Northern Loop (Mount Rainier)


Backpack - Northern Loop (Mount Rainier)

Strenuous but spectacular, rugged loop 5-day backpack through less visited northern wilderness of Mt Rainier NP.

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  • Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 37.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 9,000 ft
  • 9 AM at Sunrise Visitor Center, Mount Rainier NP

This trip with considerable elevation gain requires endurance and stamina with the second day being the most strenuous. Be prepared for all types of weather. Water can be replenished along the way. Food needs to be hung or secured with Ursack.

Day 1: Sunrise (6400’) – Fire Creek Camp (4900’) Total 5.5 miles, +400’ –1900’  Begin hike at Sunrise Visitor Center parking lot with grand views of Mt Rainier. After 1 mile pass Frozen Lake (6750’). (At this point consider an optional side trip to Mt Fremont Lookout which would add a RT of 2.6 mi, +/- 500’.) Continuing on main trail for ½ mile take Lodi Creek trail (right) and descend into Berkeley Park’s tumbling water-fed gardens, followed by the expanse of Grand Park’s flowering meadows (5600’). Stay left at junction with Lake Eleanor trail (5600’), entering forest and soon take the 0.5 mile spur trail at 4900’, dropping another 300’ to peaceful, wooded Fire Creek Camp (4600’).

Day 2: Fire Creek Camp – Carbon River Camp (3200’) Total 13.4 miles, +3100’ – 3800’. One of the loneliest and loveliest stretches of trail in the entire Park, but also our longest mileage with the most elevation gain. On the main trail descend for 2.6 miles through old growth forest to the West Fork of the White River (3200’). After crossing numerous channels, start a gentle ascent through primeval forest. Soon pass Lake James and its camp on a bluff above the shallow, forest-ringed lake (4500’). Continue to ascend along Van Horn Creek with jaw-dropping scenery of open ridges and sparkling tarns to Windy Gap (5800’). You pass a side trail leading along Independence Ridge to an intriguing natural arch, but time restriction will not allow us much exploring. In 1.4 miles reach the spur trail leading to Yellowstone Cliffs Camp (5200’), nestled along a cascading creek in alpine meadows. Possibly a good spot for lunch. Then continue a while longer beneath the stark wall of the Yellowstone Cliffs, before dropping 2500’ in just 2 miles through many switchbacks under ancient giants, descending to the Carbon River (2700’). Passing junction with trail leading across the Carbon River, stay left crossing cascading creeks through magnificent old grown forest for 1.1 miles, ascending to junction with the Wonderland Trail (3300’). We turn right, crossing the Carbon River on suspension bridge and enter Carbon River Camp (3200’).

Day 3: Carbon River Camp – Mystic Camp (5550’) Total 5.0 miles, +2520’ -150’.   Again crossing the Carbon River via the suspension bridge turn right, joining the Wonderland Trail and ascending for 1 mile to the snout of the Carbon River. After crossing cascading Dick Creek, reach Dick Creek Camp (4300’) and continue on a long ascent past crashing waters as you parallel the Carbon Glacier. Now in Moraine Park along the glacier, enjoy views of Mt Rainier hovering above, while marmots frolic in the blossoming meadow. The Moraine Park ends at a 6060’gap with splendid views all around. From there you descend to Mystic Lake (5700’). Enjoy soaking in the sparkling waters, set between peaks of Mineral Mountain and Old Desolate, before setting up camp just 0.2 miles further down at Mystic Camp (5550’) in the thick forest.

Day 4: Mystic Camp – Sunrise (6400’) Total 9.5 miles, +2500’ -1800’.  Cross the headwater of the West Fork White River and descend through hemlock forest along the creek to a log crossing of the milky, splashing Winthrop Creek and pass Garda Falls. Then ascend the lateral moraine beneath massive Winthrop Glacier, before reaching Granite Creek Camp (5800’). Now 5 miles from Sunrise, your climb continues to a pass at 6700’ below 7078’ Skyscraper Mountain. (If you have energy left, a short scramble up Skyscraper Mountain with more grand views is optional). Continue through alpine tundra past junction with trail leading to Sunrise camp to Sunrise parking lot.

Although open to all club members over age 18, this trip is also part of the B3 Backpacking Building Blocks series and eligible for B3 course credit. 

Please review trip reports:


Northern Loop (Mount Rainier)

  • Green Trails Mount Rainier Wonderland No. 269SX

    Trails Illustrated Mount Rainier National Park

    Green Trails Mt Rainier East No. 270

    Green Trails Mt Rainier West No. 269
  • See full route/place details.
Required Equipment

Required Equipment

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

  • Tent with footprint/ground tarp
  • Stove and fuel
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water filter
  • Bear canister or extra stuff sack and cord designated for hanging food
  • Cooking pot/pan with plate and utensils
  • Toilet paper and shovel or blue bag to deal with waste
Trip Reports