Everything I know about hiking the Wonderland Trail

Every year, come permitting season (March 15th is when wilderness permits become available for that year), I get a lot of people asking me questions about the Wonderland Trail. And I am always happy to answer them! But I thought – what if I also created a little resource that I could direct people to? So here goes.

What is the Wonderland Trail?

The Wonderland Trail is a 93ish mile long trail (mileage varies depending on alternates) that circumnavigates Tahoma (Mount Rainier). It is a stunningly beautiful trail that oscillates between deep, volcanic valleys, dense forests of old growth trees and high alpine parks and ridges. The trail is very well maintained and unless you go very early season there are usually foot bridges over all river crossings and there are two huge suspension bridges! You often glimpse Tahoma’s many glaciers, sometimes from very close up. There are a couple of options for swimming in Golden Ponds and Mystic Lake.

The trail is by no means a walk in the park though – while the grade is generally mellow you are either climbing and descending for the entire 93 miles. Some people have strong opinions about hiking the Wonderland one way or the other but I have done both and found them both to be lovely and hard in different ways. Weather on the Wonderland Trail is controlled by the mountain itself. Because of this you have to be prepared for bad weather at any time of the years. Also – don’t go expecting to see the mountain all that often. It is often covered in clouds! But wildlife is pretty abundant on trail, it’s likely you’ll see a fat marmot lounging in an alpine park or a pika as it chirps a warning call!

Hiking clockwise in 2018 with our friends Molly and Josh – taken shortly after Skyscraper Pass headed towards Sunrise.

Before the first step…

Before you can take the first step (permits) you kind of need to know one important thing: how many days will it take you to complete the Wonderland Trail. I can only help you with this so much because everyone needs to figure out their own level of fitness and ability. The only thing I can say is do not underestimate the Wonderland Trail. It is hard. The climbs and descents are steep and unrelenting – you are basically always going up or down. The first time we hiked it we did it in seven days, the second time five days and this last time we did it in three days.

Here is a super useful website for helping you figure out mileage, camps, number of days, etc: https://www.wonderlandguides.com/hikes/wonderland-trail/itinerary-planner
**Quick note about mileages: they are all wrong. No seriously, no matter which planner you use, or which mapping service the mileages will come out differently and when you are on trail the signage won’t match what you thought you were doing. Don’t sweat it.

First Step: Permits

Permits are required in order to hike the Wonderland Trail and they can be a little tricky to obtain so before you get your heart set on hiking the Wonderland Trail apply for your permits first. Links to all pertinent information are at the bottom of the post.

How the system works:
– The Wilderness Permit Reservation System goes live on March 15th
– The only way to reserve permits is through the online system
– The park starts processing requests on April 1st so I would recommend getting your WT permit in between March 15th and April 1st.

Here’s what they will want to know on your application:
– All the normal stuff like name, contact info, etc.
– Number of people in your party
– Trip date range and alternate trip date range
– The direction you want to hike
– Trip itinerary (campsites and number of nights)
* NOTE: You can only submit one permit per person – if you submit a second permit under your name they will only consider your first submission. Also, quickly, what does date range mean? Basically they are asking for a range of dates within which you could do your hike. So if you are super flexible and haven’t taken time off work yet you could put down July 1st – August 31st. Or if you have a tight window put the exact dates you’re looking for.

Recommendations for increasing your chance of getting a permit:
– Be as flexible as possible! This means give as big of a date range as you possibly can – if you are planning on taking time off for the hike but you haven’t requested it yet tell them they can give you dates anywhere in the month of July, August or September!
– On that same note say you are happy to hike either direction (I’ve done both directions and they are both fine/great).
– And list camps to help them with the itinerary but check that box that says you don’t care where you camp. Yes, some camps are nicer than others but most of the amazing views you will see happen while you are hiking, not while you are in camp.
– If you are hiking with other people have everyone in the group apply for a permit to up your chances of getting one (release whichever permits you don’t end up using).
– Apply for the shoulder seasons instead of at the height of summer. Early season you will have to deal with more snow on trail and later season your chances of getting rained on go up. But both of those things could impact hikers at any time throughout the season. Just something to consider.

