Mount Rainier National Park: Fryingpan Creek to Mowich Lake via the Wonderland Trail

Explore Mount Rainier from nearly every angle on this classic, weeklong stretch of the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.
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Explore Mount Rainier from nearly every angle on this classic, weeklong stretch of the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.

In just six days, this 57.5-mile, roller-coaster route racks up a total elevation gain of 19,301 feet (and a loss of 18,183 feet) as it wraps around Mount Rainier’s glacier-chiseled terrain. After leaving the Sunrise Park Road trailhead, start a sustained, nearly 3,000-foot climb that parallels the cascades of Fryingpan Creek. At the head of the valley, scale switchbacks that deliver you to Summerland, a rolling, high-country meadow filled with wildflowers.

Next, pass the Summerland Shelter, a rock and timber lean-to, and keep climbing southwest to 6,750-foot Panhandle Gap, the highpoint of the Wonderland Trail. Linger at the top with resident mountain goats for views that stretch across the southern horizon to distant glacier-capped Mount Adams and, on clear days, Mount Hood.

Drop down the backside and traverse small snowfields above Ohanapecosh Park. At mile 8.3, cross Indian Bar, where the braided channels of the Ohanapecosh River vein the volcanic riverbed, then cross a bridge above Wauhaukaupauken Falls, gushing through a small slot canyon. Less than 200 feet later, drop your pack and spend the night at Indian Bar Shelter; deer and elk mingle in the adjacent meadows at dusk.

The next day, warm up with an 800-foot climb to a 5,930-foot high point on Cowlitz Divide. Trace the ridgeline southeast for three miles, before descending to Nickel Creek and Box Canyon. Turn south at mile 15.3 and hike roughly 1.5 miles to the mouth of Stevens Canyon. Sleep at Maple Creek Camp near mile 18.

Climb out of the valley on day three, passing Sylvia and Martha Falls—and the crowd-pleasing Reflection and Louise Lakes at the head of the canyon. Begin the 5.8-mile descent into Paradise Valley and Longmire a mile later. Pause at mile 24 to stare at Narada Falls, a two-tiered waterfall that plunges 168 feet, then 20 feet over cliffs (ice climbers scale the upper falls in winter). Pitch your tent a mile from here in the forested Paradise River Camp.

On day four: Pass back-to-back Madcap and Carter Falls at mile 25.2 and 25.5, and continue the southwest descent to Longmire, the park's former headquarters and the most popular place to start and finish the Wonderland Trail. Just north of the park buildings, the route swings north for a steep, 1,050-foot climb up forested Rampart Ridge (dayhiking crowds diminish in a mile). Less than two miles later, the trail rolls over the ridgetop and drops north into Kautz Creek (springtime washouts are common; link the cairns to find log crossings). Half a mile later, cross Pyramid Creek, then climb 2.2 miles to Devils Dream Camp.

Rise early on the fifth day for the one-mile stretch to Indian Henrys Hunting Ground. Spend some down-time in the sprawling, wildflower fields, backdropped by Rainier's southwest face, before starting the 1.1-mile, 1,050-foot descent to a suspension bridge slung high above Tahoma Creek’s broad and rocky riverbank. After two more rigorous climbs and two knee-jarring descents, cross the bridge over the North Puyallup and sleep at its same-name camp (mile 45).

On the last day, climb past the flowery meadows and clusters of lakes that dot Sunset Park (black bears come here in the fall for the huckleberries) before descending into the Mowich River valley. Cross the South and North Mowich Rivers and begin the final 3.2-mile, 2,330-foot climb to the bustling Mowich Lake Campground and your shuttle car.

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping-and-hiking.htm.

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations requests accepted by fax or mail, starting on March 15th of each year ($20/reservation). Download form at nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-reservation-information.htm.

FOOD CACHE: To decrease the amount of food you must haul on the first three days, leave a food cache at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center before starting the trip. nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/caching-food-and-fuel.htm

RIVER CROSSINGS Bridge washouts are common along this route. Check with a ranger before heading out on the trail to get up-to-date information on water levels and trail conditions.

