The Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile (150 km) circuit located in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park with over 23,000 ft / 7,090 m of elevation gain. The trail circumnavigates (goes in a circle around) Mount Rainier, the highest peak in Washington at 14,411 ft / 4,392 m.
It's a popular trail and requires hikers to apply for a permit ($20 application fee per group of up to 12 people) in advance – more on Wonderland Trail permits, including walk-up permits, below. There are a number of different starting points for the Wonderland Trail and it can be hiked clockwise or counterclockwise.
If you're feeling ambitious, the hike can be done in three days (or fewer if you're truly a beast), but most hikers choose itineraries calling for six to eight days.
IN THIS GUIDE:
Wonderland Trail Basics
- Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA
- Length: 93 mi / 150 km
- Type: Circuit
- Officially Recommended Time: 6 to 8 days?
- My Suggested Time: 5 days
- Possible Time: 2 or 3 days
- Most Popular Months: July/August
- Booking Required: Yes*
- Application Cost: $20 (per group)
- Max Group Size: 5 for individual permit, 12 for group permit (min 6)
- Permit Required: Yes
- Permit Cost: $0 (covered by application cost)
- Mount Rainier Summit Location: 46.852326, -121.760328
- Trailhead Locations (with camping/parking):
- Elevation Gain: 25,293 ft / 7,709 m (although it's officially reported as 23,000 ft / 7,010 m – the larger number was recorded by my GPS)
- High Point: Panhandle Gap (6,750 ft / 2,060 m)
- Low Point: Ipsut Creek Campground (2,300 ft / 701 m)
- Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous
*More on permits (including how to hike the Wonderland Trail without a permit) below.
How to get to the Wonderland Trail
The only way to reach the Wonderland Trail is by car. There are no public transportation options for getting to Mount Rainier National Park. The closest major cities are Seattle, Tacoma, and Yakima in Washington or Portland, Oregon.
BY CAR: To get to Mount Rainier National Park via car, you will need to pay an entry fee of $30 (per vehicle, not person). If you've got your own car and frequent the national parks, you should probably get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass if you don't already have one (unlimited entry to all national parks for a year). All of the trailheads listed above have nicely paved roads leading to them with the exception of Mowich Lake Campground which requires you drive 16 mi / 26 km down an unpaved road (it's not that rough – no 4WD or high-clearance vehicle needed). You can check the status of the park's roads here.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Unfortunately, this is not an option. This is America, people here don't believe in public transportation.
BY PRIVATE TRANSPORT: If you poke around the internets, I am sure you can find (actually, not so sure) various companies offering rides to/from various trailheads within Mount Rainier National Park. If you can get to Tacoma, Washington, it's about $100 for an Uber to Longmire (or $150 from Seattle) – not terrible if you're a group of four.
HITCHHIKING: If you can make it out of the city and past the major freeways/highways, I am sure that hitchhiking in would be possible. The closer to the park you get, the easier (presumably) it will be to score a ride. Hitchhiking in Washington is illegal on freeways, but not on the on-ramps (but don't quote me on this). If you walk into the park (past a checkpoint) there is a “per person” fee of $15 (this applies to bicycles as well). Best to get a hitch that's actually driving into the park (you won't cost them anything extra for being in the car). That said, hitchhiking is technically illegal within Mount Rainier National Park, but I would be surprised if a ranger gave you trouble for hitchhiking somewhere safe and out of the road.
Notes on the trail
- The Wonderland Trail can be hiked clockwise or counterclockwise. I hiked the trail counterclockwise; the most popular route is clockwise. Which way should you hike it? Honestly, I don't think it matters.
- Clockwise is the more popular way people hike the Wonderland Trail (but as I said, I don't think it matters which way you go).
- Longmire is the most popular starting point on the Wonderland Trail. Here, you will find a ranger station, a small store (with mostly souvenirs), and a hotel.
- I began my hike at Mowich Lake Campground which features a 16 mi / 26 km drive down an unpaved road, pit toilets, picnic tables, and trash cans.
- The most popular time for hiking the Wonderland Trail is from mid-July through mid-September. The earlier you go, the more potential there is for snow there is; the later you go, the more potential for cold.
