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.
- Distance: 92.6
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.
Location: 46.870541, -121.625165
Stop at this overlook, which showcases views of a waterfall on Fryingpan Creek.
Location: 46.869742, -121.65395
Cross a footbridge over Fryingpan Creek.
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.
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.
Location: 46.866122, -121.658069
Summerland Camp: Located just beyond the outhouse. Hang food on bear poles.
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).
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.
Location: 46.826983, -121.638931
Optional: Set up your first night's camp at Indian Bar (mile 8.4).
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.
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.
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.
Location: 46.776349, -121.606373
Turn right (southwest) for a wooded descent past the Nickel Creek Shelter to Nickel Creek.
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.
Location: 46.753327, -121.639857
Cross a bridge over Stevens Creek. Next, the trail winds northwest up the canyon bottom.
Location: 46.760411, -121.661352
Maple Creek Camp (2,815 feet): Spend the second night at this site in Stevens Canyon (mile 17.6).
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.
Location: 46.767437, -121.69392
The climb steepens past Martha Falls.
Location: 46.770235, -121.703322
Carefully cross Stevens Canyon Road.
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.
Location: 46.774763, -121.737231
Continue straight at this saddle below the Mazama Ridge for the descent into Paradise Valley.
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.
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).
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.
Location: 46.766501, -121.791343
Turn left at this junction just east of Cougar Rock Campground; continue descent southwest to Longmire.
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)
Location: 46.761558, -121.808294
The well-maintained trail switchbacks through thick forest. Dayhiking crowds start to die down in a mile.
Location: 46.766819, -121.808807
Turn right (north) for a descent to Kautz Creek.
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.
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.
Location: 46.782255, -121.826453
Cross Devils Dream Creek.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Location: 46.811812, -121.868843
Turn right, then cross the South Puyallup River.
Location: 46.81272, -121.868806
Prepare for a steep, 2,000-foot grind up back-to-back switchbacks to St. Andrews Park.
Location: 46.828163, -121.865078
Cross the outlet stream of a small lake in St. Andrews Park.
Location: 46.832427, -121.864949
Cross St. Andrews Creek, the outlet for St. Andrews Lake. If water reserves are low, fill them here.
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.
Location: 46.840376, -121.868847
Descend tight switchbacks into the North Puyallup valley.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 46.918058, -121.890262
At the 3-way junction, bear right. The trail on the left climbs to Paul Peak.
Location: 46.930749, -121.864725
Cross Crater Creek.
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
Location: 46.869258, -121.658437
Meadows at Summerland
Location: 46.865924, -121.659492
Location: 46.865418, -121.659229
Location: 46.864284, -121.6591
Location: 46.862657, -121.665779
This is the view of the mountain from a scramble near the bottom of Fryingpan Glacier.
Location: 46.857546, -121.651186
The view across the frozen tarn to the backside of Meany Crest.
Location: 46.855464, -121.644876
From this vantage, you'll catch views of Mount Adams rising in the distance.
Location: 46.839055, -121.656763
Footbridge at Wauhaukaupauken Falls
Location: 46.826462, -121.638997
Location: 46.826435, -121.638984
The river winds through the valley at 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
Location: 46.769532, -121.626077
This section of trail tracks through old-growth forest.