Trail Memories: Summerland on The Wonderland Trail

I’ve been to Summerland along the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park a number of times over the years. The first time I visited there, was during my thru hike of the Wonderland Trail. I was exhausted once we got there, we had hiked up and over 2 ridges, and put on over 15 miles. I barely had time in Summerland, I blinked and it was morning and I had many more miles to go. I’d go back a few more times dayhiking and realized that entry into Summerland is often best from the White River Road (we had come in the other way the first time, via Indian Bar). You earn the views, coming from the river valley through the forest, into subalpine. It’s a popular hike. Your best bet is to show up on a weekday, as early as possible (late July, at 7 am) for low crowds, and plenty of animals. I had my closest encounter with a black bear on this trail, where i rounded a bend and had a bear in the trail eating berries…so you never know what you will see.

A fair warning: Do NOT leave anything of value in your vehicle at the White River Road trailhead. it’s an easy bash and run spot.

The trail goes into woods immediately, and soon you will pass a junction for the Wonderland Trail as it heads down to the White River, to cross, for going uphill to Sunrise. Stay straight and head up the woods.

The trail follows Fryingpan Creek as it climbs. Sometimes with views up the creek (which is below you) but mostly in old woods where the trees are tall and magical. Finally the trail bursts out of the woods and you come to the crossing of Fryingpan Creek on a standard Rainier log bridge.

Look up creek for Tahoma.

The bridge usually washes out every winter, but they are safe to walk on. Once you cross the bridge you are almost there!

The first big views of Tahoma.

The trail winds into an open area, filled with the sun, buzzies and the start of wildflowers.

Avalanche lily.

As we headed up towards subalpine the avalanche lilies covered the land, where the snow had just melted.

Ford was always ahead of me. They grow up so fast. He turned 22 today. This final climb follows the side of a meadow, full of wild flowers.

The flower meadows are some of the best in the park.

This is why to visit Summerland.

The group campsite and stone shelter. And a child who hated cleaning at home, happily swept it. The camp at Summerland has small campsites hidden in the forest. They are not overall attractive, nor flat. But they are overall hidden from view of the trail, as nearly all campsites on the Wonderland are.

The view from just past camp looks down the way you came. White River is far below. And yes, there is cell reception here.

Sit there in the meadows long enough and the clouds come over….

And clear out.

We left camp and headed uphill towards Panhandle Gap. You quickly pop above treeline into alpine tundra. Just you and the rocks. So many rocks.

One has to cross Fryingpan Creek here to continue on. It depends on the year where you cross and if there is a bridge or not.

When I did it on my Wonderland hike it was a sketchy undermined log with no railing. The black socks however…nothing can amend for that fashion choice…..

There was still snow so there was a lot of running water, feeding into the main creek.

About halfway up I decided I was fine with this as my turn around. I had done Panhandle Gap before and the rocks are tiring to walk through on the feet.

Hoary Marmots sunning.

Mostly laying their fluffy butts all over warm rocks and soaking it in.

On the way down.

Stairs and creek access to jump over.

Looking back up towards Panhandle Gap.

The trail quickly shoots down towards Summerland.

And maybe more stairs than you ever want to see for awhile….

We had time to make lunch, so Ford hung out at the creek with some marmots to talk to.

Packed and ready to hike out.

Looking back from Summerland, up towards where the trail pops above treeline.

A last look at the mountain and then the quick descent back down the hill.


Require National Park Pass or entry fee at White River entrance off of Hwy 410. Best season is July through early October. Go on nicer days, storms come in fast here and snow isn’t fun if you are dressed for summer dayhiking. In late summer the berries around Fryingpan Creek are very good.

Trail is about 8½ miles round trip to Summerland itself (the camping area) with 2100 feet elevation gain. We did a bit more miles/elevation.


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