Wonderland Trail

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Sierra Club MWROP Backpacking Trip:
Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

July 20 - Aug 4, 2002, Saturday to Sunday

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Estimated cost:
$1000.00 - the actual cost could be higher or lower
$250.00 initial deposit

Date of last revision:

Trip Description:

The Wonderland Trail, which circumnavigates Mt. Rainier, has been rated by Backpacker Magazine as both the most beautiful, and scenic long trail in North America as well as the one with the most abundant wildlife. 

This 12 day backpacking trip will completely circumnavigate Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail. Covering 92 miles with 22786' of elevation gain or 45572' of elevation change. The high point on the trail is Panhandle Gap at 6901', and the low point is the Ipsut Creek Campground trailhead at 2320'. The plan is to cover the trail in 11 days of hiking with one layover day for a total of 12 days on the trail. This means we will be covering, on average, 8.4 miles with a 2071' ascent and descent per day with full packs. We will have to do more than this on some days to get from one specific campsite to the next. The hardest day is day 11 which covers 11.7 miles with a 3500' gain and 2150' loss. There will be four easier days of 6.6 miles or less, four intermediate days of 7.0 to 8.4 miles, and four hard days of 10.3 to 11.7 miles. 

Although this will be a hard backpacking trip I've tried to do what I can from a planning perspective to make it a little easier. We are starting at one of the easier start/stop points and going clockwise which is somewhat easier on most days. The trip has been spread over eleven days of hiking with one layover day so that on some days we have extra time for exploration, photography, and relaxation. We also will be using both of the available food and gear cache points to lighten our load. By using two caches we will only be packing food for three, five, and four days respectively for the three legs of the trip. It's also possible to cache other gear if desired.

We will be staying at a specific campsite each day so we must keep to a predetermined schedule unless we have a very good reason to change it. There will be two open tourist days at the end of the trip before we fly home.

The July to September timeframe was selected as they are the best months for warm sunny weather in the Pacific Northwest. This will be my third backpacking trip to the Pacific Northwest in the July - September timeframe and I've had beautiful weather on both of the previous trips. 

This entire trip is rated strenuous and is suitable for experienced, physically fit backpackers with the appropriate gear. All participants must have previously and successfully completed either a single week of backpacking or three weekend backpacking trips. Individual pack weight will vary but most people will be carrying from 35 to 60 lbs. Each person is responsible for providing their own gear and meals. If people want to, they may elect to share tents, meals, stoves, first aid kits, and water purifiers/filters. A roster of trip participants will be posted, and I will try to coordinate this common gear somewhat. We have permits for a maximum of ten people to go on this trip. 

Some rock scrambling is always a possibility on a backpacking trip, so people should have good eye-hand-foot coordination. This trail runs below the level of the 28 glaciers on Mt. Rainier but it does cross several permanent snow fields which will normally be present in late July. We will most likely have several nights of camping in the snow.

I will make a determination one or two weeks before the trip about the requirement for ice axes, small instep crampons, or snow shoes. So far I've discussed this with Park Rangers, a mountain guide, and several other people who have done this trail previously and they all say they will not be necessary in late July. Some have suggested using ski poles. I may carry my small instep crampons. Full mountaineering crampons would be overkill and are not appropriate for this trail.

Participants will have to fill out an information form regarding their medical history, physical condition and conditioning, prior backpacking experience, and backpacking gear – just like on any national Sierra Club backpacking trip. All participants must sign a liability release.

The leader reserves the right to exclude any potential participant for insufficient backpacking experience, insufficient physical conditioning, improper gear, illegal activities, antisocial behavior, or any other reason that is deemed to significantly impact the safety or general well being of the individual and the rest of the group. Any one of us can have an injury or illness while on the trail and we just have to deal with that as best we can at the time, but as the leader, I can't allow people on the trip who have known problems before they ever hit the trail. I know this sounds hard nosed and I hope that it doesn't offend people, but this isn't a dayhike in SNP. 

Mount Rainier National Park Website

This website contains a lot of valuable information, everyone who is considering this trip should visit it and peruse the information thoroughly.


