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4 men in hiking gear with backpacks on standing in front of the entrance to the Wonderland Trail on Mt Rainier in Washington.

Hiking the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

Author Erik Abrams

Day 1: Longmire to Maple Creek (9.8 miles)

As the morning broke over Longmire, an opaque layer of fog stretched out before us, blanketing the landscape in mystery. The air was thick with moisture, but fortunately, it refrained from turning to rain. The chill in the atmosphere was palpable, with temperatures dipping and rising sporadically throughout our hike. In response, I found myself donning my down jacket for roughly a third of the journey. The dense canopy overhead proved to be a natural marvel, casting shadows so deep that it often felt like we were trekking in the dusky hours of dawn rather than midday.

Our path took an unintended detour at Narada Falls. The cascading waters mesmerized us, and inadvertently, we found ourselves veering away from the Wonderland Trail. Realizing our misstep, we had to backtrack a little, a minor setback that added to the day's adventure.

By lunchtime, we reached the shores of Reflection Lake. True to its name, the water was so still and seamless that it was nearly impossible to discern where the lake's edge met the fog-heavy sky. It was here, with the obscured mountain lurking somewhere in the background, that we sat down for a simple yet filling meal. The classic pb&j sandwiches were complemented by a pouch of zesty lemon pepper chicken, and the comforting warmth of instant potatoes. As we savored our meal, the temperature began to drop noticeably, urging us to wrap up and move.

The day's hike was a game of elevations. We tackled around 2,500 feet of ascent, challenging our muscles and stamina. But as the evening approached, we descended back, returning much of that hard-earned elevation. There's a humbling balance in nature, always taking back what it gives.

Our campsite for the night was ideally positioned near a river. The soothing cadence of rushing water played a lullaby as we settled in. Dinner was a hearty affair, with dehydrated yet surprisingly flavorful chicken teriyaki for me, and a batch of creamy chicken Alfredo that I whipped up to share. The food, while simple, tasted like a gourmet feast after our long day.

Looking back, Day 1 on the Wonderland Trail was rewarding in every sense. Our spirits remained high, fueled by the untouched beauty around us. Thankfully, we remained injury-free, although the inevitable soreness crept into our muscles. But that pain felt good - a testament to our day's effort. As for my pack, it felt lighter than my previous expedition to the Tetons. Even with the additional gear – both burners and some food – I realized that shedding some unnecessary weight truly made a difference.

As Day 2 dawned and I sat penning down our experiences, AJ was still ensconced in sleep. Mid-thought, it hit me: I had left my socks and shirt outside the previous night in an attempt to air them out. Given the dampness in the air, they were likely soaked through. A little hiccup to start the day, but nothing we couldn't handle.

Day 2: Maple Creek to Olallie Creek (10 miles)

The soft sounds of nature were accompanied by AJ’s gentle snoring as I stirred awake. It was 7:30 in the morning, but having snagged over 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I felt refreshed. I quietly slipped out of the tent, fetched our food bags off the pole, and allowed the gentle murmurs of Maple Creek to accompany me as I brewed a fresh cup of coffee.

Returning to camp, I lingered around our tents, allowing the others their much-needed rest. With today slated to be our least taxing day, we weren’t in a rush. By noon, however, boots were laced and backpacks hefted as we commenced our hike towards Olallie Creek. Despite the shorter distance planned for the day, the impending challenge of Day 3 hung over our conversations. With a whopping 20 miles marked for tomorrow, reaching from Olallie Creek to Sunrise Camp, the thought of tackling over 6,000 feet in elevation gain felt daunting. As such, we resolved to relish our time at Olallie Creek, aiming for an early bedtime to set out at dawn.

Yet, as we chatted about our upcoming hurdles, Day 2 wasn’t without its own trials. As we ambled into Box Canyon, a makeshift table greeted us with trail runners emerging from the wilderness. These brave souls, attempting vast stretches of the Wonderland Trail with nothing more than water to weigh them down, evoked a mix of admiration and disbelief. Despite the lighter load, the speed and potential risk to ankles seemed harrowing.

