishers have maps of Mount Rainier National Park and I’ve bought them all.

The best map I’ve found for the Wonderland Trail is the Mount Rainier National Park National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.

It’s laminated so it’s tough and durable, it has plenty of enough detail for anyone not climbing the mountain, and costs about ten bucks from Amazon.


Sample Wonderland Trail Itineraries

Use these as a starting point to plan your trip or check out the Itinerary Planning Tool to build your own.

10 days on the Wonderland Trail, Clockwise from Longmire

Day Start and End
1 Longmire to Devil’s Dream
2 Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park
3 Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes
4 Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
5 Mowich Lake to Carbon River via Ipsut Pass (easier) or Spray Park (challenging)
6 Carbon River to Mystic Lake
7 Mystic Lake to Sunrise
8 Sunrise to Summerland
9 Summerland to Nickel Creek
10 Nickel Creek to Longmire

For this itinerary, hiking from Summerland to Nickel Creek (over Panhandle Gap) on day nine will likely be the most challenging. It’s also a particularly beautiful section of trail, so if you’d like to add in an additional day, this would be the place to do it. If you can get the reservations at Indian Bar, hike from Summerland to Indian Bar on day nine, and then go from Indian Bar to Nickel Creek or Maple Creek on day ten.

11 days on the Wonderland Trail, Clockwise from Longmire

Day Start and End
1 Longmire to Devil’s Dream
2 Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park
3 Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes
4 Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
5 Mowich Lake to Carbon River via Ipsut Pass (easier) or Spray Park (challenging)
6 Carbon River to Mystic Lake
7 Mystic Lake to Sunrise
8 Sunrise to Summerland
9 Summerland to Indian Bar
10 Indian Bar to Maple Creek
11 Maple Creek to Longmire

For this 11-day itinerary, the most challenging section will likely be the second day, when you hike from Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park. If you want to add in an additional day, you might consider splitting this section up.

12 days on the Wonderland Trail, Clockwise from Longmire

Day Start and End
1 Longmire to Devil’s Dream
2 Devil’s Dream to South Puyallup Camp
3 South Puyallup Camp to North Puyallup
4 North Puyallup to Golden Lakes
5 Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
6 Mowich Lake to Carbon River via Ipsut Pass (easier) or Spray Park (challenging)
7 Carbon River to Mystic Lake
8 Mystic Lake to Sunrise
9 Sunrise to Summerland
10 Summerland to Indian Bar
11 Indian Bar to Maple Creek
12 Maple Creek to Longmire

Hiking the Wonderland Trail in fewer than 10 days

For most hikers, I don’t recommend an itinerary shorter than ten days. For many hikers, the Wonderland Trail will be the most challenging backpacking trip they’ve experienced. If you’re an avid backpacker and know what you’re getting into, I’ve provided a few shorter itineraries below.

9 days on the Wonderland Trail, Clockwise from Longmire

Day Start and End
1 Longmire to Devil’s Dream
2 Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park
3 Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes
4 Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
5 Mowich Lake to Dick Creek via Ipsut Pass (easier) or Spray Park (challenging)
6 Dick Creek to Sunrise Camp
7 Sunrise Camp to Summerland
8 Summerland to Nickel Creek
9 Nickel Creek to Longmire

9 days on the Wonderland Trail, Clockwise from Sunrise

Day Start and End Approx. Daily Mileage
1 Sunrise to Summerland 10
2 Summerland to Nickel Creek 11
3 Nickel Creek to Paradise River 10
4 Paradise River to Devil’s Dream 9
5 Devil’s Dream to Klapatche Park 10
6 Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes 8
7 Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake 10
8 Mowich Lake to Dick Creek (via Spray Park) 10
9 Dick Creek to Sunrise 13

Hiking counterclockwise and reversing this itinerary gives you the easiest start possible.

9 days on the Wonderland Trail, Counterclockwise from Sunrise

Day Start and End Approx. Daily Mileage
1 Sunrise to Dick Creek 13
2 Dick Creek to Mowich Lake via Ipsut Pass (easier) or Spray Park (harder) 10
3 Mowich Lake to Golden Lakes 10
4 Golden Lakes to Klapatche Park 8
5 Klapatche Park to Devil’s Dream 10
6 Devil’s Dream to Paradise River 9
7 Paradise River to Nickel Creek 10
8 Nickel Creek to Summerland 11
9 Summerland to Sunrise 10

Where to go from here

Second to planning your food caches, you will likely spend more time sweating over your itinerary for the Wonderland Trail than most other preparations. Remember that the park begins accepting reservations on March 15th, and that permits are in high demand. Send your requests between March 15 to March 31 to get into the highest priority group.

You can use my Itinerary Planning Tool to further plan your trip. Be sure to check out the elevation profile on any of the trail description pages to get a better sense of the challenge for individual days.

If you want a printed guidebook for preparing for this hike, a great read is Tami Asars 2012 book, Hiking the Wonderland Trail: The Complete Guide to Mount Rainier’s Premier Trail.

If you want a guidebook to take on the trail with mile-by-mile notes, you might like Bette Filley’s book, Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail. It may not be in print anymore, but it’s readily available used from Amazon and the trail notes are still relevant today.