- July and August are the driest and warmest months in Mount Rainier National Park.
Wonderland Trail Weather
Washington and the Pacific Northwest is notorious for rain. The permanent glaciers surrounding Mount Rainier (which, hopefully, you will see plenty of during your time on the Wonderland Trail) are a testament to this.
July and August are the driest months of the year at Mount Rainier and are therefore also the most popular months to hike the Wonderland Trail. June and September are also relatively dry, at least compared to the rest of the year, but you can also expect slightly lower temperatures during these months.
I hiked the Wonderland Trail over three days in September and had one day of rain, one day of clouds, and one beautiful day of most glorious sun.
Wonderland Trail Permits
“How do I get a Wonderland Trail permit?” The first hurdle to a Wonderland Trail hike.
There are four ranger stations where Wonderland Trail permits may be picked up or applied for as a walk-up. They are:
- Longmire Wilderness Information Center (map)
- Paradise Wilderness Information Center (map)
- White River Wilderness Information Center (map)
- Carbon River Ranger Station (map)
NOTE: After September 28, permits are only available at Longmire (daily) or the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise (weekends only).
APPLYING ONLINE: You can apply online for a Wonderland Trail permit beginning March 15 each year. Spots on the Wonderland Trail fill up quickly, and by April, the park generally stops accepting permit applications (for the Wonderland Trail). The link for applications doesn't go live until March 15, and you can find it on the Mount Rainier National Park wilderness permit page. Applications are processed beginning April 1 in a random order (i.e. signing up March 15 five seconds after the reservation page goes live will give you the same chance of getting a permit as applying on March 31 – happy birthday, me). The cost to apply for a permit is $20 per group (max 12) per trip (max 14 consecutive nights). If you do not get a permit, your application fee is not refunded. Reservations made in March may take up to six weeks to process (mid-May). You must pick up your permit in person at a Ranger Station no sooner than the day before your trip's start date (or before 10:00 am on the first day of your trip).
WALK-UP/DAY-OF PERMITS: Approximately 30% of the wilderness permits for Mount Rainier National Park are reserved for in-person walk-ups. These permits can be issued the same day as your trip's start date or one day before – no earlier. Wonderland Trail walk-up permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis at each of the four ranger stations. Also, if you're planning on hiking the Wonderland Trail beginning after September 28, you are required to get a walk-up permit (first come, first served).
TIPS FOR GETTING A PERMIT
There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting a Wonderland Trail permit.
- Check the number of sites for each backcountry campsite you plan to stay at. Some campsites only have two or three individual sites which can hurt your chances.
- Incorporate the three frontcountry campgrounds (Mowich Lake, Cougar Rock, and White River) into your itinerary if possible. These campgrounds have space allotted for backpackers and, worst case, you can always pay for a site at Cougar Rock or White River.
- The shorter your Wonderland Trail itinerary, the better your odds are of getting a permit (fewer nights competing for spots at a campsite).
- Remember that there are a handful of campsites you can stay at located off the Wonderland Trail as well (under 2 mi / 3.2 km). Getting to/from one of these nearby campsites may be worth the extra legwork if it means getting a permit for the start/end day you want.
- For walk-up permits, be flexible with your itinerary – if just one campsite you're hoping to stay at is full your entire itinerary will be rejected. Have multiple plans ready when attempting to get a walk-up permit.
- If you're hoping for a walk-up permit, start your trip mid-week to avoid competing with weekend backpackers also hoping for a walk-up permit.
- For walk-up permits, remember that unclaimed Wonderland Trail permits are canceled at 10 am the day they're scheduled to start, so don't give up hope if there were no permits available when the ranger station opened.
HIKING WITHOUT A PERMIT
Lastly, know it's possible to hike the Wonderland Trail without a permit – you just have to complete the 93-mi / 150-km loop in three days. The permit people get for the Wonderland Trail allows for camping in the backcountry; there's no permit needed for hiking during the day. Luckily, there are three frontcountry campsites spaced fairly evenly around the Wonderland Trail, Mowich Lake Campground, Cougar Rock Campground, and White River Campground. Mowich Lake is a free, primitive campground (pit toilets) with a self-registration booth in the parking lot. Cougar Rock and White River Campgrounds are full-service campgrounds (flushing toilets) with campsite fees of $20 each. Here are the distances between the tree frontcountry campgrounds:
- Cougar Rock Campground clockwise to Mowich Lake Campground: ~36 mi / 58 km
- Mowich Lake Campground clockwise to White River Campground: ~26 mi / 42 km
- White River Campground clockwise to Cougar Rock Campground: ~33 mi / 53 km
All three of these campgrounds are accessible via car (Mowich Lake Campground requires 16 mi / 26 km of travel down an unpaved road).