What to do if you don’t get a permit:
– Have a backup plan. There are a ton of places in Washington (or in your own state if you were planning on traveling) where you can easily string together a five to ten day long backpacking trip. Shoot me a message if you want suggestions but I guarantee with a little research you can find something super beautiful and fun to do instead.
– Try for a walk up permit. Best to do this on a Monday or Tuesday and again, be super flexible. These are easier to get if you are in good shape and can complete the WT in five days or less (but not impossible to get if you need more time). Go in first thing when the Wilderness Information Center at Longmire opens and be ready to accept a permit that starts that day or the next day. Have a back up adventure planned for the day you attempt to get permits in case you get them for the next day, or in case there aren’t any available and you want to try again the next day for another day out. The ability to do this is really dependent on your flexibility and schedule. If you are an out-of-state hiker and you didn’t get a permit during the lottery I would plan something else for this season and try again next year. Or come with a backup Washington plan in case you don’t get your permit in the first couple of days.

Ipsut Pass vs Spray Park

View of Tahoma from Spray Park

One decision you will have to make is if you want to hike the traditional route of the Wonderland Trail and go through Ipsut Pass or if you want to take the Spray Park Alternate. Here are my pros/cons for each route:

Ipsut PassSpray Park
Pros:
– The traditional route, if you’re a purist this option is for you!
Pros:
– Spray park is absolutely stunning, especially when there are wildflowers blooming! It is a high alpine park with incredible views of Tahoma.
– Easier on the body (regardless of which direction you’re traveling there is less elevation gain/loss). – There is a cinamon bear who frequents this park!
– Biggest tree in the park is located on this route!
– You get to hike through a beautiful temperate old growth rain forest. So cool.
Cons:
– You miss out on Spray Park!
Cons:
– This route is steep and long, regardless of which direction you approach it from. It is killer on the knees if you have to go down to Carbon River from here.

So you got a permit!

Once you get your permit it is time to start planning. You already know how many days you are going to hike it in (you had to decide that to get a permit). Time for everything else.

A lot of this planning will depend on your level of backpacking experience. If you backpack regularly then you have all the gear you need to complete the hike. If you have never been backpacking before then you have a whole different journey ahead of you and honestly, I don’t think this trail is ideal for your first ever backpacking trip. I would recommend starting on something a little shorter and easier.

So let’s assume you’ve been backpacking before! The Wonderland Trail doesn’t require any specialized gear unless you are going early season and need to take snow traction with you. The Wonderland Trail does require rain gear and a good knowledge of how to stay safe when you are wet. No matter what time of the year you go you could get rained on. It could rain your whole trip.

If you need a refresher on what to pack check out this article by REI: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/backpacking-checklist.html. The only things I would say for the Wonderland Trail are to make sure you have ways to stay dry (pack covers, dry sacks, rain jackets, maybe a lightweight tarp) and bring your camera! Also check in with the Park before you go to understand snow conditions and if you will need traction.

Food

Cooking up a storm in 2018 at our Sunrise campsite.

The biggest thing you will have to plan for the hike is food. Here are a couple of thoughts.

  • You don’t have to carry all your food the whole time! You can leave food caches at Longmire, Mowich Lake (Carbon River) and White River Ranger Stations. If you are going to do this you have to bring a bucket with a seal-able lid to keep it safe from rodents while they are storing it. The bucket must be labeled with your name.
  • The challenge with food caches is you have to drive around to each ranger station in order to drop them off and that can take all day. If you are planning on having food caches at Longmire, White River and Mowich you will need to set aside an entire day to drop off your caches (this can be the same day you pick up your permit).

Below are two example food plans that I actually created for the Wonderland Trail – the first is the seven day trip we did back in 2015. Then the second is the five day trip we did in 2018. This summer when we did it in three days we really only took snacks and my mom fed us for our other meals.

