Explore the Wonderland Trail with Geartrade Community and Social Manager Kalie Lovell. She shares her tips on what to pack, how to plan, and where to go to make the most of this beautiful trail in Mt. Rainier National Park.
The Wonderland Trail
Imagine this: a trail that forms one continuous loop encircling a famous volcano. Views from the trail include marvelous waterfalls, striking glaciers, jagged peaks and undulations, huckleberry patches, alpine lakes, and precious meadows. Now make it just under 100 miles and add in 22,000 ft of vertical gain. Now you have the magnificent Wonderland Trail in Washington, USA.
The Wonderland trail is in Mt Rainier National Park and circumnavigates Mt. Tahoma, also known as Mt. Rainier over the course of 93 miles. Many folks try their hand at the lottery for permits each year, but only the lucky can get enough backcountry permits to create a complete and continuous loop around the mountain. If you have to get a camp spot a mile or two off the official Wonderland route, you’ll surely get the extra miles to make it a 100 mile trip!
While the trail is perfect for backpacking, it’s also a great trail system to plan amazing day trips off of and makes for a magnificent challenge for ultra athletes. The current fastest known time (FKT) of completing the loop is 16 hours, 40 minutes, and 55 seconds. However, you don’t need to do it that quickly! The National Parks Service allows up to 14 days if you can secure the campsites. Permits are needed to camp at the designated backcountry campsites along the trail and throughout the park. Willy-nilly backcountry camping is not permitted on the fragile landscape except in emergency scenarios.
Needless to say, lot’s of precise planning is needed for this trek! However, the National Park’s Service doesn’t necessarily make getting a complete itinerary easy. Once you win a lottery ticket to pick campsites, you must battle everyone else who was given the same pick-date as you to try to get your desired dates and distance between camps.
I was lucky enough to score a ten day itinerary to play around in the lovely Volcanic Wonderland with my partner and two of our close friends. This was to be the longest backpacking trip my partner and I had ever been on! Our weekend warrior skills were met with the expertise of our Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker buddies for the perfect amount of order and spontaneity!
We secured our dates back in the spring and I worked diligently to collect any gear that I wanted for the trip through Geartrade. I ended up scoring these UnNew items to take with me: ZPacks Arc Haul Backpack, Jetboil Stove, REI Synthetic Puffy Jacket with a hood, a GoPro Hero 7, and the Patagonia performance shirt that I hiked in for ten days straight. Needless to say, Geartrade was my lifeline.
As the days and months went on, the stoke level fluctuated while we planned and trained, but when the day finally came to get on trail, there was nothing standing in our way of a great time with good people and indescribable views for 9 nights and 10 days.
Longmire to Snow Lake
We set off from the Longmire trailhead later than we expected, around 1:30 in the afternoon. So we started hiking once it started heating up outside. We ended up dunking in a cold stream with perfect swimming holes only a couple miles into the day and it was our first taste of how cold the water throughout the park was! Once we got going again, we passed by Reflection Lake and got our first expansive views of Mt Tahoma. The trail was close to the road most of the day and we had to cross it a few times, including to head off of the official Wonderland trail and up a steady little climb to Snow lake camp. It turned out that starting late was the way to go, because we were graced with an absolutely gorgeous sunset over the lake and Unicorn Peak as we arrived. It was totally worth the extra mileage.
Snow Lake to Olallie Creek
Waking up to Snow Lake was almost as good as going to bed next to it. We admired our first campsite as we packed up and got going. Our moods were high as we wound down through Steven’s canyon which was lined with waterfalls and over to Box Canyon where we had planned to have lunch. We were met there by one of our friend’s Aunt and Uncle who had brought us all of the perfect sandwich fixings. As we ate and enjoyed each other's company, a Wonderland Trail Alum approached us and gave us a bit of trail magic: a king size Heath Bar! We rode the high of bread and butter pickles for the last few miles of steep descent down to Olallie Creek camp for the night, another site that was off of Wonderland. We soaked our feet and legs in the creek before having dinner and retiring to our sleeping bags.
