Summerland is one of the most popular day hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park. The 11-mile out and back ascends 3000 feet to the turn-around point of Panhandle Gap. The route starts at the parking lot near the bridge that crosses Fryingpan Creek. Start with the quarter-mile lead-in trail to the Wonderland Trail. Continue left on Wonderland and start the long climb along the creek. The double-track trail winds through a thick evergreen forest and occasional wildflowers.
As the elevation gets higher, the trees thin out to allow a few glimpses of Mt. Rainier. The trail crosses several streams that lead into the creek. As the height increases, the sand and rock from glacial melt becomes more apparent in Fryingpan Creek.
Eventually, the forest clears into the wildflower meadows of Summerland. Fryingpan Glacier appears above the snowfields. Many mountain goats make their home on the glacier. Marmots peak out of their rocky dens. Meany Crest is a large rock formation that emerges above Summerland.
Continue the climb to Panhandle Gap. Little Tahoma and various other peaks jettison out of the mountain’s steep slopes. The trail meanders through snowfields before reaching Panhandle Gap, the highest point on the Wonderland Trail. Look for small stones and cairns to follow the best route to Panhandle Gap. Once at Panhandle Gap, Whitman Glacier and Ohanapecosh Glacier appear on the other side of the climb’s summit. Views of Mt. Adams, Goat Rocks, and Mt. Hood can be seen on a bluebird day. Enjoy the wildflowers and wildlife before heading down the steep descent to the parking lot.
Always check current trail conditions before heading out. For example, log footbridges frequently wash out during the winter, or other conditions could affect the trail.
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