7 day WT Food Plan 2015

Meals/miscWhite River Campground, Monday night Day 1: White River to Mystic CampDay 2: Mystic Camp to Mowich Lake Day 3: Mowich Lake to North PuyallupDay 4: North Puyallup to Devlis Dream CampDay 5: Devils Dream to Maple Creek Day 6: Maple Creek to Summerland CampDay 7: Summerland Camp to Trailhead
BreakfastNAEgg scramble for all! oatmeal x3 + nuts and dried berriesDad provided breakfast Grits, bacon bits, parmesean cheeseGranola and breakfast essentials Poptarts x2 Granola and Breakfast Essentials
Snack 1NABars x2 bars x2Bars x2Bars x2 bars x2Bars x2 Bars x2
Snack 2NAJerkyJerkymeat sticks (1/2 package)meat sticks (1/2 package)peanut butter Peanut butterwhatevers left
Snack 3NAGold fish crackersGold fish crackerscheese its (1/2 package)cheese its (1/2 package)pea snaps (1/2 package)pea snaps (1/2 package)whatevers left
Snack 4NAHard boild eggs x2nuts trail mix(1/2 package)trail mix (1/2 package)cajun mix (1/2 package)cajun mix (1/2 package)whatevers left
Dinner Joint effort? Zatarans, flour tortillas, fresh green beans, cheeseDad provided dinnerTortellini, parmesean, dried veggies, alfredo saucedehydrated chicken noodle soup mac and cheese, summer sausageMountain house meals x2 NA
Dessert Joint effort? cookies Dad provided dessert Nutella nutella candy bar x2cand bar x2 NA
Hot Drink BEERhot toddies Dad provided drinks Hot toddieshot toddieshot toddieshot toddies NA

Dinner 1: Brought with and eaten in campground
Day 1 through Day 2 food: Start with at White River Campground, up until dinner at Mowich
Day 3 through day 7 resupply: Pick up from dad, except breakfast at Mowich

5 day WT Food Plan 2018

DayStartFinishTotal MilesBreakfastSnack 1Snack 2Snack 3Snack 4DinnerDessert
Thursday, August 30thLongmire Trailhead, 8:30amKlapatche Park Camp16.7 – 6am leave Seattle, 9am leave LongmireSelf-provided in-the-car goodness Lindsey and Kyle: 2 bars, 2 meat sticks, dried fruit
Lindsey and Kyle: 2 bars, 2 fruit purees, moon cheeseLindsey and Kyle: Rain City Crunch, jerkyThe best Mac and Cheese ever with sausage. Lindsey and Kyle: Candy bars
Friday, August 31stKlapatche Park CampEagle’s Roost Camp19.8 – 7am wake up, 8am leave campGranola with Breakfast Essentials2 bars, 2 meat sticks, Baby Bells CheeseCrackers and Hummus Tuna with mayo and relish packets for Lindsey, meat stick for Kyle, cookiesPlantain chips with PB to dip them in, Rain City CrunchCurry and cous cous with veggies and chicken. Backpacker pantry dessert
Saturday, September 1stEagle’s Roost CampSunrise Walk-In Camp19.8 – 6am wake up, 7am leave campChilaquiles – salsa verde with eggs, cheese and tortilla chips2 bars with PB to dip them in, dried fruitTrail mix, Half Pop Popcorn, Shot BlocksPlantain Chips, 2 bars, dried fruit
Molly: Sweet Potato Chips, 1 bar, mango
Shot blocks, Baby Bells Cheese, 2 bars
Molly: 1 bar, pirates booty, shot block
Angel Hair pasta with red sauce, sausage, parm and veggiesCandy bars
Sunday, September 2ndSunrise Walk-In CampIndian Bar Camp14.3 – 8am wake up, 9am leave campGrits with cheese, sausage and veggies! Meat sticks, moon cheese, gummy bears, 2 bars
2 bars, 2 fruit purees, trail mixPoptarts, jerky, shot blocks
Molly: Poptarts, jerky, shot blocks
Mountain House meals with Idahoan mashed potatoes Backpacker pantry dessert
Monday, September 3rdIndian Bar CampLongmire Trailhead20.3 – 5am wake up, 6am leave campOatmeal with fruit, chia seeds and nuts!Tuna with may and relish packets, meat stick, cookiesStinger Wafers, Half Pop Popcorn, PB & J bites2 bars, trail mix, gummy bears Anything that is left in our food bag… REAL FOOD – somewhere deliciousREAL FOOD – somewhere delicious

*Kyle and I prefer to take snack breaks every four miles, which is usually every two hours – the above snack schedule represents how many snack breaks we would take each day and can hopefully help everyone plan for the amount of snacks to bring for the entire trip. I grayed out snack break number 4 on shorter days because we won’t need that last snack break. (This was information I included on the planning document for Molly and Josh to help them figure out how to plan their snacks).