The day's ambiance was moody with thick fog and intermittent cold patches. When lunchtime beckoned, we settled down at a fork leading off the Wonderland Trail to our Olallie campsite. The contrasting sensations were palpable: one moment, everyone was glistening with sweat from exertion, and the next, jackets were hastily donned against a sudden cold spell. Our midday meal was simple yet satisfying—chicken spread on bread, complemented with a generous scoop of peanut butter. Justin, to our delight, presented a treat: chunks of rich chocolate from his seemingly bottomless 5lb snack bag. We teased him about the added weight, but oh, how grateful we were for that indulgence!

A decision loomed after lunch. The question was whether to veer off the trail for 1.4 miles to reach Olallie by around 3 PM or to venture forth to Island Bar without a permit. While I argued for the former, feeling optimistic about our ability to conquer Day 3’s 20 miles, the majority swayed towards the latter. The uncertain weather and hope of a possible campsite vacancy at Island Bar nudged us forward. As we trudged on, our ascent intensified, with an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet challenging every step. Along the way, we playfully rehearsed our story for any potential ranger encounter, with “Sorry Ranger Bob, you mean to say this isn’t Olallie?” becoming our favorite line.

Our gamble paid off as we reached Island Bar. An expansive group site lay before us, invitingly empty. Taking shelter from the drizzle, we made ourselves cozy under a rugged, weathered structure reminiscent of a wood-and-metal jail. Our satisfaction, however, was short-lived. An hour into our setup, the group with legitimate claims to the site arrived. Diplomacy fell to Alex, who spun a yarn that, while not entirely logical, proved convincing enough. Gratefully, we relocated our tents, accepting the rain's embrace as a minor inconvenience.

While not as planned, Day 2’s detour granted us a significant advantage. We had cut down a sizable chunk off Day 3’s intimidating challenge, both in miles and elevation. Despite the initial awkwardness with our unexpected neighbors, we managed to find common ground. Drained, we turned in early, anticipating the 5 AM start to our next adventure.

In our tent, under the hushed whisper of raindrops, AJ and I reviewed the journey ahead. Day 4 loomed with a challenging 14 miles, while Day 5 promised a slightly gentler, albeit demanding, 10 miles. This trip was undoubtedly proving to be a test of our mettle. With exhaustion creeping in, I popped a sleep aid and surrendered to the comforts of sleep, eager and apprehensive for the challenges awaiting us.

Day 3: (Olallie) Indian Bar to Sunrise (14.2 miles)

The pre-dawn chill of Day 3 greeted us with a persistent misty drizzle. Nestled under a section of the group shelter, we found solace in its protection as we mustered the energy for the day ahead. Despite our early wake-up call around 5 AM, Alex and Justin's slow stirrings meant we only started our journey at about 7 AM. The day's welcome was less than inviting. The cold, coupled with a light rain, transformed the flora into drenched obstacles, ensuring we were thoroughly soaked, especially our shoes, within the first mile.

Our morning challenge presented itself in the form of a sharp 2k elevation over Panhandle Pass and Emerald Pass. The persistent fog, however, lightened up slightly, revealing the silhouettes of majestic glaciers in the distance. Still, the elusive Mount Rainier remained hidden from view. By 10:30 AM, hunger pangs urged us to settle at the Summerland campsite for a modest lunch: just a packet of peanut butter and some tuna. Given the daunting task that lay ahead, the meager meal hardly seemed sufficient.

