Circumnavigating Rainier: 9 Reasons to Hike The Wonderland Trail

The first time I heard of the Wonderland Trail was on a Dirtbag Diaries podcast. It was a story about a trail runner and a mountain lion encounter on this wild, epic trail in Washington. The trail sounded badass: dramatic elevation changes, sweeping landscapes, and the occasional mountain lion.

(Image courtesy of

(Image courtesy of

Then I moved to Washington and got the amazing opportunity to hike the trail in 2014 and 2015! If you can get a permit – DO IT! Permits are getting harder and harder to get with more and more people moving to Seattle area.

Wonderland Trail Facts

Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Distance: 93 miles long around Mount Rainier

Elevation gain and loss: ~22,000 feet (6,700 m)

Recommended hiking time*: 10-14 days

Fastest known time: 18 hours and 52 minutes (set by Gary Robbins in 2006)

Permit: Required

Fun fact: Mt Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48!

*Suggested by the National Park Service

9 Reasons to Hike the Wonderland Trail

1. Das ist wunderbar!


img_7815Seriously it’s like walking in a fantasy land. “Wonderland” really is the best descriptor. My hiking cohorts and I began shrieking “DAS IST WUNDERBAR!” like little old German ladies at every beautiful sight. If we turned it into a drinking game and taken a shot every time we would have been wasted. Immediately.


The trail is lush and green. Ferns and moss and big conifers. Glaciers and crevasses, blue ice, black dirty ice, huge peaks, colorful gray and red and blue volcanic rocks, enormous orange and gray moraines, grassy slopes. Picturesque teal lakes. Rainforest. Dirt encased glaciers. Towering Mount Rainier.


Frolicking with marmots, waning golden light, alpine tundra. Churning chocolate rivers. Blue volcanic rocks, purple dirt, white and brown glaciers, patches of snow. Even the moss here is a brighter, more vibrant shade of green. Tall, skinny pine trees and huge glacial cirques.


It reminds me of a Brothers Grim fairy tale. Native stone huts, beautiful blue rivers, cute wooden bridges. A truly overwhelming sensory overload of nature of the highest degree.

2. Emerald Ridge.




Bright orange, deep gray, shocking white. Loud gushing water below. Enormous landscapes. The pics just don’t do it the justice it deserves…

3. Glaciers, glaciers everywhere and not a drop to drink!


You can’t turn around without bumping into a glacier, opaque glacial runoff streams, and glacial features like U-shaped valleys and moraines!


There are 27 major glaciers on Mount Rainier and a handful of unnamed snow or ice patches, which cover ~35 square miles. And glacial outburst floods have been known to gush from the mountain (one happened in August 2015!)


4. Mountain goats, and pikas and bears! Oh my!

Lets face it. Cute animal encounters are adorable. My best animal encounters on the WT:

A) Seeing a herd of 20+ mountain goats with hiking buds at Panhandle gap – including a baby goat and a pregnant goat! Adorbs!

B) A tame deer meandered around in our camp at Sunrise, chomped grass under a tree, eventually got bored and wandered away.


C) The four of us – Tara, me, Jared, and Tyler bumped into a bear on our way to Spray Park. We hear rustling in the bushes. Tara gasped. I yelled “bear!”. And Jared rushed us to get a look. It’s a BEAR! His black and brown butt disappeared into the bushes…

Animals and evidence of animals you may see include, but are not limited to:


bear poop.


mountain goats.




gray jays.

mountain lions.

At Mount Rainier you can find 65 mammal species, 14 species of amphibians, 5 species of reptiles, 182 species of birds, and 14 species of native fish.

5. Confront your fear of heights

At one hundred and sixty five feet above Tahoma Creek, the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge extends for two hundred feet. The bridge is supported by cables and a wooden planks with gaps between each board. Walking across this bridge will make your knees weak. Your stomach will churn. You will sing lullabies to soothe yourself as you cross.

Crossing high bridges is a very real thing.


6. Rainier is a VOLCANO


AN ACTIVE VOLCANO. Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Badass!

7. If you run out of food, you can always eat a marmot

Don’t actually eat a marmot. But the marmots are FAT. I mean really fat. Like obese. At Summerland especially. Hide your food. Really. Or they will eat it.


(The obese marmot is splayed out camouflaged on the middle of that log. Fat and happy)

8. Indian Bar

Did I mention how insane this landscape is? Seriously nature. You’re killin’ me.


9. Rainier!

Rainier for Rainier! Get it at the Sunrise Gift Shop/Snack bar to commemorate your kickass finish.


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Comments 12

  • Zach : Feb 15th

    A few friends and I are hiking the WT this year- and this post just added a lethal dose of gasoline to the already giant fire. Gorgeous photos.

    Did you set food caches at the ranger stations?

    • Jean Taggart : Feb 29th

      Awesome! You’re going to love it! Yes and no on food caches… The first year I got lucky and had food spotters (my boyfriend and friend meet is asking the trail and Brighton us food and helped up slack pack) but the second year yes! At Longmire (where we also ate real food on a rainy day at the restaurant) and Mowich Lake. We sent 5 gallon buckets with food. There was also tons of food in the hiker boxes there

  • David Maltby : Feb 16th

    I only needed one reason. This has been in my hike bucket for 6 years, ever since we took a family vacation to Paradise Inn on Mt. Rainer. I will make it back there.

    • Jean Taggart : Feb 29th

      Rainier is spectacular! You won’t regret making the time to do it!

  • Putt-Putt : Feb 19th

    I lived in WA for years and didn’t know the details about the trail. Thanks for the nice write-up. Another bucket list item.

    • Jean Taggart : Feb 29th

      Thanks Putt-Putt! Day hikes on sections of the trail make for amazing views too!

  • Rick : Dec 6th

    As someone who served several years in Germany, I politely would like to point out that the title of the first point on your list is grammatically incorrect and might be offensive to some German citizens. The correct expression, both grammatically and in the cultural context would be “Bei mir bist Du schoen!”. Not a big deal to most Americans, I guess, but since I lived there I thought it´s worth pointing out. Still I very much enjoyed your article and feel inspired to hike this trail one day.


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