One thing that having an actual “snack plan” will help you do is ration your food. It is hard to pack food for many days, especially if you carry it all from the beginning. On the first couple of days you will feel like you have all the food in the world and eat too many snacks and then towards the end you will start realizing you’re a little low on food. While you’re hiking I recommend actually sticking closely to your snack plan OR reorganizing your snacks nightly and pulling out what you are going to eat the next day.

Training

About to die after climbing from Carbon River up to the unnamed pass before Mystic Lake in 2019 (our three day circumnavigation).

So what should one do physically to prepare for the Wonderland Trail? As always training depends heavily on what kind of shape you are in normally. Let me lay out a couple of scenarios since I think that will be the best way to get across how you should prepare for this hike:

You rarely hike, have been backpacking once and want to do the Wonderland Trail: Unfortunately I think you might want to start somewhere else. For someone in this position you would probably need a 14 day hike to make the distances and elevation feasible. 14 day permits are going to be hard to get, you have a higher chance of having terrible weather and being miserable and if you rarely backpacking going from no days to 14 days in a HUGE LEAP. Instead choose a couple of overnights for this summer!

You day hike A LOT, have backpacked a couple of times and want to do the Wonderland Trail: Awesome – I think you are a great candidate for the Wonderland Trail. I would aim to be able to hike it in 7-10 days. That’s some where between a 9-13 mile a day average. Keep in mind that you will probably end up with some 6 mile days and some 16 mile days because of campsite spacing. But if you get your permits in March and have time to train I think this is doable. So what should you do to train? HIKE WITH WEIGHT IN YOUR PACK. There is literally no substitute for it. Do whatever else you want, run, bike, cardio, strength training, get a trainer, but keep hiking with weight on. If you live in a city this could mean walking around your neighborhood, up and down flights of stairs, etc. And get out for weekend hikes as often as you can!

You backpack a lot and have been on long trips where you comfortably did 15+miles a day and you want to hike the Wonderland Trail: Sweet! You are in a great place to push yourself a little bit and aim to hike it in somewhere between 5-8 days. This would give you somewhere between a 11-18 mile-a-day average. You will have to train for it because the Wonderland Trail isn’t your average trail (see: WAY MORE ELEVATION GAIN) but I bet you can do it. For your training I would focus heavily on elevation with a pack on – that means find the biggest flight of stairs or take your pack to the gym and get on the stair master. Also get that cardio in shape cause you’re going to be huffing and puffing on such a tight timeline!

When do I know I’m ready to hike it in three days? A three day hike is really only something I would recommend for thruhikers or ultramarathoners aka people who are used to moving 25+ miles a day for consecutive days. But keep in mind that if you have thruhiked this will still be more challenging than the PCT because the elevation gain is so extreme – you would be fine coming right off trail but if you’re a season out plan on doing training leading up to it. However, both thruhikers and ultrarunners should have the mental capacity to complete a three day push as well as the knowledge of how to hike efficiently. If you do a three day push you can either carry your gear and food or have someone support you from Mowich Lake, White River and Cougar Rock which are all conveniently spaced.

