A breathtaking adventure in the shadow of Rainier
Mount Rainier National Park encompasses the 370 square miles around the awe-inspiring 14,411 foot peak. The Wonderland Trail, which circles the base of the mountain, is considered one of the most beautiful backpacking trails in the United States. Our journey will include the highlights of the park as we explore the multiple trails, glaciers, and stretches of wilderness in the shadow of mighty Rainier. We'll first visit the beautiful Mowich Lake, which will serve as our base camp for hikes to Spray Park and Tolmie Peak. On day three, it's time to load up our packs and embark on a four-day backpacking adventure on the Wonderland Trail and Northern Loop, a remote stretch of absolutely breathtaking wilderness. From the wildflowers by your feet to the glaciers on the mountain above, there's no shortage of beauty to take in as the miles tick by.
We'll work as a team on our expedition, learning backcountry safety, backpacking techniques, and taking on challenges together. Our reward will be the profound solace and beauty that only time in the backcountry can provide. We will have two Discover Outdoors guides to assist with any contingency plans, and to uphold our singular goal for you to have an amazing and safe experience.
DAY 1 Arrive in Seattle, drive to Mowich Lake
DAY 2 Day hikes from Mowich Lake Camp
DAY 3 Drive to Sunrise, hike to Granite Creek Camp (5 miles)
DAY 4 Hike from Granite Creek Camp to Carbon River (9 miles)
DAY 5 Hike from Carbon River to James (9 miles)
DAY 6 Hike from James to Sunrise (10 miles), Transfer to Seattle-Tacoma International airport for an evening flight or spend evening in hotel and attend group dinner in Seattle.
DAY 7 Transfer to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
ARRIVAL IN SEATTLE, DRIVE TO MOWICH LAKE
Upon landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you'll be greeted by your team of Discover Outdoors Guides. You'll join your fellow hikers on the drive to Mowich Lake camp (two hours). Upon arriving at camp, your guides will instruct you on camping protocol, assist with gear questions, and prepare dinner. Tonight is about getting to know the group, answering questions, and getting comfortable before settling into bed. Mowich Lake is a drive-up campground where you'll have access to the van. Pit toilets are available.
TOLMIE PEAK AND SPRAY PARK HIKES
Today will be our first day on the trail as a team and is our chance to test out gear and get comfortable with hiking as a group. Our morning hike to Tolmie Peak is a moderate six miles where we'll ascend to the summit's fire tower. This outlook offers stunning views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountain lakes. After lunch back at camp, we'll take an afternoon hike to Spray Falls and Spray Park. Our ascent will be our first taste of the switchbacks we'll encounter in the coming days but the effort is well worth it as you emerge onto the level plateau of the park, alpine wildflowers dotting the landscape below the massive mountains.
- Hiking Distance Tolmie Peak: 6 miles, Spray Park: 6 miles
- Elevation Gain Tolmie Peak: 1,010 feet, Spray Park: 1,700 feet
DRIVE TO SUNRISE, BACKPACK TO GRANITE CREEK
We'll wake up early today to pack up camp and take a scenic drive to the Sunrise trailhead in the northeast corner of the park. Before setting off, we'll do a final gear check and pack review to ensure we're fully prepared to spend the next three days in the backcountry. Our first day of backpacking is kept relatively short to help the group adjust to carrying a pack. The weight of your pack may come as a surprise, and we'll take lots of breaks to adjust, refuel, and take plenty of photos. Still, you'll be relieved to drop your pack for the short side hike up Skyscraper Mountain, our highest point of the trip at 7,078'. Keep an eye out for mountain goats and marmots as we descend from the open trail into the dense, green forest below. Tonight we'll sleep at Granite Creek.
- Hiking Distance 5.5 miles
- Elevation Gain 1,200 feet
GRANITE CREEK TO CARBON RIVER
Today will be our chance to get close up views of the many glaciers and rivers emerging from Rainier. Our day begins with a descent to the Winthrop Glacier for a break by the thundrous Garda Falls, observing the blues and greys of the gushing water flowing from the ice. Feeling rested, we'll begin an ascent to the aptly named Mystic Lake. The climb will be worth it and we can enjoy a well-earned break by the water's edge, surrounded by the peaks of Mineral Mountain and Old Desolate. Just a bit more climbing awaits before a long descent alongside the massive Cabon Glacier, which is not only the lowest glacier in contiguous US, but also the longest, thickest, and biggest by volume. You'll be thankful for your trekking poles as we lose almost 3,000' in four miles. Our day ends with a thrilling crossing over the carbon river on a suspension bridge to get to camp.
- Hiking Distance 8.9 miles
- Elevation Gain 1,800 feet
- Elevation Loss 3,500 feet
CARBON RIVER TO JAMES
Today will be our most challenging day of hiking, but with the remoteness and beauty as we turn onto the Northern Loop, it will also be one of the most memorable. Our day begins with three of the most challenging miles of the trip as we follow the switchbacks up from Carbon River, gaining 3,000 feet before arriving at the aptly named Yellowstone Cliffs. Our hike through Windy Gap is the most colorful of the trip and we'll find ourselves again surrounded by alpine flora, including beargrass, purple lupine, and orange columbia lillies. Stop for a break in the gap, or, if you're feeling strong, join a side hike to the Natural Bridge, a fascinating two-foot wide stone that rises 200 feet from the valley below. Descending back into the forest, we'll pass lake James before arriving at camp for the night.
- Hiking Distance 9 miles (optional 1.5 mile side hike)
- Elevation Gain 4,000 feet
- Elevation Loss 3,000 feet
TRANSFER TO SEATTLE-TACOMA AIRPORT
After what will likely be one of the best sleeps you've ever had, you'll be transfered to Seattle-Tacoma Airport for your final departure. We'll bid farewell before hopping on our flights back home, invigorated, refreshed, and forever changed.
