Summerland & Panhandle Gap


Backpack - Summerland & Indian Bar

A classic Rainier trip considered by many to be one of the more beautiful in the park

  • Moderate
  • Moderate
  • Mileage: 19.7 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 4,700 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 6,775 ft
  • Pace: Ascending: 1.5 - 1.75mph. Descending: 2.0 - 2.25 mph.

We will rendezvous briefly at the US Forest Service Ranger Station, 450 Roosevelt Ave E, Enumclaw at 8 a.m. before heading off to the White River Ranger Station at 9:00 am, where we will pick up our permit. We will stage some cars and unload gear at the nearby White River campground climber/hiker parking lot next to the restrooms. Three will drive cars 30 minutes to the overflow parking area just outside of the Stevens Canyon Fee area, near the Silver Falls Trailhead. We will leave two vehicles there and drive one car back to White River Campground to meet the rest of our party and gather our backpacking gear. We should be on our trail before 11 a.m.

All travel is on paved roads easily reached by regular-clearance vehicles.

The section of the Wonderland Trail that includes Summerland and Indian Bar is widely considered one of the prettier trails in Rainier NP.  Not only are Summerland and Indian Bar both especially beautiful locations, but the trail between them is spectacular as well, passing up and over Panhandle Gap through dramatic alpine terrain with distant views in all directions.

Permits for this section of trail are hard to get, and after several years of failed attempts the leader was finally able to get permits for the group sites at both Summerland and Indian Bar camps. The route is usually done in two nights, but this year the usual exit point at Box Canyon is closed so we will stay a third night at Olallie Creek before exiting at the Olallie Creek trailhead. The addition of a third night avoids a strenuous final day, but more importantly will allow us to extend our leisurely morning in beautiful Indian Bar camp. The hike on our final day will be short, which should get us back to our cars early for the drive home.

The objective of this trip will be to enjoy the experience of being in this special area.  Most daily mileages and elevation gains are modest. In the Summerland and Indian Bar camps we will linger in the morning and hit the trail relatively late, probably around 10:00 am.  If the weather is good we will take an extended lunch break at Panhandle Gap. We will likely pause frequently to take in the sites and perhaps to watch the herd of mountain goats that frequents the area.

Daily Itinerary

Mileage and elevation gain/loss are per Caltopo.

  • Day 1 (6.6 miles, 2200' gain, 550' loss): Stage cars - see meeting place and time above for more details on car shuttle and parking. Hike from White River Trailhead (4280') to Summerland Camp (5960'). 
  • Day 2 (4.25 miles, 1200' gain, 2000' loss): Hike from Summerland Camp (5960') up to Panhandle Gap (6775') then down to Indian Bar Camp (5100').
  • Day 3 (5.5 miles, 1200' gain, 2400' loss): Hike from Indian Bar Camp (5100') to Olallie Creek Camp (3950').
  • Day 4 (2.5 miles, 10' gain, 1600' loss):  Hike from Olallie Camp Camp (3950') to Silver Falls Trailhead (2100'). Drive 30 minutes to White River Ranger Station to retrieve cars.

Special Considerations

  • There is  permanent snow at Panhandle Gap. To ensure we can cross safely, micro-spikes and trekking poles are required. We will reassess at the trailhead. The exact path over Panhandle Gap varies from year to year based on snow conditions, and may contain some steep sections. We will not do anything unsafe, but please be comfortable with short sections of trail that may require some mental focus.
  • Much of the route is high and unprotected, and this trip is slightly later in the season than ideal.  We will need to be prepared for the possibility of harsh alpine weather, including conditions that are cooler, windier, or wetter than expected.
  • This area is home to lots of active wildlife, including black bears, marmots, and smaller creatures who can chew into packs and tents if they smell food.  All our camps will have bear poles so we will not need to carry bear canisters, but we will still need to be fastidious about food storage.
  • The route includes some stream crossings over narrow log bridges of the kind that are typical on PNW hikes.
  • Much of the route is at elevations of 5000' to 6000', which is high enough to start affecting physical performance for some people.
  • Both our starting and ending trailheads are inside Rainier NP.  All vehicles entering the park will need to have an annual pass or pay a one-time entry fee of $30.


The only firm prerequisites are that you have already done at least one multi-night trip and that you have one of the badges described in "Leaders Permission" below. However, before registering please be realistic and use good judgment when self-assessing whether your recent experience and current level of conditioning are adequate for this trip, and whether you are comfortable with the challenges described under "Special Considerations" above.  If your online Mountaineers Activity History does not show that you are ready for this trip then the leader may contact you to ask for additional information about your background.

The holder of this badge is enrolled in our Backpacking CourseThe recipient of this badge has acquired basic backpacking skills, either through lectures/seminars or equivalent experience.

Leaders Permission

This trip is open only to people who have the Basic Backpacking Skills badge or Backpacking Course Student badge. Please do not actually ask the leader for permission. If you have either of those badges then you automatically have permission. If you do not have either of those badges then you do not.

If you are an experienced backpacker who does not yet have the Basic Backpacking Skills badge you can probably get it via the equivalency process described here.


Summerland & Panhandle Gap

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

Your usual kit for a 4 day backpacking trip plus:

  •  Micro-spikes and trekking poles are required.
  • Trekking clothes
  • Adequate spare clothing in case we encounter unexpectedly adverse conditions.
  • Bear cannisters are not required.  All camps have bear poles.
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