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