Other things to take into account: HOW YOU LIKE TO HIKE
Maybe you’re in great shape but you like to wake up late, stop for a long lunch and get into camp early. Then you will want to give yourself more days. However, if you are looking to push yourself here are a couple of tips for how to maximize your days and hike efficiently:

How to hike efficiently:

  • Wake up early and get going! Yes, it’s cold in the morning and I hear you, you want to cook a hot breakfast. Well guess what, Kyle and I always make a hot breakfast and we always get up early so it’s possible. Practice your morning routine before you go! Can you get breakfast on and then break down your tent? If you have a hiking partner can one of you go get the bear hang while the other puts away your sleeping bags and pads?
  • Reasons for getting up early and going: you get to see sunrise which is the most magical time of the day and you will move more quickly when it’s cold! Kyle and I often hike the fastest during this time of the day and it’s when we feel the most alive! If you can get up before dawn (which is what we really live for) I highly recommend it. Even if it’s just once or twice on your trip!
  • Don’t take a “lunch”, instead do shorter and more frequent snack breaks throughout the day. If you can keep snacks within reach and snack while you’re hiking even better! We love this cause it allows us to stop more frequently at beautiful views and spend a little time there!
  • Pair your breaks with filtering or treating water! This is what efficiency is all about – if you are stopping for one thing can you get something else done at the same time? Bonus points for getting a poop in during one of these breaks as well.
  • Everyone pees at the same time. It’s a rule. Also don’t go like fifty feet off trail to pee – especially in a high alpine setting that just means you have to trample more plants. Pee close to the trail! Save time and vegetation.
  • If you have a super long day hike some hours after dinner! What I love about this – you get to stop in a really awesome spot to cook dinner! Pick a place with an epic view. After dinner you are going to have a ton of energy because you just ate a whole meal and had a longer break. And you don’t have to cook where you camp so if bears are a problem, problem solved. AND when you get to camp you can just eat a quick dessert and set up and leap into bed! Fast and easy!

Okay – but can’t I hike slowly?

Slowing down a little to snap a picture of the first suspension bridge over the South Puyallup River.

Yes – absolutely – the Wonderland Trail is beautiful and if you want to take your time by all means take your time! Go swimming in Golden Ponds and Mystic Lake! Hike up to Curtis Ridge to see the Carbon Glacier. Take a long lunch in Spray Park! But if you have to hike it a little faster than you intended (maybe that’s what you got permits for) feel free to use some of the tips above.

Camp Suggestions

Someone requested that I do a review of every camp on the Wonderland Trail so here goes (full disclosure I haven’t camped in all of them, I’ll make sure to indicate that).

Pyramid Creek – 3,765 feet
This is a lowland campground by Pyramid Creek, definitely located under full canopy conifer trees. It’s supposedly one of the newer campgrounds so the tent pads are more level and even. Pretty sheltered with big trees but on a very wet day don’t expect them to provide too much coverage. We had to drain our tent pads by digging little moats when we were there.

Devil’s Dream– 5,060 feet
This campground is about half way up a climb on the way to Indian Henry. Also located under total tree cover. Never camped here, only walked by and marveled at how bad the privy smelled. Pretty sheltered for bad weather but apparently the tent pads can fill up with water.

South Puyallup River– 4,000 feet
This campground is slightly off trail and I can’t remember if I have ever been there. It might be the one with REALLY COOL giant basalt columns behind the privy? It is at the bottom of a climb, I can tell you that much.

Klapatche Park– (no group site) 5,515 feet
Klapatche is one of the sought after campsites on the Wonderland Trail because it’s up real high in an alpine park. On a clear day you have amazing views of the west side of Tahoma. I’ve only seen glimpses of the mountain from here though. We did camp here in 2018. One downside is that there isn’t water at the campsite unless you go really early season so you have to get it ahead of time and carry it to camp. Another downside to this camp is that it’s pretty exposed if the weather is bad.

Damp morning in Klapatche in 2018!

North Puyallup River– 3,750 feet
North Puyallup is located at the bottom of a climb, right next to the North Puyallup river. This campsite is in full tree coverage but down at the river there is a really cool bridge and it opens up a little bit with glimpses of the mountains. The water source here is incredible. We stayed here in 2015 and I liked it – it’s nothing special but the campsites are VERY flat because they are built on an old road bed. Very sheltered for bad weather.

Golden Lakes– 5,130 feet
Another sought after campsite, not because of the views (there aren’t any of the mountain) but because it is nestled into some adorable alpine meadows and is right next to a series of ponds. I was actually looking at a map the other day and discovered that there is a bigger pond that isn’t the one right next to the ranger cabin, which is where we’ve cooled off before. So do some exploring if you camp here! Gorgeous spot! Also I think it would be fairly well protected if the weather was bad but I haven’t ever actually seen the campsites.