JAMES CAMP TO SUNRISE, TRANSFER TO SEATTLE
Today is our final day on the trail. We have one last challenging climb ahead of us as we ascend out of the river valley followed by a wonderful stretch of flat trail through Grand Park, where we'll again see the familiar sight of Rainier again. The landscape today is a mix of the types we've seen so far: dense forests, alpine meadows, and rocky peaks. After passing through Berkeley Park, the ladscape will look even more familiar as we join again with the Wonderland Trail before arriving back at Sunrise. We'll take some time for final photos before we depart from the park and drive back to Seattle. From here, you'll have the option to be taken directly to the airport for an evening flight or you can add-on an evening with the group in a city hotel for a shower and a good night's sleep. Those who elect to stay the extra night are invited to a group dinner in Seattle to celebrate this amazing adventure.
- Hiking Distance 10.2 miles
- Elevation Gain 4,000 feet
- Elevation Loss 1,000 feet
As you explore Mount Rainier National park, you will be led by professional trail guides dedicated to providing safe and educational experiences. Our guides are trained in wilderness medicine and are seasoned leaders, demonstrating good judgement, technical expertise, and environmental consciousness. Our guides are ever aware of your needs and work hard to make your trip successful.
Each night will be spent at camp. If you do not have your own backpacking tent, you can opt to rent one. Nights one and two will be a Mowich Lake, a "drive up" campground where you will have access to the van and privies. Starting on day three, we will be backpacking and all gear, food, and equipment will be carried by the group. Camp sites along the route are established sites with privies, bear boxes or poles, and water sources.
Meals are provided from dinner on day one through lunch on day six. Meals on the trail will be cooked on backpacking stoves. The group will be responsible for assisting with cooking and clean up while on the trail, under the supervision and guidance of your DO guides. All hikers will be expected to assist in the carrying of group food and communal gear. Your DO guides will provide a menu in advance, accounting for all provided dietary requirements.
- Professional trail guides
- Meals from dinner on day one through lunch on day six
- Campground accommodations
- Park permits and fees
- Communal gear
- Transportation throughout trip
DOES NOT INCLUDE
- Airfare to Seattle International Airport
- Meals prior to day one dinner and after day six lunch
- Gratuity for your guides
This trip does not require technical climbing skills or experience. It does, however, require a high level of physical fitness. We strongly encourage our hikers to experience hiking on rugged trails, particularly up and down steep hills, while carrying weight. The difference in difficulty while carrying the weight of a fully loaded backpack can sometimes come as a surprise to hikers, so you are encouraged to try challenging day hikes with a weighted backpack. Those who are in good shape are more likely to enjoy the experience and the views along the trail.
Give yourself adequate time to prepare, particularly if this form and intensity of exercise is new. For three days a week, focus on an hour or more of aerobic exercise such as running, cycling, swimming, etc. Gym equipment such as stairmasters and rowing machines can supplement cardiovascular training. Day hikes or other longer endeavors will help you prepare for the endurance required for a backpacking trip. Carrying a 20 to 30 pound pack uphill on trails or stadium steps will simulate the real climb better than anything. Lifting moderate weights to increase core body, leg, and arm strength is also a good idea. Focus on quads and hamstrings—legs need strength and endurance. Being generally fit and having some solid stamina for long days is the overall goal.
Upon registration, a member of the DO team will consult on your experience and fitness and recommend a regimen for training.
FLIGHTS AND OPTIONAL HOTEL ADD-ON
Flights should be booked through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Arrival on day one should be no later than 1:00 PM. Departure should be after 6PM if departing on day six. You also have the option to add-on a hotel stay in Seattle on the evening of day six for a cost of $100. Rooms will be double occupancy with showers and amenities and those staying for the evening will be invited to a group dinner in the city to celebrate (not included in price). Airport transfer will also be provided on day seven.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
The high mountain areas have extremely variable weather. The evenings can turn cold and the days can warm up substantially, even in the alpine environment. Strong winds, rain, hail, even summer snow showers may be encountered.
GENERAL INFORMATION AND CANCELLATION POLICY
Please read our terms and conditions and call us with any questions you may have about the trip before booking. A gear and departure check-list will be sent to you upon booking confirmation. Cancellations before 45 days of departure are eligible for a full refund (minus 5% deposit). Trip credit only will be given for cancellations at least three weeks from the date of departure. No credit or refund will be given for cancellations within three weeks of your multi-day adventure.
If you are unsure of what to bring, give us a call or send us an email! Our staff is happy to help ensure you are comfortably outfitted for your trip. To prepare yourself for the activities, join Discover Outdoors on any of our local day trips. Our trained guides will coach you and offer helpful tips in preparing for your big adventure. Below is a list of equipment for this trip. The specific gear considerations are designed to prepare you for all possible conditions. For questions about the gear list, please contact our office at 212-579-4568 or [email protected]
- Backpack, sized 45-70 L
- Backpacking Tent (available to rent for additional fee)
- Sleeping Bag, rated 20 degrees or lower (available to rent for additional fee)
- Sleeping Pad (available to rent for additional fee)
- Water bottles or camelbak, 3 L total minimum capacity
- Mug, bowl, and utensil
- Small towel or facecloth
- Hiking boots with sturdy soles
- Wool hiking socks, multiple pairs
- Long sleeve base layers (synthetic and moisture wicking)
- Long pant base layer (synthetic and moisture wicking, like running tights)
- Light synthetic shirt or tank for warmer days
- Hiking pants
- Warm mid layers (fleece, puffy)
- Waterproof, windproof shell
- Light gloves
- Heavy pair of gloves or mittens
- Warm hat
- Balaclava or buff
- Casual clothes for base camp
- Trekking Poles