Olallie Creek to White River Campground
We started our longest day at 5am and were met with fog and mist as we packed up camp, and climbed hill after hill, knowing all along that we must have been missing magical views of Mt. Tahoma. Despite the missing mountain, the mist created a very stereotypical PNW ambiance that was quite refreshing after a toasty first couple of days. We made hot coffee to warm up at the Indian Bar Camp and then headed up to the still-clouded Panhandle Gap, which we renamed the Goofy Goober Gap as we excitedly ascended the steep, rocky, alpine hills and fading snow fields.
To our delight, the clouds finally broke as we arrived in the popular Summerland region. It felt like winning! We were awestruck by the long anticipated blue skies, green meadow and rugged views of the massive mountain that loomed just out of sight up until then. We ate lunch at an impressive pace and got back on our way.
As we reached the White River drive-up Campground, our bodies were feeling the 18 miles of steep ascending and descending. Our original itinerary was set to have two nights at the sunrise camp, but we got lucky at the White River Campground and were kindly granted the opportunity to split a campsite with some awesome Van-lifers who gave us bananas and granola bars in the morning… another healthy dose of Trail Magic!
White River to Sunrise Camp
This was kind of a rest day for us… kind of. We still needed to hike a steep 3 miles up to the Sunrise area. After a leisurely morning with access to flushing toilets and running water, we packed up and set off, enjoying it instead of dreading it like we had been the day before. Once up the hill, we set up our campsite and then walked the mile and a halfish back to the visitor’s center to pick up our first food cache and have some sandwiches, soda and beer! A relaxing evening at camp rounded out our “rest” day.
Sunrise Camp to Mystic Lake
This was definitely one of my favorite days! We took our time getting going, as we did most mornings. This was our vacation after all! We were greeted by a marmot and Mt. Tahoma only about a mile or so into the day. Although this stretch of trail was busy with day hikers, it brought a vibe of happiness to the morning. We chatted the day away, playing trail games. We walked alongside the Winthrop glacier for a good chunk of time, admiring its intensity and ability to reflect sunlight so strongly. By this time we were hot and sweaty, and ready to get to the next campsite that was right next to a lake. We were told by other hikers coming from that camp that the lake was perfect for swimming! So we adopted the mantra: Campsite swimlake. But you say it like this: CAMP-SITE-SWIM-LAKE with each step, you say a word in your head. After a few miles of mantra- hiking, we arrived! We quickly set up our space and made our way to the lake. We joined a few other groups and spent the evening on the alpine beach until the sun went down.
Mystic Lake to Eagle’s Roost
This is where we branched off of the Wonderland Trail once again to hike the Spray Park Alternate Route. Although the miles weren’t as long as our third day, this day felt the hardest to me. We had some rough and gnarly uphills that made me feel like I was scooping the energy to move my legs another step, directly from the depths of my soul. But that soul-scraping was countered with beautiful waterfalls, wildflowers, and views of the surrounding mountains. It was utterly gorgeous and I can’t even begin to describe it accurately.
Expansive huckleberry patches made you feel like spontaneously combusting into a bear and living out the rest of your life in Spray Park was the only way you’d ever be truly happy. This day made me truly understand what the concept of digging deep was. We ended our day standing under Spray Falls, a large wispy kind of waterfall with many fingers of water falling down and spraying out every which way. It was just the refresher we needed before stuffing our faces with random concoctions we called dinner and going to bed as soon as we were fed.
Eagle’s Roost to Golden Lakes
Instead of having a leisurely morning upon waking, we packed up swiftly and trotted down to Mowich lake to meet up with our hiking buddy’s parents who promised us a breakfast feast! To our great delight, we were met with fried eggs, pancakes, non-instant coffee, gummy bears, plums, salsa, rice krispies and so much more! We feasted the morning away with good company and good conversation. We finally mustered up the will-power to get back on trail around 1:30 in the afternoon. We knew this meant we would have to march along until after dark to reach our next camp.