Golden butts at Golden Ponds in 2015.

South Mowich River– 2,605 feet
South Mowich River is at the bottom of a climb and is one of three campgrounds on the trail that has a huge three sided shelter. Kyle swears he would never sleep in there but if the weather was bad it would be nice for cooking in. It’s pretty buggy down here though, heads up.

Kyle taking a little break by the sign to South Mowich River Campground.

*Mowich Lake Campground– 4,929 feet
One of the few non-wilderness campgrounds on trail, Mowich Lake can be driven too! It’s kind of a shit show up there, just a heads up. But it’s a GREAT SPOT. The lake is amazing and beautiful and you get a picnic table which is such a luxury on the Wonderland. And you might just be able to haggle some beers of a car camper… Also note that this campsite is on the Wonderland Trail but if you take the Spray Park Alternate and stay here you will have to hike a little section of trail twice. If you dropped a food drop at the Carbon River Ranger Station this is where you would pick it up – I think you walk around the lake to the Ranger Cabin and get it from them? Or it’s in a bear bin…

Mowich Lake Camp with the Wonder Women in 2015.

Ipsut Creek Campground– 2,330 feet
If you take the Spray Park Alternate you won’t see the Ipsut Creek Campground because it is directly on the actual Wonderland Trail. It used to be a drive in campground but the Park closed the Carbon River Road to car traffic a while ago and now it’s only accessible by foot or bike or on the Wonderland Trail. It’s a huge campsite that is never full and has HUGE old trees! Located right next to the Carbon River!

Carbon River– 3,195 feet
Carbon River is right at the bottom of the climb to Spray Park. I’ve personally never stayed there or been there… I think there are frequently sites closed for hazard tree danger. Definitely fully treed.

Dick Creek– (no group site) 4,185 feet
Dick Creek is a really small little campground but I actually think it’s really beautiful. It’s kind of perched on this hill right next to the Carbon Glacier and you can probably hear rock fall all night long. All the campsites are tucked between vine maples and on a sunny day it feels magical. Half way up a climb! Probably not fabulous on a really rainy day.

Mystic Camp– 5,570 feet
Don’t be fooled by Mystic Camp – it is not right next to Mystic Lake. In fact the walk to Mystic Lake is up a pretty steep hill, almost too steep to be worth the visit. The campsites themselves are totally fine with a couple fun hazard trees that made us nervous when we stayed there in 2015. I think this would be an okay place to weather out a storm. You can hear rocks falling off the Willis Wall from here! Half way up a climb.

Tent set up in our Mystic Lake Campsite.

Granite Creek– 5,765
I REALLY want to stay at Granite Creek sometime. The creek itself is SO pretty and the campsites seem really nice. The forest feels a little more open, probably because of the elevation. Right at the bottom of a climb up to Skyscraper Pass.

Really beautiful little footbridge over Granite Creek.

Sunrise Camp– 6,245
Sunrise Camp is a walk-in camp from the Sunrise parking area. As such it’s a bigger campsite. It is located up pretty high so the feel is very alpine although you don’t have direct views of the mountain. There isn’t water at this campground however so you have to grab it beforehand. We stayed here in 2018 and loved it.

Enjoying a hot breakfast at Sunrise Camp.

*White River Campground– 4,280 feet
Another one of the non-wilderness campgrounds located on trail where cars can access. There is a designated walk-in campsite area for Wonderland Trail hikers. This is one of the places where you could begin your hike or pick up a food drop. Also if you walk out to the White River from camp you get AMAZING views of the south side of Tahoma. AMAZING. Especially at Sunset. I kind of think this is one of the best views on trail. This river crossing causes problems every year, heads up. Remember that crossing rivers in the morning is better because water levels are lower.

Started our 2015 hike from White River Campground.

