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Mount Rainier National Park: Northern Loop Trail via Sunrise Park

Three days is all you need for this memorable, 33.2-mile circuit on the northern flanks of Rainier, which connects Natural Bridge, the Yellowstone Cliffs, and Grand Park, a string of must-see landmarks bypassed by the Wonderland Trail.

Rating

Day 1
Peer through a telescope outside the log fort-like Sunrise Visitor Center for magnified views of climbers on Emmons Glacier, then head north toward Sourdough Ridge Trail. Less than a mile in, turn left onto the Sourdough Mountains’ ridgetop. At the 4-way junction just past Frozen Lake, drop into Berkeley Park, a fir-dotted meadow perched in the cirque formed by the 7,078-foot Skyscraper Peak, Burroughs Mountain, and Mt. Fremont. Prepare for sensory overload: Lodi Creek gushes over boulders, the sweet scent of lupine permeates the air, and vibrantly red Indian paintbrush accentuate the landscape. At mile 2.3, turn left at the fork onto the Wonderland Trail and start a clockwise, 29.3-mile loop. At mile 3.6, crest Skyscraper Pass—at 6,700 feet, it’s one of the Northern Loop’s high points. Just past mile seven, cross a log bridge at the base of Garda Falls, which slaloms through a mossy, boulder-filled chute. In .1 mile, cross another log bridge over the raging Winthrop Creek. Listen for the muffled, rumbling sounds of boulders moving beneath the water’s surface. Nearly nine miles in, follow rock cairns and ribbons to find the best route across the West Fork White River. In .2 mile, cross a bridge over a second crossing of the West Fork White River, then begin a short, half-mile climb to Mystic Lake Camp. At mile 9.4, take your pick of seven campsites at Mystic Lake Camp. Eat your breakfast overlooking Mystic Lake’s glassy waters.

Day 2
After wrapping around Old Desolate’s sparse, scree-covered slopes, the trail winds northwest, threading between Moraine Park and the Carbon Glacier. Pass Dick Creek Camp, then cross its namesake creek. Near mile 14, continue straight at the 3-way junction, passing the Carbon River suspension bridge. Follow signs for Windy Gap. Less than a mile later, stay right at the trail fork for a zigzagging climb to Windy Gap. In 2.4 miles, the lichen-covered Yellowstone Cliffs fill up the skyline. Beargrass, purple lupine, orange Columbia lilies, Indian paintbrush blanket the subalpine meadows at the base of the cliffs. After hiking east across Windy Gap, turn left at a 3-way junction for an out-and-back to Natural Bridge, which rises 200 feet and spans 150 feet. Stop near mile 22 at spend the night at Lake James Camp.

Day 3
Tackle a quad-jarring, 1,220-foot descent from Lake James, then maneuver across the West Fork White River on fallen trees (the river wiped out existing bridges). At mile 26.8, the trail reaches an open knoll with big-screen views of the White River Valley, Mt. Rainier, and Natural Bridge. Less than half a mile later, continue straight (south) at the 3-way junction on the southern outskirts of Grand Park. Near mile 30, the trail climbs up Berkeley Park. Finish the loop 1.1 miles later, then stay left to return to the trailhead.

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.

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

-Mapped by David Tate

TO TRAILHEAD: From Ashford, drive east on State Route 706. In roughly 7 miles, turn right onto Paradise Rd. E. In 14.2 miles, turn right onto Stevens Canyon Rd. In 19 miles, turn left onto WA 123 N. In 10.9 miles, left onto WA 410 W. In 3.5 miles, turn left onto Sunrise Park Rd./White River Rd. Go 15.4 miles to parking at the Sunrise Visitor Center.

To Trailhead

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