Looking for a long, challenging run but don’t have the time and will to do the 93-mile Wonderland Trail? The Northern Loop from Sunrise is your best option in Mt. Rainier National Park. The loop can be done in either direction, but most start clockwise with the Wonderland Trail.
“Plan for a big day on the trail on a stunning but challenging loop that’s more technical than nearby Wonderland,” expresses Kat Rotow. “Expect big views of Mt. Rainier and the White River, long runnable meadows, and sustained forested and exposed climbs/descents.”
Start down the Sourdough Ridge trail toward Frozen Lake and Fremont Lookout to a three-way junction of Burroughs, Fremont Lookout, and the Wonderland Trail. Continue on the Wonderland Trail to Skyscraper Peak through lush meadows. The first descent starts at the pass toward Mystic Lake, four miles into the run.
Once past Granite Creek Camp and Winthrop Creek is a 3.5-mile climb through a thick forest along the White River and aside Mystic Lake. The ascent ends just after crossing the headwaters of the West Fork of the White River.
Get the quads ready for a 5-mile, 3200′ descent cradling the Carbon Glacier on the Wonderland Trail. “Consider timing your route to catch the wildflower-strewn meadows and mountain views,” conveys Rotow. “Watch the afternoon conditions at major river crossings and snow fields. Don’t miss the arched Carbon Glacier, a dip in Mystic Lake, and the bouncy suspension bridge over the Carbon River.”
About halfway down is the Carbon River Suspension Bridge. Look for Mother Mountain to the left. At the bottom of the downhill is the Wonderland Trail and Northern Loop Trail Junction, 16 miles into the run. Stay right on Northern Loop for the most significant climb on the loop. The 4.7-mile, 2900′ climb has several switchbacks through evergreens, open meadows, Tyee Peak on the left, and Crescent Mountain, Old Desolate, and Sliuskin in the forefront of Mt. Rainier. The climb finally ends at the Natural Bridge Trail junction.
Continue on the Northern Loop Trail for the last descent of the loop. This drop is 4 miles and 2600′ and flows back into the temperate rain forest, by Lake James, and to another crossing of the West Fork of the White River. This is the dangerous river crossing referred to by Rotow.
The last 7.5 miles are almost all uphill. The finish runs through Fire Creek Camp and the meadows of Berkeley Park. Turn left on the Wonderland Trail for the 3 miles back to Sunrise.