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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

Trail of wonder: 100 things to know about popular trail that loops Mount Rainier

It’s arguably Washington’s most famous trail: Ninety-three miles of ups and downs looping around Mount Rainier.

As the Wonderland Trail celebrates its centennial, here are 100 things hikers ought to know about the trail:

1. The park finished linking trails in 1915 to form the loop around the mountain to make patrolling easier for rangers. The Wonderland Trail quickly became popular with hikers.

2. It was about 1920 when visitors and park staff started referring to the loop as the Wonderland Trail.

3. The majority of hikers give themselves 10 or more days to finish the Wonderland.

4. Backpackers are allowed a maximum of 15 days (14 nights) to hike the trail.

5. The best part of the trail is a nap on the bank of Mystic Lake.

6. Rainier suspended reservation requests this spring after receiving a record 2,600 backcountry permit requests, a 225 percent increase from pre-2013 averages.

7. In April, park officials blamed media coverage for the sudden dramatic increase in permit requests.

8. While reservations for overnight Wonderland trips are suspended, walk-up reservations, which can be secured not earlier than a day before departure, are still available.

9. The Wonderland has been designated a National Recreation Trail.

10. The park holds about 30 percent of backcountry space for walk-up permits and distributes them on a first-come, first-served basis.

11. For planning purposes, the permitting process starts March 15.

12. All permits received March 15-April 1 are treated equally.

13. If you can’t get a permit, sections of the Wonderland make ideal day trips. Permits aren’t required for day trips.

14. When in doubt about how long you’ll need for the hike, give yourself extra time.

15. A loop on the Wonderland means climbing more than 22,000 feet, equivalent to about 2 1/2 trips from Paradise to the top of Mount Rainier.

16. Glacier-fed creeks are perfect for soaking tired feet.

17. The Dick Creek vault toilet has a view even more powerful than its smell.

18. In 1973, park superintendent Daniel Tobin announced a backcountry management plan that forbade the use of horses and campfires along the trail and required permits for multiday trips.

19. The Wonderland offers a vast variety of views of Rainier, some so different it’s hard to believe it’s the same mountain.

20. Hiking counterclockwise instead of clockwise could slightly increase your odds of scoring a permit.

21. Counterclockwise means slightly steeper uphill stretches.

22. Tami Asars, author of “Hiking the Wonderland Trail,” says clockwise is “the lesser of two evils” and recommends it for newbies.

23. Whichever direction you go, starting from the White River Campground allows you to get a big climb out of the way while your legs are fresh.

24. In 2012, Okanogan’s Jason Vaughan reportedly traveled the trail twice – once in each direction – in less than 90 hours.

25. If you have a friend on the trail, you can deliver an Overload Burger from Elbe’s Scaleburgers to the Longmire Trailhead in less than 30 minutes.

26. Never cut switchbacks. It might shave a few steps off your hike, but it can damage vegetation and change the way rain water flows, which causes trail damage.

27. The section on the west side of the mountain tends to offer the longest stretches without seeing other hikers.

28. If you go, don’t skimp on socks.

29. Focus on hydration as you plan. Make note of water sources along the trail and consider packing electrolyte mix or tablets to add to your water. Also pack a water purification system.

30. The best part of the trail is eating lunch at the snout of the Carbon Glacier.

31. A Wonderland permit is $20 for a party of up to 12 people.

32. Starting your trip on a Friday isn’t recommended. Most people request Friday starting dates, increasing competition for permits.

33. Chances of landing a permit increase later in the season.

34. Hikers have two route options in the northwest corner of the park: Going high over Spray Park or following Ipsut Creek over Ipsut Pass.

35. The Spray Park and Ipsut Pass options have about the same mileage, but Spray Park adds more climbing.

36. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is the berries along the trail.

37. On Sept. 11, 2003, a former Western Washington University student, Skye Thompson, set what was believed to be a record by completing the trail in 25 hours, 45 minutes. His run was filmed for the 2005 TV documentary “The Wonderland Project.”

38. The next day, John Stamstad of Seattle ran the trail in 24:01.

39. Canadian Gary Robbins ran the trail July 1-2 in 18:52 and is believed to be the current record holder.

40. Local trail runners often complete the trail in three or four days.

41. Don’t bury toilet paper unless you use the natural kind (moss, grass, pine cones, etc.).

42. The more you eat the lighter your pack.

43. Don’t worry, it’s almost impossible to gain weight hiking the Wonderland.

44. Trekking poles are ideal hiking partners. A 1999 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine says using poles on a 25-degree downhill grade lessens the compressive force on knees 12-25 percent.

45. The trail was an important tool for monitoring forest fires before park fire lookouts were constructed in the early 1930s.

46. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is swapping stories with the ranger at the Golden Lakes ranger station.

