Hiking the Wonderland Trail Loop --- Mt. Rainier

September 2002

Kara Mickaelson and Brent McGregor spent nine days hiking the Wonderland Trail, from September 2nd to the 10th, 2002. “Encircling Mount Rainier by hiking the Wonderland Trail is like walking the crimped edge of an immense pie crust”, states Bette Filley in her book ‘ Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail’. Our amazing 100-mile hike took us through ten major river bottoms and respectively up ten ridges, our topography ranging from rain forest to sub alpine and alpine meadows. We daily passed through vast fields of wildflowers, viewed waterfalls and lakes, skirted around the snouts of several glaciers, and enjoyed the ever-changing views of Mt. Rainier.

A trailside stream

The idea to circle Rainier by foot came to us at a Cascades Mountaineers slideshow hosted by Douglas Lorain, author of several hiking books of the Northwest. In his book, ‘ Backpacking Washington’, Lorain states, “ The famous Wonderland Trail, which completely circles Mount Rainier, is not only the finest long hike in Washington; it is considered by many to be one of the best in the world.”

Kara and Brent hiking the Wonderland Trail

I was a bit surprised by the lack of flat ground, the idea of circling a mountain brought visions of walking around, not up and down. We gained enough elevation on our hike to equal climbing Mount Rainier 2 ½ times, a mere 22,786 vertical feet, or 25,000’, depending on what book you read. Bette Filley, not trusting the park service mileage, walked the entire trail with a measuring wheel. Her calculations put the Wonderland mileage at 92.2 miles. Kara and I make several side trips up small peaks that put us over 100 miles.

Mt. Rainier taken from Sunrise

The immensity of the mountain was very impressive. I was told that Rainier contains more ice and glaciers than all the other mountains in the Cascade Range put together. The huge glaciers have carved deep valleys that we hiked up and down.

We kept our packs light, 23 and 32 pounds partly by making three food caches. The park service helps the Wonderland hikers by holding the caches along the trail loop for the hikers. Keeping our weight down gave us more energy at camp, and kept us from getting blisters and knee problems. The popularity of hiking the wonderland trail has grown considerably in the last few years. The rangers told us 1,400 people a year set out to hike the Wonderland, with half making it the entire loop.

Mt. Rainier and Mirror Lake

We shot 18 rolls of film, and could have shot twice that. The scenery was so spectacular.

Kara and I quickly got into a rhythm of climbing and dropping several thousand feet each day, we got to where we looked forward to the long climbs, really. As the guidebook says, you will finish this hike with legs of steel.

Brent McGregor