CONTACT Mt. Rainier National Park, (360) 569-2211; nps.gov/mora

-Mapping and info provided by David Tate and NPS GIS data

TO TRAILHEAD: Shuttle car drop: Drive southeast on WA 410 E. In 11 miles, turn right onto Mundy Loss Rd. In 1.2 miles, turn left onto WA 162 E. In .3 mile, go straight on WA 165 S. Go 25 miles to parking at Mowich Lake Campground.

To trailhead: Return to the WA 162/WA 165 junction; turn right to stay on WA 165. In 1.6 miles, turn right onto WA 410 E. In 41.4 miles, bear right onto Sunrise Park Rd./White River Rd. Go 4.3 miles to parking pull-out.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 92.6

Waypoints

WON001

Location: 46.888369, -121.610667

This section hike begins from Sunrise Park Road. Hike southwest along Fryingpan Creek and continue straight at the 3-way junction at mile 0.1.

WON002

Location: 46.870541, -121.625165

Stop at this overlook, which showcases views of a waterfall on Fryingpan Creek.

WON003

Location: 46.869742, -121.65395

Cross a footbridge over Fryingpan Creek.

WON004

Location: 46.865907, -121.659676

At the top of the switchbacks, the forest opens into Summerland, a rolling, high-country meadow below the Fryingpan Glacier. On cloudless days, look for Mount Hood to the south-southwest.

WON005

Location: 46.865417, -121.65932

Optional: Bear left to reach Summerland Camp. Summerland Shelter, intended as a group site, is straight ahead. The shelter is a rustic, yet majestic (nice wood floors, too), lean-to made of rock and timber.

WON006

Location: 46.866122, -121.658069

Summerland Camp: Located just beyond the outhouse. Hang food on bear poles.

WON007

Location: 46.855434, -121.645349

Crest Panhandle Gap, the highest point along the Wonderland Trail at 6,750 feet. The top of the Gap showcases impressive views to the south across the Tatoosh Range to distant Mount Adams and, on clear days, Mount Hood. Keep your eyes peeled for the substantial herd of mountain goats that wander this area below the Gap. Ahead, the trail traverses a series of alpine meadows above Ohanapecosh Park (patches of snow often linger here until fall).

WON008

Location: 46.826784, -121.639539

Indian Bar: Lush meadows crowd the riverbank, and the many braids of the Ohanapecosh River run down the volcanic rock bed, providing a melodic soundtrack.

WON009

Location: 46.826983, -121.638931

Optional: Set up your first night's camp at Indian Bar (mile 8.4).

WON010

Location: 46.826445, -121.639076

Wauhaukaupauken Falls: Water rushes through a small slot canyon, between pillars of solid rock, to form these impressive falls. Cross the footbridge above the torrent. At dusk, it's not uncommon to see deer and elk roaming in the meadows.

WON011

Location: 46.826095, -121.639124

Continue straight at the 3-way junction. Look up the valley to the north: you'll see meadows and alpine firs on one side and the towering granite walls that hold back the Ohanapecosh Glacier on the other. Optional: Turn right to sleep at Indian Bar Shelter. This historic shelter has a fireplace (filled with rocks) and 10 bunk beds. Bonus: The toilet above the shelter has arguably the most impressive view you'll ever get when answering the call of nature.

WON012

Location: 46.814982, -121.622691

This 5,030-foot summit on Cowlitz Divide features views in all directions. Mount Rainier fills the skyline to the west; to the east the Cowlitz chimneys are in plain view; the peaks of the Tatoosh Range rise to the southwest; and the distant profiles of Mount Adams and Mount Hood are visible on cloudless days. Trace the ridgeline southeast.

WON013

Location: 46.776349, -121.606373

Turn right (southwest) for a wooded descent past the Nickel Creek Shelter to Nickel Creek.

WON014

Location: 46.765832, -121.634998

The trail meets Stevens Canyon Road in Box Canyon. Turn right and descend to a footbridge over the Cowlitz River.

WON015

Location: 46.753327, -121.639857

Cross a bridge over Stevens Creek. Next, the trail winds northwest up the canyon bottom.

WON016

Location: 46.760411, -121.661352

Maple Creek Camp (2,815 feet): Spend the second night at this site in Stevens Canyon (mile 17.6).

