Call it the face that launched a thousand trips: The view of Mt. Rainier’s northwestern façade from Spray Park, where overflowing lupine and paintbrush blooms jostle each other to get into the frame, may just make for the most memorable photo opp in the park. There’s just one problem on my trip here—I can’t actually see the peak. On this summer morning, chilled mist swirls among the wildflowers, blotting out the postcard view. But I don’t mind: The fog lends an otherworldly vibe to the scene and keeps fairweather hikers away, giving me a rare chance to savor the colorful meadow in solitude. Besides, as I’ll be reminded over and over again on this 17-mile loop through high-altitude scree fields and lush temperate rainforest, you don’t have to see the mountain to feel its power.
From Mowich Lake Campground
(1) Take the Wonderland Trail .2 mile.
(2) Pick up the Spray Park Trail and take it 5.4 miles through subalpine meadows to Cataract Valley Camp. (Don’t miss the view of 350-foot Spray Falls near mile 2.)
(3) Continue north to a fork at mile 7.7.
(4) Follow the rerouted Wonderland Trail (a 2006 flood washed out the original) to Ipsut Creek Camp at mile 11.4.
(5) Go 5.1 miles over 5,100-foot Ipsut Pass to the trailhead.
Cataract Valley Camp (mile 5.6)
Bed down in an electric-green understory at this seven-site camp. Despite its name, you won’t get waterfall views, but nearby salmonberries fruit in July and a stream makes water duty easy.
Ipsut Creek Camp (mile 11.4)
This site on the ice-blue Carbon River was a car campground before a monster storm washed out the 5-mile access road. Without traffic, it’s now a mellower destination for backpackers looking to linger another night on this loop.
Prepare for stained fingertips: Thickets of the Northwest’s tastiest berries line this route. Harvest salmonberries and blueberries near Cataract Valley Camp; huckleberries on the climb to Ipsut Pass; and thimbleberries and raspberries near the Carbon River. Park guidelines limit you to what you can snarf on the spot.
DO IT Trailhead 46.932865, -121.863121; 6 miles east of Mowich Entrance on Mowich Lake Rd. Season July through October; August is prime berry season. Permit Required (free for walk-ins) Custom map bit.do/BPmapMotherMountain ($15) Contactnps.gov/moraTrip databackpacker.com/mothermountain
- State: WA
- City: Seattle, WA
- Distance: 16.6
- Contact: nps.gov/mora
- Land Type: National Park