Mount Rainier Northern Loop, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13113A, Backpack


  • Hike through pristine wilderness 
  • View a natural bridge, cross a suspension bridge 
  • Enjoy ever-changing views of the mountain and its glaciers 


  • All meals on the trail 
  • Group cooking equipment 
  • Experienced leadership 


DatesSep 7–14, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffBill Gifford

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Mt. Rainier, the tallest peak in the Northwest, is the centerpiece of the Cascade Range in Washington State. Join us for a 36-mile backpack on the Northern Loop and Wonderland Trails as we hike across flower-filled meadows, through dense conifer forests and past alpine lakes. We will visit a natural bridge, see the expansive views from Windy Gap, and experience the exquisite beauty of Grand Park. Our route will take us across a swaying suspension bridge, past glaciers and rushing streams descending from the mountain. 

The National Park has a backcountry camp permit system that limits the number of hikers and will guarantee us a campsite each night. The group campsites require that we all use two-person (or larger) tents. 


Day 1: We'll meet at a campground in the Park and introduce ourselves. Over a relaxing dinner, we'll review our plans for the next day and organize our gear. 

Day 2: After breakfast we'll drive to the trailhead and hike about 7.5 miles to Fire Creek Camp.
Day 3: Today we'll hike about 5.5 miles, down to cross the White River and up to camp at Lake James.
Day 4: Hiking about eight miles, will take us past the Yellowstone Cliffs, to the Natural Bridge, and down to camp near the Carbon River.
Day 5: Today we'll cross the suspension bridge, then hike past the Carbon Glacier, and continue on to camp near Mystic Lake. 
Day 6: We'll cross the White River again, pass the Winthrop Glacier, and continue about five miles to camp at Granite Creek. 
Day 7: Today will be about five miles over Skyscraper Pass and back to our starting point at Sunrise. We will drive back to our original campground for our last night.
Day 8: As we leave the park, we can stop for short hikes to view Silver Falls and the Grove of the Patriarchs.



Getting There

We’ll meet at a campground in Mt. Rainier National Park for our first night. Directions will be provided. The leaders will help to coordinate carpooling from Portland or Seattle.

Accommodations and Food

We believe in eating well on backpack trips and plan for a variety of tasty, nutritious food. Meals may include meat but can be adapted for vegetarians. As everyone has different tastes, we will ask participants about food preferences before finalizing the menu. 
All meals are included -- from dinner at the campground on our first night to lunch on the last day. On the trail, dinners will always include soup, a main course, and dessert. We will provide coffee, tea, cocoa and Gatorade. Every trip member will receive a snack bag. 
Everyone will share in the cooking chores, which we will rotate daily. 

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderate trip, with an emphasis on enjoying the mountain and its surroundings. We will average about six miles a day, and there will be a couple of long uphill sections. We can expect warm days and cool nights. Extremes are possible, however, and you must come prepared. To enjoy this trip, you need to be fit, with a moderate amount of backpack experience within the past three years. If you have any questions about your fitness and experience, please contact the leaders. 

Equipment and Clothing

Trip members are expected to furnish their own backpack and personal gear. This must not weigh more than 25 pounds and if you can keep it closer to 20 pounds so much the better. The Sierra Club will provide commissary equipment, including pots, stoves, and cooking utensils. The Club supplies food, group first-aid kit, water purification tablets, and toilet paper. We will each carry 10 to 12 pounds of food and commissary equipment to start, plus personal gear. You will need to bring eating utensils, clothing, sleeping gear, a personal supply of moleskin, bandaids, personal prescriptions, etc. Rain is possible, so rain gear and a tent will be necessary. It can get cold at night, so bring warm clothing. You will need mosquito repellent, a hat with a brim and sunscreen. You must have well broken-in hiking boots with lug soles. In order to best use the group campsites, we need to have everyone in two-person tents. We will help to coordinate sharing of tents.


  • Green Trails: Mount Rainier West (#269) and Mount Rainier East (#270) 
  • Lorain, Douglas, Backpacking Washington.
  • Spring, Ira and Manning, Harvey, Fifty Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. 
  • Asars, Tami, Hiking the Wonderland Trail.


We will hike in an established wilderness area, away from roads and civilization, where we can appreciate past conservation efforts and consider what still needs to be done. To minimize our impact, we will visit during the week, vary our route, and take special care to practice the Leave No Trace ethic. 



Bill Gifford has been leading Sierra Club backpack trips in the Northwest since 1976, including trips to Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Eagle Cap, Hells Canyon, the North Cascades, the Sky Lakes, Glacier Peak, the Three Sisters and the Strawberry Mountains. Trees and wildflowers are his particular area of expertise, which he enjoys sharing with other hikers.

Assistant Leader:

Marilyn Gifford has been an active hiker since she married Bill and has led many base camp and backpack trips for Sierra Club. She enjoys bringing a group of fellow hikers together and introducing them to the wonderful trails in the Northwest.

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