Trip Itinerary

Day Date Activity
Pretrip   Ship empty stoves & fuel bottles to motel. Ship food and gear to both cache points.
Saturday July 20 Fly from BWI to Seattle, pick up rental cars, drive to park, check into motel, buy fuel for stoves
Sunday July 21 Start the backpack
Friday July 23 Resupply at the first cache: food, and gear only no fuel. Ship special gear from first cache to second cache if desired.
Saturday July 25 Layover day
Sunday July 28 Resupply at the second cache: food, fuel, gear. Ship excess gear, dirty clothes home
Thursday August 1 Complete trip, drive to San Juan Islands
Friday August 2 Open tourist day, ship stoves home
Saturday August 3 Open tourist day
Sunday August 4 Fly home


Typical Weather

We need to be prepared for everything from hot, sunny days above tree line, to heavy rain, and snow, including snow camping for at least a few nights. As of 7/2 the trail is still at least 80% covered with snow.

typical summer daytime temperatures are: 60 to 80 degrees F

typical summer nighttime temperatures are: 32 degrees F and up

Some Necessary Gear

  • sturdy, waterproof, broken in hiking boots
  • gaiters
  • tent
  • sleeping bag plus pad
  • rain suit or poncho 
  • extra clothes (include long sleeve shirt and long pants as well as shorts and T shirt)
  • sunscreen, sunglasses, hat with visor or brim
  • wool sweater or fleece jacket
  • light but warm knit hat
  • flashlight, extra bulb and batteries
  • compass readable to one or two degrees
  • topographic map
  • toilet paper + trowel
  • matches in waterproof container
  • pocket knife
  • whistle
  • biodegradable soap, wash cloth, backpacker towel
  • properly fitted and adjusted backpack
  • light weight backpacking stove & fuel
  • food for 3 day + 5 day + 4 day backpack (three sets of food)
  • 2 quarts or liters of water
  • personal first aid items
  • water purification tablets or a water purifier/filter
  • spare purifier filter (ship to second cache?)
  • insect repellant, DEET
  • Gatorade, ORS, salt tablets
  • drivers license, health insurance card
  • money and credit card for gas, meals, other expenses



Common Items

If people want to share: tents, stoves & fuel, water purifiers/filters, first aid kits, or meals, you can work that out for yourselves from the trip roster. At a minimum we need one stove, extra fuel, purifier/filter, and first aid kit for every two to three people. I will try to coordinate this somewhat.

In addition to the above items there will be some other common gear that we will have to split up. This includes: plastic collapsible bucket, collapsible bladders (?), and possibly other things. Some common gear that I will carry myself includes a GPS receiver, altimeter, large detailed topographic map, and an amateur radio transceiver.

Food & Gear Cache

  • food
  • film, film mailers with stamps
  • batteries
  • clean set of clothes for the next leg of the trail
  • special gear only required for that segment
  • toilet paper, soap, sunscreen, aspirin, medication, moleskin
  • I will schedule a UPS pickup from the first cache point to ship stuff home
  • There is a post office at the second cache point which allows shipping stuff home
  • We may be able to ship special items from the first cache to the second cache
  • We can buy or get fuel at the second cache but not the first
  • shipping labels, packing tape

Food and gear for the two caches must be shipped in time to get there before the necessary date. Must use UPS or Fedex with delivery confirmation. Everybody is responsible for shipping their own stoves and food/gear caches. The cache containers must be rodent and raccoon proof. Something like a heavy plastic 3-5 gallon bucket with a tightly sealing lid will work fine. You can probably get something from Home Depot. All your food, gear, clothing, etc goes into the bucket which must have a label on it. This bucket then goes into a shipping carton with its own label. Make the carton big enough to contain anything you want to ship home - we will use the same carton for return shipping.

I will provide the three addresses later along with very detailed instructions about how the cache bucket must be prepared. There is a very small margin for error on cache preparation - they must be at the right place at the right time with the right stuff in it or the entire group has a problem.

We should plan on shipping the cache 10 - 14 days prior to needing it - although 2nd day or even overnight shipping would work as well and doesn't require the food to sit for such a long time.


Guidebook & Map

Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail Encircling Mount Rainier, Bette Filley, Dunamis House, Issaquah, WA, 98027.

