Winter Daydreaming: Planning A Wonderland Trip


~The meadow at Summerland~

Is it the economy? The hard winter for most of us? Who knows, but I can say I have seen a lot of chattering about hiking plans for this coming summer, more than usual, especially about the Wonderland Trail here in Washington – our gorgeous 93 miles loop around (well more like up and down) Rainier’s flanks. With the El Nino weather pattern this winter settling in good since Fall 2010 could be a prime year for thinking about thru hiking it. The snow levels are much lower than usual meaning an earlier hiking season and or not walking on as much snow in the higher altitude sections. Much of the destruction that occurred back in fall of 2006 has been fixed as well. Overall, if one can swing it they might seriously consider heading out! What better way to recharge your inner self than to go hiking in an area that is breathtaking and will wear you out.

So what do you need to do to plan a WT hike?

Visit Mt. Rainier NP’s website for the basic Wonderland Trail info page.

Then print and fill out a Wilderness Reservation Form. Rainier’s permits are free but the reservation is a small $20 fee. It is well worth it. They start the reservations on March 15th, so start planning! There is more info on the process on this page as well.

Read up on Rainier’s Wilderness Rules and Regulations. Rainier is overall a great place to backpack. Why? To control crowds years ago the park set up backcountry campsites and a tightly controlled permit system. This means no searching for a camp as dusk starts settling in. You know from the start where you need to be every night. The sites are located near a water source, have a privy (toilet) and at least one bear pole. The bear poles are one of the best things going for it – no need to carry a heavy canister, you simply hang your food/garbage at night or when away from camp. Each pole is easy to use, even for us short ladies. Granted you won’t often get a scenic campsite – most of the backcountry camp areas are located in copses of trees but you will have a protected camp at night and most of all, your day glo orange tent won’t be wrecking another hiker’s view.

On food caches: Yes, they really do help with planning! You are required though to carry your fuel, it cannot be left in the cache. The best place for a cache is Sunrise if you start at Longmire, it is about halfway give or take. You only need 1 or 2 caches overall. Invest in either brand new paint buckets with screw on lids or better….collect kitty litter plastic tubs. You want thick hard plastic to keep mice out. The rangers will recycle the bins for you when you pick your food up. White River and Carbon River ranger stations are just not feasible for thru’s to use them for caches. The ranger station is not always attended to at Mowich, user beware.

On garbage: Why does the WT rock so much? Well you cross roads periodically. And Rainier loves having garbage cans at every trailhead. Which means that you will pass a garbage can at least every couple days (depending on your speed). If you hike fast you might see one every day. So do yourself a favor and toss your stinkies when you can – less weight for you!

Maps you say? Sure! Head here for free ones to give you some planning ideas.

Check out this great online (and free!) resource on trails in the Rainier area. You might get more ideas of side trips or also hikes to do when out here. The website is also a good planner if you need to plot out a motel or cabin or want more info on places around the park.

A previous list we did on links and resources for the WT.

Our personal hiking experiences on the WT.


~Ford ahead of me, heading into alpine~

Maps and Books To Consider:

BetteFilley Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail: Encircling Mount Rainier.

natgeomap Mount Rainier National Park, WA – Trails Illustrated Map # 217 (National Geographic Maps: Trails Illustrated).

HMR Hiking Mount Rainier National Park.

Green Trail Maps. Mount Rainier West and East are needed.


~Heading down to Kautz Creek on the way to Longmire~

Last Minute Gear Purchases?

Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford, Wa. The store is located right in town and is about 5 miles from the main entrance to Rainier (Nisqually) This is the gate you enetr through to go to Longmire/Paradise. Good merchandise selection though slightly aimed at climbers. Clean bathrooms! Sells fuel.

Wapiti Woolies in the small town of Greenwater, on Hwy 410. This shop is well known for good lattes, friendly family owned service and a great slection of brands like OR and MSR. They often have great sales racks in the back. Sells fuel.

REI in Tukwila (Southcenter). This REI is minutes from the SeaTac airport. They are a smaller REI but have everything a person might need.

Longmire General Store. Just across the parking lot from the main ranger station for permitting is the tiny but well crammed general store. Mostly tourist stuff but they do carry food and some supplies. They take credit cards. The National Park Inn is next door for meals and lodging as well.

Sunrise Day Lodge. Located in the huge building in the parking lot, it is only open for about 2 months – early July through early September. Bring CASH. No credit cards. They have some food and supplies, but not much. Very over priced food like burgers and onion rings and soft serve ice cream. You will be craving it, so tuck a $20 in your pack! There is a pay phone out front that does take phone cards. Power outlets in the bathroom next door if it is open (depends on the weather, they close the flush toilets early Sept.). The ranger station is next door for permits.