The classic of all Cascade volcano circumnavigations is the Wonderland Trail that encircles Mt. Rainier, the tallest of them all. The 93-mile route has 24,000 feet of elevation gain and has been attempted by many trail runners. The FKT has been taken twice in one week of August 2020, both amazingly below 17 hours by Dylan Bowman and Tyler Green, respectively. (Hikers usually take 10 days.) The trail requires a permit for overnight camping.
“The trail is called the WONDERLAND. How cool is that?” says Green. “I did this route for the first time with Rachel (Drake) last year over a three day fastpacking trip and it was a challenge. Everything is just bigger up there and so many times you’ll look at the mountain in awe of how big it is.”
A popular start is at Longmire Trailhead in the Southwest section of the trail, but there are several access points to the trail, including Tolmie Peak at Mowich Lake, Paradise, Glacier Basin at White River, and Box Canyon.
Like any mountain circumnavigation, expect many mountain lakes, varied species of evergreens, glaciers, waterfalls, and views of Rainier from all angles. The trails traverse ridgelines, valleys, and creek crossings.
“Some highlights for me are the highest areas like Sunrise, Panhandle Gap, and Emerald Ridge, but the big, flowy descents are new favorites of mine as well” exclaims Green. “I can’t say enough about what a wonderful trail this is, but it’s equally daunting.”
The highest point is 6800 feet at Panhandle Gap on the east side of the mountain while the lowest point is crossing Ipsut Creek (2450 feet) on the northwest side.
Caching food is allowed in hard plastic, rodent-proof containers at:
- Longmire Wilderness Information Center
- Sunrise Visitor’s Center
- White River Campground
- Mowich Lake Patrol Cabin
Make sure to pack for all weather conditions. There are plenty of places to filter water. Snowmelt is usually in late July, which is followed by peak wildflower and insect season.
There is no cell service anywhere in the park. Have an exit plan before starting.
Aspire Adventure Running provides three-day running trips on the Wonderland Trail.
Cover Photos: Reflection Lake (trover.com) Rainier near Sunrise (Tamera Chance)
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