Mount Rainier National Park - Centennial Edition Topo Map, Stanley Maps, POB 880, Mercer Island, WA 98040. This is a beautiful map with lots of detail but is somewhat large.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Mount Rainier Map, a smaller map with a little less detail, would be easier to handle in wind and rain. Also has one minute tick marks which makes it easier to setup for GPS use.

The Adventurous Traveler Bookstore (and other places) carries both the book and map.


Everyone is responsible for providing their own backpacking food for meals and snacks. This is not a commissary based trip. Bring more food than you would normally eat. As a backpacker, you will appreciate the concept of food as fuel. Bring things that are lightweight, tasty, and nutritious but easy to prepare, cook, and clean up after. Also bring or cache foods that will not spoil in the heat. Plan three menus, one for the first 3 days, another for the second 5 days, and another for the final 4 days. We will be camping on the trail during the layover day which is in the second section (Sunrise to Longmire). We will have to buy fuel and can also buy some fresh food out there. Don't plan on buying much backpacking food out there, it's too time consuming and we really won't have time to do that. Just a few optional items that you might see out there that look good.

First section: 3 days total - Mowich Lake to Sunrise - cache 1
first day's lunch to last day's dinner including snacks

Second section: 5 days total - includes layover day - Sunrise to Longmire - cache 2
first day's breakfast to last day's dinner including snacks- we are actually staying at Cougar Rock camp, not Longmire - we may decide to wait till the next morning to get our cache since its about 3.0+ miles extra round trip from Cougar Rock camp to Longmire

Third section: 4 days total - Longmire to Mowich Lake
first day's breakfast to last day's lunch including snacks



We will have to treat all drinking water either with a purifier, filter, or iodine tablets. I would strongly recommend using a purifier but the choice is yours. We will carry at least one plastic fabric collapsible bucket to simplify bringing water from streams or lakes to the campsite and allow silt to settle out of the water before filtering.

Leave No Trace

We will practice "Leave No Trace" backcountry ethics. This means that we pack out all of our trash and garbage. It also means that we do not use soap or shampoo to wash in mountain lakes or streams. Just swimming in the water without using soap works pretty well all by itself. Use a folding basin and soap a reasonable distance away from lakes or streams to wash more thoroughly. It's okay to use a tiny amount of biodegradable soap in the lake or stream just to wash your hands and face.

Stove Fuel

We will be shipping our empty stoves and empty fuel bottles to the hotel. We cannot carry our stoves or fuel bottles with us on the airplane unless they are brand new and have NEVER been used. Once used they will contain fuel residue and cannot be taken onboard the plane. Although this policy varies from airline to airline. NO AIRLINE WILL ALLOW FUEL OF ANY KIND ON THE AIRPLANE. We will ship the stoves via Parcel Plus, or Mail Boxes Etc. We will have to buy fuel out there before the trip, and ship the empty stoves and empty fuel bottles back the same way. We need to ship the stoves about 10 days prior to our trip departure to ensure that they are there as we must use regular ground transportation.


The trip cost includes: shuttle to BWI, round trip airfare from the Baltimore – Washington area to Seattle, WA,  your share of a rental car, four nights total in a motel before and after our backpack, possibly a shuttle if we use one, and the required NPS fees. Not included: everything else, such as: any motel meals, necessary backpacking food and gear, rental car gas, tips, personal expenses, and any other necessary but excluded expenses.

The cost of the trip is influenced by the airfare, which of course varies with the number of available seats at a certain price. It is to our advantage to book the airline as soon as possible to take advantage of lower priced seats. Also rental car fees are notoriously hard to estimate due to additional charges that are tacked onto the final amount. Because MWROP is not significantly financially underwriting this trip the air fare, and other necessary, upfront deposits, must be paid from trip participant deposits. This is why the deposit is a little high and we need to get deposits as soon as possible. 

It is important that each participant bring sufficient cash/credit cards for incidental personal expenses.

Make checks payable to: Sierra Club MWROP and mail to the leader.


Trip Leader:

Ted Fryberger
6259 Deep River Canyon
Columbia, MD 21045
Phone: 443-917-2902(W/H)

Copyright 2000 - 2023 by Ted Fryberger & DeepSoft, LLC, All Rights Reserved