Wonderland Trail Campsites
Camping along the Wonderland Trail is only allowed in one of the 21 designated campsites (18 backcountry and 3 frontcountry). Individual sites can accommodate up to five people and group sites allow for up to twelve.
Here is a list of all the campsites along the Wonderland Trail with distances to the next campsite (in each direction). Remember, there are a handful of campsites within 2 mi / 3.2 km of the Wonderland Trail that you can stay at as well (if you want to be flexible with your itinerary to increase your chances of getting a permit). If you want to follow along, you can find the Mount Rainier National Park wilderness planner (including a map with distances) here.
Camping in undesignated sites is permitted within crosscountry and alpine zones is also possible by permit only.
Wonderland Trail Itinerary
How many days does it take to hike the Wonderland Trail? A backcountry permit for Mount Rainier National Park allows for a maximum stay of 14 nights, which means that if you want to complete the Wonderland Trail on a single permit, you will need to average at least 6.64 mi / 10.69 mi per day.
You may choose to hike either clockwise or counterclockwise and you may begin your hike from wherever you would like. Remember, your permit governs where you camp, not where you start/end.
Here are some example itineraries (all going clockwise):
WONDERLAND TRAIL IN 5 DAYS
- Day 1: Cougar Rock Campground to Golden Lakes (21.35 mi / 34.36 km)
- Day 2: Golden Lakes to Ipsut Creek Campground (15.8 mi / 25.43 km)
- Day 3: Ipsut Creek Campground to Sunrise Camp (18.6 mi / 29.93 km)
- Day 4: Sunrise Camp to Nickel Creek (19.8 mi / 31.87 km)
- Day 5: Nickel Creek to Cougar Rock Campground (12.75 mi / 20.52 km)
WONDERLAND TRAIL IN 7 DAYS
- Day 1: Cougar Rock Campground to South Puyallup River (12.85 mi / 20.68 km)
- Day 2: South Puyallup River to Golden Lakes (11.5 mi / 18.51 km)
- Day 3: Golden Lakes to Ipsut Creek (15.8 mi / 25.43 km)
- Day 4: Ipsut Creek to Granite Creek (13.5 mi / 21.73 km)
- Day 5: Granite Creek to Summerland (14 mi / 22.53 km)
- Day 6: Summerland to Nickel Creek (10.9 mi / 17.54 km)
- Day 7: Nickel Creek to Cougar Rock Campground (12.75 mi / 20.52 km)
WONDERLAND TRAIL IN 10 DAYS
- Day 1: Cougar Rock Campground to Devil's Dream (6.75 mi / 10.86 km)
- Day 2: Devil's Dream to Klapatche Park (9.8 mi / 15.77 km)
- Day 3: Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes (7.8 mi / 12.55 km)
- Day 4: Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake Campground (10.2 mi / 16.42 km)
- Day 5: Mowich Lake Campground to Dick Creek (9.8 mi / 15.77 km)
- Day 6: Dick Creek to Granite Creek (9.3 mi / 14.97 km)
- Day 7: Granite Creek to White River Campground (7.3 mi / 11.75 km)
- Day 8: White River Campground to Indian Bar (11.2 mi / 18.02 km)
- Day 9: Indian Bar to Maple Creek (10 mi / 16.09 km)
- Day 10: Maple Creek to Cougar Rock Campground (9.15 mi / 14.73 km)
As discussed in the permit section above, you can also hike the Wonderland Trail without in permit if it's done as a three-day trip:
- Day 1: Cougar Rock Campground to Mowich Lake Campground (~36 mi / 58 km)
- Day 2: Mowich Lake Campground to White River Campground (~26 mi / 42 km)
- Day 3: White River Campground to Cougar Rock Campground (~33 mi / 53 km)
Wonderland Trail Gear & Packing List
Most people would probably consider the Wonderland Trail a long-distance backpacking trip, and so it's generally recommended that you pack appropriately for what could be an adventure of up to 15 days (if you're really taking advantage of those 14 nights allowed by the permit).
