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Mt. Rainier from Indian Bar. Photo by Jeremy Bauer
9 miles / Meadows
There are all other mountains in the Lower 48, and then there’s Mt. Rainier. A few other peaks are taller, sure, but no single summit can beat this 14,409-foot volcano, the jewel of Washington’s Cascade Range, for top-to-bottom immensity. And with its necklace of showy wildflowers, glacier-draped crown, and waterfall after roaring waterfall spilling from its shoulders, we’ll go ahead and say it—it’s the prettiest one, too. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail that rings the peak serves up a full buffet of Mt. Rainier’s beauty, but if you want to skip straight to dessert, head to this dayhikeable section on the peak’s northeastern flank.
Start by ascending through the Fryingpan Creek Valley, popping ripe huckleberries into your mouth along the way if it’s late summer, until you rise above the trees to reach-out-and-touch-it views of The Mountain. At mile 4, hit Summerland, an open meadow doused with gentian, subalpine buttercups, aster, and dozens more summer blossoms. Hike another 2 miles through rocky and snowy terrain to top out on Panhandle Gap—at 6,800 feet, the Wonderland’s high point—for views of the enormous Fryingpan Glacier. You’ll stay high even as you descend from there into the subalpine meadows above Ohanapecosh Park, passing a massive cirque streaked with a dozen waterfalls, before reaching yet another wildflower-dazzled basin at Indian Bar.
Trailhead 46.920662, -121.883993
Total hike 18 miles (out and back)
Camping Allowed at Summerland and Indian Bar; request permits starting March 15 ($20) or try for a free walk-in permit.