|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – September 2000
Sure, you can summit Mt. Rainier, but the real treasure isn't on top. It's the Wonderland Trail down below.
EXPEDITION PLANNER: WONDERLAND TRAIL, WA
Photo by John Harlin
It isn't just fog that obscures the mountain-top: Towering trees shade hikers along this section of trail near Eagle Campground.
If assured of better weather, I would start my trip all over again at Sunrise Visitor Center, with its fantastic view, mellow but spectacular first days, and climactic finale. This route also permits a stash to be cached at Longmire, should you so desire. Once you're on the path, just follow Wonderland Trail signs. Almost all thru-hikers walk the loop clockwise, making the many ridges somewhat easier to negotiate. Take the Spray Park alternate route on the north side; this adds a few thousand feet of gain and loss, but you'll eyeball some of the area's most beautiful scenery. The normal time to hike the loop is 10 to 14 days, though a reasonably fit hiker can cut that time in half. A 100-person crew from The Mountaineers club in Seattle established the entire Wonderland Trail route in 1915. Today, some 200 to 300 people thru-hike the trail annually. Expect company during the high-use season, and relative tranquility (but less stable weather) in fall.
Season: Typically, the trail is pretty melted out and the bridges are in place by mid- to late July. Before that, some stream crossings could prove problematic, and the route should be reserved for adventurous and experienced wilderness travelers. Be prepared for fall's rain and high-country snow at any moment. Call Mt. Rainier National Park for backcountry information.
Permits: Camping permits are required and free without reservation from the park's hiker center in Longmire. Or, pay $20 to reserve your campsites in advance (a good idea during high-use season if you know where you want to camp). If you haven't reserved, be prepared to accept alternate sites.
Guides: The trail is so well signed that you really don't need any map other than the free mileage handout that comes with your permit. But carry a topo map, both for safety and to better understand the features around you. Waterproof maps are available from Trails Illustrated (#217; 800-962-1643; www.trailsillustrated.com; $9.95) and from EarthWalk Press (800-828-6277; $3.95 paper, $7.95 waterproof). Fifty Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning (Mountaineers Books, 800-553-4453; www.mountaineersbooks.org; $14.95) offers plenty of info. Yours truly is writing the text for a coffee-table book on Mt. Rainier, featuring the photographs of James Martin, to be published in 2001 (Sasquatch Books, 800-775-0817; www. sasquatchbooks.com).
Contact: The Mt. Rainier National Park hiker center in Longmire, (360) 569-HIKE (360-569-2211 in winter); www.nps.gov/mora/home.htm.