If you don't know what you should be packing for a trip like this, you probably shouldn't be hitting the Wonderland Trail, but there are a few things that are worth highlighting/pointing out just in case.
- You know what are awesome? Maps. You should probably invest in the National Geographic Mount Rainier National Park Trail Map if you want to be really cool.
- Carrying a phone? Worried about getting lost? Want to know how far you are from the next campsite or water source? Get the Wonderland Trail App from Atlas Guides (Guthook Guides) and you (probably) won't regret it.
- If you're hiking in the middle of the summer (i.e. warmer temperatures), you probably want to invest in some repellant as mosquitoes can be bad (I am a big fan of Sawyer Picaridin Spray).
- You need a shelter (tent) to hike the Wonderland Trail (at least you should have one if you don't like sleeping in the rain). Although shelters are available at some campsites, most are primitive sites with nothing more than a cleared patch of ground for you to sleep on.
- The chance of rain is high and you should probably bring appropriate gear for the conditions (for most people this probably means at least a rain jacket).
Wonderland Trail Resupply (Food Caches)
Because of the Wonderland Trail's length (93 mi / 150 km), many hikers elect to resupply at some point during their hikes instead of carrying an ungodly amount of food from the start.
There are four locations where Wonderland Trail hikers can cache food:
Food caches can be dropped off in-person prior to the beginning of your hike or mailed ahead to the park. Because of rodents (the threat is real, one got into my car at Mowich Lake Campground), all food caches are required to be in a plastic and clearly labeled container.
Cache labels must contain:
- Your name
- The location the cache is being picked up at
- The approximate date the cache is being picked up (if known)
- Your permit number (if known)
WONDERLAND TRAIL SNACKS AND MEALS
I'm constantly trying to evolve my backcountry food game (i.e. make healthier decisions) and I think I did a solid job fueling my three-day circuit of the Wonderland Trail. Here are some of my favorite snacks/meals from the trail:
- Fishpeople Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky
- Joe Chocolates (Coffee + Chocolate)
- Mountain House Fusilli Pasta with Italian Sausage
I'm always looking for new (and especially healthier) backpacking meals and snacks. I've found that not eating only chocolate on trail can really improve my performance (and mood). If you have any suggestions for new foods to try, let me know in the comments!
If you are mailing food ahead to yourself, here are the addresses for each of the locations (NOTE: not all locations accept USPS, UPS, and FedEX – confirm the address and shipping method before sending out your resupply).
Longmire Wilderness Information Center
UPS or FedEx
Mount Rainier National Park
1 NPS Warehouse
Longmire, WA 98397
ATTN: Longmire WIC
White River Campground OR Sunrise Visitor Center
USPS, UPS, or FedEx
Mount Rainier National Park
White River WIC
70002 SR 410 East
Enumclaw, WA 98022
Mowich Lake Patrol Cabin
via UPS or FedEx (PREFERRED)
Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River Ranger Station
35415 Fairfax Forest Reserve Road East
Carbonado, WA 98323
Mowich Lake Patrol Cabin
Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River Ranger Station
P.O. Box 423
Wilkeson, WA 98396
NOTES ON FOOD CACHES
- Fuel (gas cans, HEET, white gas, etc.) cannot be sent in your cache (you aren't allowed to mail it). Additionally, fuel must be stored separately from (outside of) your cache's plastic container. You may hand-deliver fuel to one of the four cache locations at the beginning of the section.
- You must mail or hand-deliver your food caches to the locations where you intend to pick them up. The park will not distribute your food caches for you.
- The park suggests mailing your cache so it arrives at least two weeks before you expect to pick it up.
The Wonderland Trail is quite literally, a walk in a park. The Wonderland Trail is not, figuratively a walk in the park.
As you would expect from a national park, the physical trail is brilliantly maintained and there is infrastructure for every water crossing. In addition to log crossings (with railings), you'll find the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge between Devil's Dream and South Puyallup River.