WON017

Location: 46.761444, -121.670065

Start a steady, forested climb out of the valley. The top of Rainier can be seen to the northwest. Stop to look at Sylvia Falls in half a mile.

WON018

Location: 46.767437, -121.69392

The climb steepens past Martha Falls.

WON019

Location: 46.770235, -121.703322

Carefully cross Stevens Canyon Road.

WON020

Location: 46.770117, -121.723233

Turn right at this 3-way junction overlooking Reflection Lakes (west) and Louise Lake (east). On weekends, these two lakes can attract crowds. Climb north for one more mile before a 5.8-mile descent.

WON021

Location: 46.774763, -121.737231

Continue straight at this saddle below the Mazama Ridge for the descent into Paradise Valley.

WON022

Location: 46.778955, -121.737054

Turn left (southwest) toward Narada Falls, then cross the highway. The wide, well-traveled trail descends to Narada Falls and parallels the Paradise River.

WON023

Location: 46.775025, -121.745516

Narada Falls: This two-tiered waterfall plunges 168 feet, then 20 feet over cliffs (ice climbers scale the upper falls in winter).

WON024

Location: 46.769237, -121.758604

After crossing the Paradise River, spend the third night at forested Paradise River Camp (mile 25; 3,805 feet). Next day: Continue southwest descent past Madcap and Carter Falls.

WON025

Location: 46.766501, -121.791343

Turn left at this junction just east of Cougar Rock Campground; continue descent southwest to Longmire.

WON026

Location: 46.751678, -121.811864

The trail skirts the historic district of Longmire, the park's former headquarters and the most popular place to start and finish the Wonderland Trail. Swing by the National Park Inn's dining room to re-fuel on the Farm Stand Hamburger or the Lahar Sundae (mtrainierguestservices.com/dining/national-park-inn-dining-room). Next, turn right, heading north, for a steep, 1,050-foot climb up Rampart Ridge. Tip: To decrease the amount of food you must haul on the first three days, leave a food cache at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center before starting the trip. (Details: nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/caching-food-and-fuel.htm)

WON027

Location: 46.761558, -121.808294

The well-maintained trail switchbacks through thick forest. Dayhiking crowds start to die down in a mile.

WON028

Location: 46.766819, -121.808807

Turn right (north) for a descent to Kautz Creek.

WON029

Location: 46.773553, -121.811605

Springtime washouts are common along this stretch of Kautz Creek's riverbed. Link the series of cairns to find log crossings over the creek.

WON030

Location: 46.780108, -121.811686

Cross Pyramid Creek, then start the second climb of the day, ascending 1,600 feet in the next three miles to Indian Henrys Hunting Ground.

WON031

Location: 46.782255, -121.826453

Cross Devils Dream Creek.

WON032

Location: 46.782753, -121.834517

Spend the fourth night at the forested Devils Dream Camp. Refill water bottles in Devils Dream Creek, which flows through a gorge to the east. Next day: Continue climbing north to Indian Henrys Hunting Ground. Pass through pockets of meadows that border Squaw Lake.

WON033

Location: 46.793361, -121.840652

You don't need to be a pro to take poster-worthy photos of the sprawling meadows, backdropped by Rainier's southwest face, in Indian Henrys Hunting Ground. Come July, brilliantly colored wildflowers flood the landscape in purple, red, yellow, and white. Continue straight at the 3-way junction.

WON034

Location: 46.795593, -121.8416

Turn left at 3-way and drop 1,050 feet in 1.1 miles to Tahoma Creek. Side trip: The trail on the right leads half a mile to Mirror Lakes, which reflect Rainier on calm days.

WON035

Location: 46.804732, -121.848297

Cross a long, one-hiker-wide suspension bridge high above Tahoma Creek's wide and rocky riverbanks. Next, the trail climbs 1,400 feet in the next 1.7 miles and crosses glacial moraine deposited by the South Tahoma and Tahoma Glaciers (to the northeast).

WON036

Location: 46.821119, -121.841898

Bad news: You'll lose all the elevation you gained after rounding the north side of Emerald Ridge. Good news: You'll get in-your-face views of Rainier, which rises less than five miles from this point. Descend nearly 1,600 feet in the next 1.6 miles.