As we resumed our trek, the path generously descended towards White Water Creek. However, a posted sign alerted us to heightened glacier melt, suggesting a detour off the Wonderland Trail. Throwing caution to the wind, we remained steadfast on our path and were rewarded with a still-intact bridge that allowed us safe passage over the roaring waters of White Water Creek. A brief pause ensued as we energized with some jellies, mentally preparing for the steep 2k+ ascent towards Sunrise Camp. The fatigue of the day weighed heavily on us, and while AJ surged ahead with remarkable energy, Justin, Alex, and I maintained a steadier pace. Alex's struggle was evident; whether it was dehydration or altitude's reduced oxygen levels, he battled through.

The sight of Sunrise and its welcoming lodge was a balm to our weary souls. Eager to replenish our energy, we indulged in our food cache and treated ourselves to a celebratory beer. The lodge's offerings were irresistible, and we heeded our hunger, feasting on sandwiches, ice creams, and an assortment of snacks. My watch recorded a whopping 3600 active calories burned, and I felt no guilt in my indulgence.

With bellies content and spirits lifted, the remaining 1.2-mile stretch to Sunrise Camp felt almost leisurely. Securing a spacious spot for our tents, we began the ritual of drying out our drenched gear, particularly our tent tarps and damp socks. The evening's encroaching chill hinted at a frigid night, urging us to seek warmth in a comforting bowl of soup. By 8:45 PM, the day's exhaustion claimed us, and we surrendered to sleep.

The night was a testament to the mountain's unpredictable nature. Even as the temperature plummeted to the low 40s, I found refuge in layers of clothing, including thermals, hiking pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks, and even my down jacket. Nestled in my sleeping bag, I drifted into a cozy slumber, grateful for its protective embrace against the cold.

Day 4: Sunrise to Dick Creek (14.3 miles)

The stentorian notes of AJ's snores accompanied the night. Despite my attempts to nudge him out of his "trumpet mode", it seemed his sleep-time concert was here to stay. While he continued his orchestral performance, I awoke around 6 AM, pen in hand, ready to recount our adventures. However, the biting cold rendered my fingers nearly numb, hinting at the chilly atmosphere outside. With a sigh, I turned my thoughts to the day's journey, hoping it would be gentler than the last. While we had a similar distance to cover, the map promised more descents than ascents. Though descents might be easier on the cardiovascular system, they demand heightened attention to foot placement, lest one risks a twisted ankle on a treacherous rock. Still, I held onto the hope that today might serve as a sort of "recovery" amidst our grueling trail.

With such thoughts in mind, we embarked on the day’s journey. The trail began with a mild incline spanning about 1.5 miles, which then gave way to a descent into a scenic valley. It was during this phase that Mount Rainier made her grand appearance. And what a sight it was, framed perfectly by the trail, making the view even more special. Though I must admit, we had caught a fleeting glimpse of her earlier, when she shyly peeked from behind the clouds during our snack break at the Sunrise shop.

Our journey was punctuated by a stop at a pristine stream, where nature provided a delightful spectacle. A curious marmot, perhaps drawn by Alex's whistles, approached us. It was a magical moment, blending the day's serenity with nature's spontaneity. The sky remained unblemished, a vast expanse of blue, though the cold air persisted.

Our path then challenged us with a climb over a mountain ridge, followed by a descent that took us past the Glacier Falls. Here, the very elements seemed to be in conversation; we heard the distinct sounds of glaciers breaking apart, their fragments plunging into the river below.

Upon reaching the log bridge over the White River's west fork, we girded ourselves for what lay ahead: a rigorous ascent towards Mystic Lake. It was just before this climb that Justin began to show signs of dehydration. Recognizing the urgency, we took a timely break to rehydrate and have lunch. After some rest and replenishment, Justin seemed rejuvenated. With renewed energy and spirits lifted, we set our sights on reaching Mystic.