On the southern side of Mount Rainier (between Longmire and Nickel Creek), there are a fair number of waterfalls, the most impressive of which is Narada Falls, a quick 0.1 mi / 160 m detour off the Wonderland Trail (worth the detour).
There is also a cool box canyon next to the road between Snow Creek and Nickel Creek (there are also bathrooms and trash cans here).
Your time on the Wonderland Trail will be split above and below the tree line – which is 6,500 to 7,500 ft (1,980 to 2,286 m) in Mount Rainier National Park. However, most of the Wonderland Trail lies below 6,000 ft / 1,829 m. The only sections of the trail above this altitude are those between Summerland and Indian Bar and between Granite Creek and Sunrise.
With over 23,000 ft / 7,010 m of elevation gain (although my GPS recorded 25,293 ft / 7,709 m), that works out to just under 250 ft of elevation gain per mile (48 m per km) – assuming you're climbing for all 93 mi / 150 km. When you cut that distance in half (because you're going down half the time), the elevation gain per mile averages out to 500 ft per mile (94 m per km). All that math works out, right?
Basically, you just have to know that there are some serious climbs.
Heading clockwise, the Wonderland Trail has five sustained climbs over 2,000 ft / 610 m. Heading counterclockwise, there are six. Maybe this is why people tend to go clockwise? Regardless of which way you decide to hike, you will be doing a lot of climbing (and descending).
The highest point on the Wonderland Trail is Panhandle Gap (6,750 ft / 2,060 m); the lowest point on the Wonderland Trail is Ipsut Creek Campground (2,300 ft / 701 m).
The Spray Park Alternate
Between Mowich Lake Campground and Carbon River Camp there is a popular alternative to the Wonderland Trail via the Spray Park Trail.
The Spray Park Trail is 7.8 mi / 12.6 km long and bypasses 8.5 mi / 13.7 km of the Wonderland Trail – making it 0.7 mi / 1.1 km shorter. Hikers opting to take Spray Park will miss the climb up and over Ipsut Pass (5,118 ft / 1,560 m), and will instead climb to 6,400 ft / 1,951 m on the western slope of Mount Rainier.
Basically, the Spray Park alternate is slightly shorter, adds a fair amount of climbing, and is more scenic than the official Wonderland Trail.
There are also two backcountry campsites located along the Spray Park Trail, Eagle's Roost and Cataract Valley.
Spray Falls (via the Spray Park Trail) is also a popular day hike from Mowich Lake Campground. More on this hike here.
Wonderland Trail Map
This is a GPS track for the Wonderland Trail. This track should be used for illustrative purposes only and should NOT be used for navigation. I've marked the ranger stations, trailheads, and points of interest.
Wonderland Trail Conclusion
The Wonderland Trail is popular for a reason – it's a beautifully maintained trail around an impressive and imposing mountain (that's Mount Rainier, in case you're somehow reading this and don't already know this). However, getting a permit for a Wonderland Trail hike can be a pain (if you don't get one via the lottery).
Is the Wonderland Trail worth it? Probably, yeah. Is it the greatest thing ever and should you be crushed if you don't end up getting a permit? No, it's certainly not that. And if you are really dead set on hiking it, just head to the park with plenty of time to spare and try for a walk-up permit.
If you don't end up getting a permit for the Wonderland Trail and hanging out in the park waiting to score a walk-up permit isn't your idea of a good time, you try for a permit for the Enchantments or opt to hike in North Cascades National Park instead. There's no shortage of mountains to be explored in Washington (or of Sasquatch to be found).
Hopefully, you found this post useful. I'm always looking to improve my hiking guides (and, more specifically, Wonderland Trail-specific information), if you have any suggestions to improve or update this guide, please leave a comment below or get in touch.
- The Wonderland Trail (Mount Rainier National Park)
- Elevation Profile
- Mount Rainier National Park Map (with distances)
- Mount Rainier National Park Home
- Mount Rainier National Park Permits
- Mount Rainier National Park Map (overview)
- Mount Rainier National Park Permits
- Mount Rainier Road Status
- Mount Rainier Weather
- Cougar Rock Campground Map
- White River Campground Map