Summerland– 5,940 feet
Now we are really getting to the good stuff. Summerland is probably the most sought after campsite on trail because it is one of the few places where you can actually see the mountain from camp. Well maybe not from your actual camp, but a short walk. This campground also has a three sided shelter that is technically the group site but I bet you could cook in there if you really needed to. Super stunning, high alpine, wild flower goodness. Probably wouldn’t be the most comfortable place to be in the rain but the campsites are at least sheltered by trees.

Very pleased with our campsite at Summerland in 2015.

Indian Bar– 5,120 feet
Indian Bar is perhaps the other most popular campground on trail. It doesn’t have the views that Summerland does but it does have an incredible view of this amazing glacial valley. It is at the bottom of one of the biggest, steepest climbs on trail. It has an amazing river running by that makes for a great spot to soak your feet. And the campsites are incredible (however they provide very little cover and would suck in the rain).

Reveling in the most idyllic campsite ever at Indian Bar in 2018.

Nickel Creek– 3,385 feet
This one kind of blends in with Maple Creek for me but it’s at the bottom of a climb and in the trees and by a really pretty creek that has some good swimming opportunities. Kind of your average Wonderland campground.

Maple Creek– 2,815 feet
We have stayed at Maple Creek and it’s fine. One of the few campgrounds that among deciduous trees for whatever reason. The campsites themselves aren’t incredibly private, you kind of have to walk past all of them to get anywhere. I remember having a lot of weird run ins with our neighbors when we stayed here. Fairly sheltered but I don’t trust deciduous trees the way I trust a conifer during a storm…

Turned our Maple Creek Campsite into a drying station in 2015.

Paradise River– 3,805 feet
I don’t think I have ever been into this campground so I don’t have much to say about it. Among trees. Probably fine. Don’t let the name fool you, I doubt it’s paradise.

*Cougar Rock Campground 3,180 feet
The final non-wilderness campground on trail. I have stayed here but not as a Wonderland Trail hiker. I imagine this campsite is a little ways off the trail… like a short walk and like the White River Campground has a designated area for walk in hikers. Has nice bathrooms and what not. Many car campers to yogi.

Stayed in Cougar Rock Campground in 2019 before we started our three day attempt.

Eagle’s Roost- (no group site) 4,885 feet
Eagle’s Roost is located on the Spray Park alternate. I am sure this is a perfectly fine campsite but we had SUCH a shitty experience here. First of all we rolled into camp and all the open sites had signs on them saying HAZARD TREE DANGER DO NOT CAMP HERE… we were so confused. We had a permit to camp at Eagle’s Roost. I mean mugged everyone else there but they also all had their permits proudly displayed. So then we spent like an hour obsessively looking at the trees around us to see if any of them were likely to kill us… In the end we had no other choice but to set up camp. The tent pads were tiny – it was really hard to fit two tent onto one. And it was really dark and kind of spooky there. NOT a fan.

Cataract Valley– 4,620 feet
Cataract Valley is located on the Spray Park Alternate as well. Half way up the climb. An okay campground, kind of located next to this big scree hill so it doesn’t feel as dark or closed in as some other treed campgrounds. I had to clean out this privy when I was working in the park so you’re welcome! Okay tree coverage for rain but has also had hazard tree problems in the past.

Bears

Can you spot the bear?

SO many people have asked about bears! So here is what you need to know. Every campground on the Wonderland Trail has either a bear pole or a bear bin – use them! Make sure that everything in your pack that is scented is on the bear pole and I would recommend bringing enough dry sacks or a big enough dry sack to fit everyone’s stuff in for the bear poles. The bear poles can also get really crowded so better to have one big bag than a bunch of small ones. You do not need to carry a bear canister.

Bear safety – you will probably see bears on trail. We have seen them every time we have been out. The adults are pretty used to seeing humans. They probably aren’t interested in you. You don’t need to wear a bear bell or carry bear spray. Just try to pick your head up and look around every once in a while. All the bears you will see on trail are black bears – there are no grizzly bears in Mount Rainier National Park. If you see a bear do not run or approach it. Talk loudly so it knows you are there and let it move away from you. If it doesn’t seem to give a shit about you and is a little ways off the trail talk loudly as you pass it so it knows where you are. If it is on trail and won’t move shout at it, get big and do everything you can to scare it off trail. Never approach them or try to get too close for pictures.