WON037

Location: 46.811812, -121.868843

Turn right, then cross the South Puyallup River.

WON038

Location: 46.81272, -121.868806

Prepare for a steep, 2,000-foot grind up back-to-back switchbacks to St. Andrews Park.

WON039

Location: 46.828163, -121.865078

Cross the outlet stream of a small lake in St. Andrews Park.

WON040

Location: 46.832427, -121.864949

Cross St. Andrews Creek, the outlet for St. Andrews Lake. If water reserves are low, fill them here.

WON041

Location: 46.835356, -121.877469

Turn right at Aurora Lake and Klapatche Park, a grassy bench above the North Puyallup valley to the north (6,094-foot Aurora Peak rises directly to the east). Descend northeast toward Aurora Park.

WON042

Location: 46.840376, -121.868847

Descend tight switchbacks into the North Puyallup valley.

WON043

Location: 46.846573, -121.868935

After crossing the bridge over the North Puyallup, spend the fifth night at the same-name camp (mile 45). Next day: Hike west above the river, then north toward Sunset Park. Keep an eye out for ripe blueberries.

WON044

Location: 46.86873, -121.901207

Sunset Park: Hike north across meadows and small clusters of lakes. Wildflowers are rampant here in mid-summer. In early fall, look for black bears munching on juicy huckleberries.

WON045

Location: 46.882195, -121.897559

A patrol cabin is located on the left-hand side of the trail. After passing another group of lakes, the route curves to the northwest above the Golden Lakes. It's an easy climb to the ridgeline above the Mowich River valley.

WON046

Location: 46.89882, -121.911941

Crest the ridgetop, then descend switchbacks through mossy forest (losing 2,000 feet of elevation) to the South Mowich River.

WON047

Location: 46.908851, -121.892921

Scout out the best place to ford the South Mowich River. Caution: Water levels can be high in spring and later in the day due to meltwater from the South Mowich Glacier.

WON048

Location: 46.915712, -121.893954

Cross the North Mowich River, then begin the final 3.2-mile, 2,330-foot climb out of the valley to Mowich Lake.

WON049

Location: 46.918058, -121.890262

At the 3-way junction, bear right. The trail on the left climbs to Paul Peak.

WON050

Location: 46.930749, -121.864725

Cross Crater Creek.

WON051

Location: 46.932829, -121.863959

The route ends at the bustling Mowich Lake Campground, on the southern edge of Mowich Lake. Pick up your shuttle car to return to the trailhead.

Waterfall on Fryingpan Creek

Location: 46.870553, -121.625049

Crossing Fryingpan Creek

Location: 46.869744, -121.65382

Meadow Views

Location: 46.869258, -121.658437

Meadows at Summerland

Location: 46.865924, -121.659492

Summerland Shelter

Location: 46.865418, -121.659229

Summerland Creek

Location: 46.864284, -121.6591

Mount Rainier

Location: 46.862657, -121.665779

This is the view of the mountain from a scramble near the bottom of Fryingpan Glacier.

Desolate Plains

Location: 46.857546, -121.651186

The view across the frozen tarn to the backside of Meany Crest.

Panhandle Gap

Location: 46.855464, -121.644876

From this vantage, you'll catch views of Mount Adams rising in the distance.

Ohanapecosh Glacier

Location: 46.839055, -121.656763

Footbridge at Wauhaukaupauken Falls

Location: 46.826462, -121.638997

Ohanapecosh River

Location: 46.826435, -121.638984

The river winds through the valley at Indian Bar.

Indian Bar

Location: 46.826408, -121.638946

Indian Bar Shelter

Location: 46.825922, -121.639758

The view from inside the shelter.

Toilet Seat Tapestry

Location: 46.825877, -121.639746

Arguably the best view from a toilet seat.

Mount Rainier from Cowlitz Divide

Location: 46.814977, -121.622298

Views from Cowlitz Divide

Location: 46.809346, -121.618011

Old Growth

Location: 46.769532, -121.626077

This section of trail tracks through old-growth forest.