Not far from the aptly named Paradise on Mount Rainer is Summerland, where the blue sky stretches as far as the eyes can see. There are lush green meadows, snow-covered peaks, rocky crags, and glacier-fed waterfalls crashing down into the rivers below.
Summerland is easily accessible from the White River Road in Mount Rainier National Park. Limited parking is available in a lot just across the bridge that spans Frying Pan Creek. The hike starts along a level path through old-growth forest. At about ¼ mile in, you will see the junction with the Wonderland Trail leading from Sunrise. This is one of the last sections built that completed the 93-mile loop that circumnavigates the mountain and is a destination hike for people from all over the world.
The trail will become steadily steeper as it rises above the creek. Just before it ascends up a set of switchbacks, you’ll discover a lovely overlook just off the trail, providing views of water crashing down into the gorge. You will cross the upper reaches of Frying Pan Creek across a single log bridge with one railing; watch your step if conditions are wet or freezing. Just across this bridge is another view of water crashing down on the rocks below.
Very soon you’ll find yourself in an open meadow with awe-inspiring views of the mountain. In summer, wildflowers line the trail.
You’ll begin another climb up a series of shady switchbacks before being treated to another panorama of Mount Rainer, Little Tahoma, and other peaks as the trail opens up into more meadows. One last climb up a set of wooden steps set into the trail will bring you to a vista more stunning than the last.
To the left are the wilderness campsites. Your first destination, Summerland, is to the right. There is much exploring and photography to be done from this area before heading back to the trailhead if this is as far as you planned to go.
For those drawn by the scenery and a sense of adventure, the trail continues down into grassy meadows cut through by crystal-clear streams. Another single log bridge takes you across the creek to admire the vivid blue-green water of small glacial lakes.
Your eyes will be drawn up to Panhandle Gap. Even late in summer, this last ascent can be all or partially covered in snow, so you’ll want trekking poles and possibly traction devices, such as Yak Tracks. This is mountain goat territory, and you are likely to see them foraging on the slopes.
At 6,800 feet, this is the second highest elevation on the Wonderland Trail, second only to Skyscraper pass at just over 7,000 feet. It’s well worth the final climb for the amazing views that include Mount Adams and Mount Hood. The 900 or so extra feet are definitely worth the climb.
Cool shady forests, crashing water, wildflower-filled meadows, rocky slopes and snow-covered peaks with a stunning backdrop of Mount Rainier make this a trip that will feel like your own personal paradise.
Good to know
- Wilderness permits required for overnight camping
- Round-trip: 12 miles round-trip (Summerland Camp 8.4 miles)
- Elevation gain: 2,950 feet (Summerland Camp 2,100 feet)
- Highest elevation: 6,800 feet (Summerland Camp 5,950 feet)
- Map: Green Trails Mount Rainier Wonderland, Map No. 269S
- Website: nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/summerland.htm
How to get there
From Enumclaw, follow Highway 410 about 36 miles to the boundary of Mount Rainier National Park. Continue on about four miles and take the White River Canyon road going toward Sunrise. The park entrance station is just over a mile up the road. Continue on another 2.9 miles. The trailhead parking area is just beyond the bridge over Frying Pan Creek. There’s limited parking. The trailhead is across the road next to the bridge.