Wonderland Trail Must Sees

People have also asked for my Wonderland Trail favorites. I will share a list of some of my favorite parts of the Wonderland Trail but only with the caveat that depending on weather you may not see any of them or you may see things I’ve never gotten to see.

Indian Henry:

A charming little meadow with a ranger’s cabin in it – I’ve never seen the mountain from here but I bet it is gorgeous.

St Andrews Lakes:

The lake where you have to get water if you are hiking clockwise before Klapatche – super beautiful with great views of the mountain. But also, heads up, there are little red bugs in the water that get into your bottles if you aren’t super careful.

Emerald Ridge:

This high alpine rocky ridge is stunning. There are a lot of different types of rock up here so there are these amazing green, gold and red colors all around. Also, so many marmots.

Mowich Lake:

I love this lake, best swimming on the trail in my opinion.

Spray Park:

Obviously this area is super special even if the hiking is a bitch. There are SO many wildflowers up here and the views of the mountain are unparalleled.

Curtis Ridge:
This isn’t technically on the Wonderland – it would be a little side trip if you wanted to do it. Basically if you are heading counterclockwise it is at the top of the pass after climbing up from Mystic Lake and if you are coming clockwise it is at the top of the climb coming up from Carbon River. There is a little side trail heading west from the Wonderland that you follow up onto Curtis Ridge (I would recommend having a map or a GPS for this because it is really cross country travel). From Curtis Ridge you have an INCREDIBLE view of the Carbon Glacier and Willis Wall. I mean, you are SO close. It is awesome.

Skyscraper Pass:

Really incredible view of the east side of the mountain from here and the Sunset area. You can see the North Country trail dropping down into a valley and a bunch of stuff off to the east which is mind boggling.

Panhandle Gap:

Highest point on the Wonderland Trail if you are hiking clockwise from Summerland – the whole hike up to here is AMAZING. There are these three different colored lakes down below the Frying Pan glacier that will blow your mind. And then from the gap you can see Tahoma, Little T, Pahto and Loowit. Maybe even Wy’east on a clear day.

Ohanapecosh Park:

After or before Panhandle Gap you walk through Ohanapecosh Park, probably the highest alpine park that the Wonderland Trail goes through. This park is filled with wild flowers and marmots and very few trees. The views to the south are incredible. Tons of tiny little creeks pour through the park. It is so cool.

Indian Bar:

I really can’t say enough how amazing this campground is. The views up valley are to die for. And when the light slants into the valley over the ridge to the west you won’t be able to stop taking photos.

Box Canyon:
At Box Canyon you get to walk over the Muddy Fork on this beefy bridge and look down into this amazing sculpted slot canyon with water rushing through it. Slot canyons are so rare in our part of the world it is pretty cool to see.

The Cowlitz Divide:

Misty morning on the Cowlitz Divide in 2018.

This is kind of the only time that you do any sustained ridge walking on the Wonderland Trail. And you have good weather it is phenomenal. The hiking isn’t super easy, lots of short, steep ups and downs, but the meadows are FILLED with lupine and there are great views in every direction.

OKAY – that’s it. That’s everything I know about hiking the Wonderland Trail. Here are some more resources:

https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/upload/WTP-2017-Pages1-2_access.pdf
https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/the-wonderland-trail.htm
https://visitrainier.com/wonderland-trail-overview/
https://www.wonderlandguides.com/hikes/wonderland-trail
https://rootsrated.com/stories/93-miles-around-mount-rainier-how-to-thru-hike-the-wonderland-trail
https://www.cleverhiker.com/blog/wonderland-trail-backpacking-quick-guide
https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/mount-rainiers-wonderland-trail-first-backpacking-trip
https://thetrek.co/an-unconventional-guide-for-thru-hiking-the-wonderland-trail/

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2 thoughts on “Everything I know about hiking the Wonderland Trail

  1. Lindsey. You need to publish this material. It’s resourceful, fabulous, well written, well organized, worthy, and very useful. Thanks for sharing all you share. Love Teresa.

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