Wonderland Trail Loop, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14116A, Backpack


  • Circle the great mountain of the Northwest on a world-class loop hike
  • Pass through every life zone of the national park
  • Enjoy food caches that lighten your pack


  • Delicious vegetarian-friendly meals
  • Two experienced leaders
  • Group cooking equipment


DatesSep 1–11, 2014
Difficulty5 (out of 5)
StaffBill Gifford

Trip Overview

The Trip

Come and join Shelly and Bill to hike the Wonderland Trail all the way around Mount Rainier, passing from old-growth forests in the valleys to high passes to miles of alpine meadows. We will pass lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers as we travel through every life zone of the park.  Wonderland Trail it is called and wonderland it truly is. To quote Ira Spring and Harvey Manning, “...the Wonderland Trail is to a hiker—the experience of a lifetime.”  The leaders have hiked this loop before and now invite you to join as they do it for the second time as a Sierra Club trip.  If you love the mountains and want to experience the scenic wonders of the Wonderland, and if you’re up to hiking 93 miles with 25,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, then this is the trip for you.

Two food caches will help to lighten our loads; we won’t need to carry more than a couple of days' worth of food at a time. Bear poles or lockers at every camp mean we won’t need to carry bear canisters. The Park Service maintains the trails to a high standard. Our highest elevation on the trail will be 6,800 feet. These things will make the trip easier and help to offset the mileage and elevation gain, but this is a trip for fit and experienced backpackers. If you have any questions at all -- about the trip, your experience, your conditioning -- please contact Bill. He loves to talk about hiking and would be happy to talk to you. 

We will meet on Monday, September 1 (Labor Day), at Cougar Rock campground in Mount Rainier National Park. We will get acquainted, have dinner, and spend the night here. On Tuesday morning we will leave our camp set up at the campground (someone will be there to keep an eye on it) and we will drive our cars to Box Canyon.  We will leave the cars there and hike (day packs only) back to Cougar Rock to camp another night. Wednesday will be our hardest day as we hike on, now with backpacks, to camp at South Puyallup River. We will continue on around the mountain, camping at Golden Lakes, Mowich Lake (layover day) and Mystic Lake, before arriving at White River campground. From White River we will continue along the trail to camps at Summerland and Indian Bar, then close the circle and end our trip back at Box Canyon. Our trail camps will all be at reserved group sites, two of them at shelters. 


Day 1: We will meet at Cougar Rock campground at 5:00 p.m. for dinner, and camp there for the night.

Day 2: Leaving camp set up at Cougar Rock, we'll drive to Box Canyon, leave our cars there, and day hike (11 miles) back to Cougar Rock for another night.

Day 3: We will backpack 14 miles with 4,500 feet elevation gain and 3,100 feet descent over Rampart Ridge and through Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, dance across the Tahoma Creek suspension bridge, climb to Emerald Park, and descend to South Puyallup camp.

Day 4: We will hike 12 miles past Aurora Lake and Klapatche Park to reach Golden Lakes camp in Sunset Park.

Day 5: We will hike ten miles along the trail, down to the Mowich River, and up to our camp at Mowich Lake, where we will pick up our first food cache.

Day 6: Today is our layover day at Mowich Lake.  The day is yours, whether you choose to relax at camp or join a possible day hike to Spray Park.

Day 7: We will hike 12 miles, 3,400 feet up and 3,300 down, over Ipsut Pass and up along the Carbon River, across another suspension bridge, and up to Mystic Lake.

Day 8: We will climb to Skyscraper Pass, 2,500 feet up and 4,000 down, through meadows and past Frozen Lake, to White River campground and our second food cache.

Day 9: Seven miles up through the forest will bring us to the alpine meadows and stone shelter at Summerland. Previous experience has shown that 12 people will not fit in this shelter; we’ll need a couple of people to put up their tent nearby.

Day 10: We will climb above the trees, over Panhandle Gap, and descend to the valley of Indian Bar and another shelter. This time, we will all fit in the shelter. Five miles, 1,100 feet up and 1,600 down.  