Since we weren’t behind enough as is, my ankle started screaming at me. I had felt some discomfort in my left ankle for a few days, but this was the first time it felt as bad as it did. I was worried that I may not be able to finish the trail and burst into tears. My trail family worked with me to make a plan for re-evaluation of my ankle at a few different points where I could bail off of the trail if it came down to it, although for me, that was a last resort. I knew that if I wrapped my ankle and kept on top of pain medication, I could get through. So we trekked on, playing trail games, and plucking away the miles until we reached our camp, where we cooked and ate in the dark, finally burrowing into our sleeping bags much later than any other night on trail.
Golden Lakes to Klapatche Park
This day started off right with a cold soaking of our feet and legs in one of the lakes near our camp. Both of my ankles were feeling pretty bad, so my partner used his WFR skills to tape them up for me to start off on the right foot. As we started hiking, we were told that a bear had been seen right on the trail, having its breakfast of huckleberries not far ahead. We carefully worked our way up the hills and through the perfect bear habitat, hoping we would come across one. We had heard pleasant bear encounters from many hikers, but we had yet to get a good look at one romping around. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we did not end up seeing one, but we passed the time keeping our eyes out. Due to many stops and snacks throughout the day, we arrived at the campsite at sunset and words can’t describe how beautiful it was in all directions! The pink and orange that the sky produced was so bright and brilliant, we were captivated by the colors resting on Mt Tahoma and out toward the Pacific Ocean as long as we could before the hunger kicked in and we began our dinner and camp chore routines.
Klapatche Park to Devil’s Dream
Waking up on our last full day on the trail felt bittersweet in many ways. Smoke rolled in from fires in Oregon and mixed with the intense heat, it felt like we were in a golden hellscape. The trail was rather exposed for the hot afternoon portion. We plucked our way up the hill hopping from shade to shade when it was available. I felt like quitting as the smoke made it les-desirable to hike the day away. The day felt quiet and somber, but as the sun started sinking in the evening sky, our moods lifted and we revamped the same trail games we had been playing all week. On this night, instead of looking for the best spot in the camp, we picked the first one we saw and settled in.
Devil’s Dream to Longmire
The morning was misty as we woke up on our short final day. It grew colder as we warmed up our muscles and made our way out of camp. It was nice to be ushered out on a cold front after a sweltering day priot. We chatted and laughed our way all the way back to the trailhead in which we started. As sad as it was to get back to the real world filled to the brim with people and noises, we couldn’t wait to get to a shower and steaming hot pizza pie that awaited us back in civilization. Better yet, our lovely dog who patiently waited for our return, was now only a day away.
Though the trek was over, the effects of it did not stop coming. We got the pleasure of reliving the events with our families and friends asking questions over the next few days. We got the feeling of being so excited to see our dog, and our friends whom we hadn't seen or talked to in weeks. While I missed the people and the things of everyday life, not doing anything but eating and walking for ten days was utterly amazing and I can’t wait to do something like that again. Thank you, Wonderland for an epic first big backpacking trip.
Kalie Lovell: self proclaimed hiker-trash, fiction and non-fiction writer, video content creator, cheese, ramen, and dog lover. As a regular UnNew-repper, she is constantly sharing gear care, maintenance, and repair tips in order to keep her gear in tip top shape for all of her hiking and backpacking adventures. Kalie dreams of an even more accessible, inclusive, and welcoming outdoor industry and wants to share her love of the outdoors with all who are willing to tag along!
Follow us on Instagram + Facebook: Tag us @geartrade with the hashtag #unnewoutdoor #wearitout on your post or story for a chance to be featured on our page.
It is now easier than ever to sell your gear on Geartrade. With our new Consignment Selling option you can finally reclaim your gear closet. Send it in. We take care of the rest.
Geartrade is Climate Neutral Certified