​​5 Days/4 Nights in the Wilderness: A Detailed Pack List


  • 2 moisture-wicking t-shirts: quick-drying shirts are must have for the rugged trails and varying temperatures.
  • 1 long sleeve sun shirt: protection against the sun, which doubles as a light layer for those cool mornings.
  • 1 pair of long hiking pants: Engineered for durability and comfort, these pants come with reinforced seams and are perfect for those technical hikes where shorts won't cut it.
  • 2 pairs of hiking shorts: Lightweight and breathable, these are great for the uphill slogs in the warm afternoons.
  • 3 underwear: Quick-drying and made to reduce chafing; a true hiking essential.
  • 1 long thermal pants: For those extra cold nights under the stars or that unexpected cold front.
  • 3 pairs of hiking socks: Crafted with a blend of moisture-wicking fibers to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters.
  • Warm, insulated jacket: Because when the sun dips, the temperatures follow. This jacket is packed with HyperDry down that traps heat.
  • Rain jacket: Waterproof and breathable. Because Mother Nature can be unpredictable. This jacket actually doubles as your warm and rain jacket allowing you to only have to bring one.
  • Hat: A shield against the sun during those long stretches without shade. Packable and lightweight.
  • Beanie: For when the temperatures drop, and you need to trap in that precious body heat.
  • Sunglasses: Polarized and UV-protective to shield your eyes from the sun's glare, especially near reflective surfaces like water or snow. Ombraz are durable, light weight and comfortable.
  • Hiking shoes: With a sturdy grip, ankle support, and built for comfort, these shoes are designed to tackle all terrains.
  • Camp sandals: A relief for your feet after a long day of hiking, ideal for those campsite strolls.

Essential Gear:

  • Tent: Your portable home. Lightweight, durable, and weather-resistant.
  • Backpack with a rain cover: Ergonomically designed to distribute weight and protect your gear from unexpected showers.
  • Hydration bladder: Because staying hydrated is paramount. This bladder ensures a constant supply of water without having to stop and fetch a bottle.
  • Water purifier: Compact and efficient, ensuring every drop you consume is free from contaminants.
  • Headlamp: Equipped with adjustable brightness and an extra set of batteries for those late-night or pre-dawn starts.
  • Battery bank: Essential for charging devices when you're miles away from the nearest socket.
  • Multi-tool: A compact marvel that can cut, fix, and assist in countless ways.
  • Duct tape: The age-old fix for nearly everything.
  • Hiking poles: Providing that extra stability on uneven terrains and reducing stress on your knees.
  • Sleeping bag: Tailored for the conditions you're expecting. Lightweight yet warm.
  • Sleeping pad: Your barrier against the cold, hard ground. Ensures a comfortable night's sleep.
  • Inflatable pillow: Compact, lightweight, and a touch of home comfort.
  • Jet Boil and gas: For those warm meals and drinks that rejuvenate after a long day.
  • Lip balm: Protects against the chapping winds and sun.
  • Bug spray: Your defense against those pesky flying adversaries.
  • Toilet paper/wipes: Biodegradable and essential for maintaining personal hygiene.
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste: Because oral hygiene shouldn’t be compromised, even in the wilderness.
  • Gold bond: To keep those areas dry and free from irritation.
  • Travel-sized deodorant: A nod to personal freshness.
  • Tylenol pm: For those restless nights.
  • Ibuprofen: A hiker’s remedy for muscle soreness and inflammation.
  • Paracord: Durable and multifunctional. From makeshift clotheslines to emergency repairs.
  • Food bag: A clever dual-purpose item; can use a sleeping bag stuff sack to save weight.

Snacks (My Personal Favorites):

  • Energy gels (6): Quick and compact sources of energy.
  • Trail mix with added dark chocolate M&Ms: A delightful blend of salty and sweet, packed with energy.
  • Turkey jerky: Protein-packed and deliciously seasoned.
  • Small bag of Mike & Ike’s: A sweet treat for those moments when you need a morale boost.
  • Electrolyte tablets: To replenish vital salts and keep hydration levels balanced.
  • Clif bars: Dense in nutrients and perfect for long stretches between meals.
  • Peanut butter and crackers: A classic combination, offering both protein and carbs to fuel your hike.

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