Day 11: Our last day. A hike of eight miles, 1,300 feet up and 2,700 feet down, will close the loop back at Box Canyon. We can reflect on the journey we have made as we near the end of the trail. As Douglas Lorain writes, the Wonderland Trail “is not only the finest long hike in Washington; it is considered by many to be one of the best in the world.”

Bill will communicate with people as they sign up. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Bill and Shelly will screen trip members carefully; this is a strenuous trip and our goal is to have a capable, experienced, and fit group. Hiking the Wonderland requires effort, but it is most definitely worth it. This trip will truly create lifetime memories.

We will camp five nights at Park Service campgrounds and five nights at trail camps, where we will have reserved the group site. Two of those group sites are shelters. In order to fit the group sites, it is necessary that we all be in two-person (or larger) tents. No single-person tents or bivy sacks. When the group is complete, we will help as necessary to get everyone sorted into tents.

Trip members will share commissary duties in rotation. If you have special diet requirements, be sure to inquire in advance. We will help to coordinate carpooling. On the last day of the trip, we should be back to our cars by mid-afternoon.



Getting There

We will meet at Cougar Rock campground on the south side of Mount Rainier on Monday, September 1. Directions will be provided. The leaders will help to coordinate carpooling from Portland or Seattle.

Accommodations and Food

We believe in eating well on hiking 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.  We will have breakfast at camp each morning, set out the makings for lunch, and have dinner at the next night’s camp. Everyone will share in the cooking chores, which we will rotate daily.
Due to park rules, it will be necessary to have everyone in two-person tents.

Trip Difficulty

This trip rates five on a five-point scale (strenuous) and the rewards are equal to the effort.  We will hike 93 miles, with about 25,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, in nine moving days with one layover day.  On the other side of the equation, two food caches mean we won’t have to carry more than a couple of days' worth of food at a time.  Bear poles or lockers at every camp mean we won’t have to carry bear canisters.  Our highest elevation will be 6,800 feet and the Park Service maintains the trails to a high standard.  However, this is definitely a trip for fit and experienced backpackers.  If you have any questions about your fitness and experience as they relate to this trip, please discuss them with us in detail.
Water will be readily available along our route; we’ll have a group filter at camp and purification tablets available during the day. Anything is possible with weather; the mountain makes its own weather.  Come prepared for anything, as you would on any backpack trip.
The demands of the trip require very good physical conditioning, a flexible attitude, and a sense of adventure. With these three traits, the rest will work out!

Equipment and Clothing

Trip members furnish their own backpack, sleeping bag, tent and other personal gear, including eating utensils. This must not weigh more than 25 pounds -– and if you can keep it below 20 pounds, all the better. The Club will provide commissary equipment, including pots, stoves, cooking utensils, and all food.  We will have a group first-aid kit; you should bring personal supplies and medications. You must bring mosquito repellent, sunscreen, a quart water bottle, a hat with a brim, and clothing suitable for possible rain and cold along with well broken-in hiking boots.  We will bring water purification tablets and a group filter.


  • Green Trails Maps Inc. -- Mount Rainier West (#269) and Mount Rainier East (#270)
  • Spring, Ira and Harvey Manning, 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Lorain, Douglas, Backpacking Washington.
  • Filley, Bette, Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail Encircling Mount Rainier.
  • Blackwell, Laird R., Wildflowers of Mount Rainier.


We will be hiking in a national park, established in 1899, where we can appreciate past conservation efforts and consider what still needs to be done. To minimize our impact, we will take special care to practice the Leave No Trace ethic.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Mount Rainier National Park.



Bill Gifford has been leading Sierra Club backpack trips in the Northwest since 1976, including trips to Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Eagle Cap, 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.


Shelly Eberly has loved hiking and backpacking since being old enough to walk, and she has finally balanced work and play enough to have time to share that passion with others. She has led backpacking trips in the ecologically rich Appalachians of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and in the deserts of Utah and Arizona. Regardless of where she is backpacking, Shelly looks forward to sharing the rejuvenating power of the natural world with you. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

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