47. The lighter your pack, the easier the hike. Scrutinize everything you take.

48. The smaller your belly, the easier the hike. Definitely get in shape before taking on the Wonderland.

49. Spam tastes better than you’d think after a 14-mile day.

50. If you have a friend on the trail, you can deliver a Cruiser’s Special from Packwood’s Cruiser’s Pizza to the Box Canyon Trailhead in less than 35 minutes.

51. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is the jaw-dropping beauty of the Puyallup River’s headwaters.

52. Snow can linger on the trail all summer. (But maybe not this summer.)

53. Don’t feed the animals. Not only is it dangerous and not good for the animals, it conditions them to associate hikers with food.

54. If you don’t have a trail name by Day 3, you need more creative hiking partners.

55. The most common question asked on the trail: “How long are you taking?”

56. Near Indian Bar you might hear the bugle calls of elk.

57. The easiest section of the trail is arguably between Longmire and Box Canyon, where the trail gains only 2,200 feet over 10 miles. That’s what passes for flat on the Wonderland.

58. Swimsuits seem to become more and more optional at lakes located farthest from trailheads.

59. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is sunset at Klapatche Park.

60. Duct tape has 1.3 million uses. Wrap a few feet of it around your trekking poles for easy access.

61. In the trail’s early years, Puget Sound-area Boys Scout troops regularly took two-week trips on the trail, completing service projects along the way.

62. Is it cheating to spend a night showering and sleeping in a bed at Longmire’s National Park Inn? That’s up to you to decide.

63. Maps and trail markers sometimes don’t match up when it comes to distance. The discrepancies are usually minor, but I’ve found the maps (I use Green Trails 269S) to be more accurate.

64. Green Trails mapped the trail using GPS technology. Park officials say distances for signs were determined by hiking the trails while pushing measuring wheels.

65. The actual distance of the trail is sometimes debated (90-94 miles), but most agree on 93 miles.

66. The original distance was 130-140 miles running closer to the park boundary than the mountain.

67. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is the suspension bridge over Tahoma Creek.

68. The sweeping view from the 7,018-foot summit of Skyscraper Mountain near Sunrise is a short but steep side trip.

69. Other good side trips: Mount Fremont, Berkley Park, Tolmie Peak, Mirror Lake, Pinnacle Peak, Snow Lake and the Sunrise concession stand.

70. Epic side trip: the Northern Loop.

71. Hiking etiquette: Yield to those going uphill.

72. Rainier’s alpine lakes aren’t bathtubs. Don’t use soap and shampoo in or near the water no matter how much you stink and no matter how biodegradable the products claim to be.

73. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is lingering in Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

74. The patrol cabin, built in 1915, at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground is the oldest in the park.

75. If you have a friend on the trail, you can deliver a blue cheeseburger from Greenwater’s Naches Tavern to the White River Trailhead in less than 40 minutes.

76. A group from The Mountaineers, an outdoor club based in Seattle, made the first Wonderland Trail trip in August 1915.

77. Weather can change quickly around Mount Rainier. Hikers are advised to be prepared.

78. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is the waterfalls on the south side of the mountain.

79. Hikers can arrange to cache food and supplies along the route.

80. It is poor form to leave anything (from trash to initials etched into a shelter wall).

81. Dogs and bikes are not permitted on the Wonderland.

82. A series of geocaches called Earthcaches are placed along the Wonderland Trail. Find more info at

83. There are 20 designated areas for camping along the trail.

84. Exposed, back-to-back pit toilets at Cataract Valley Camp allows you to get way too comfortable with your hiking partner.

85. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is the seclusion found at Indian Bar.

86. Unverified fact: The original selfie stick was a camera mounted to a trekking pole during a 2012 Wonderland Trail expedition.

87. Hitching a ride from White River Campground up to Sunrise is cheating.

88. Popular camps: Mystic, Golden Lakes, Klapatche Park, Indian Bar and Summerland.

89. Shelters are available for groups at Indian Bar, Summerland and Mowich River.

90. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is eating breakfast at sunrise at Panhandle Gap.

91. Panhandle Gap, 6,800 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the trail.

92. Panhandle Gap is higher than the highest point in 35 states.

93. Rainier rangers say there has never been a bear or cougar attack on the Wonderland Trail.

94. Bears have been known to go after unattended packs.

95. The animals most likely to come after you while you sleep: squirrels and mice.

96. They want your trail mix, toothpaste and anything else with an odor. Hanging these items from the bear poles located in camp will decrease your chances of finding holes in your gorp sack.

97. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is the wildflowers at Summerland.

98. Rangers say some hikers stop at a ranger station when they finish to create a souvenir by getting a date stamp on their permit or map.

99. Don’t forget the bug spray.

100. The best part of the Wonderland Trail is ….

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