Home > Trips > Mount Rainier National Park: Fryingpan Creek to Box Canyon via the Wonderland Trail
Mount Rainier National Park: Fryingpan Creek to Box Canyon via the Wonderland Trail
Hit the highlights—and highpoint—of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in a weekend. This two-day, 15.4-mile shuttle hike climbs to Panhandle Gap (look for mountain goats), tracks past glacier fields and raging waterfalls, then traverses a ridge overlooking Fryingpan Glacier on Rainer’s eastern flank.
Only have a weekend to hike the Wonderland Trail? No problem. Sample the best stretch on this 15.4-mile point-to-point. You’ll get in-your-face views of Mt. Rainier, pass raging waterfalls and wildflower sightings galore—and crest the trail’s highpoint at Panhandle Gap. Drop a car at Box Canyon, then drive to the trailhead at Fryingpan Creek. Hike through old-growth forest on a well-maintained path, and begin a gentle uphill to your first photo op of Fryingpan Creek rushing through a slot and crashing over boulders.
At mile 3.3, cross the footbridge over Fryingpan Creek and emerge from the forest. Climb through narrow meadows bordered by the creek and a granite mound before tackling steep switchbacks that zigzag to Summerland, a rolling meadow ringed by alpine firs and picturesque views. A campsite is located just beyond the outhouse (hang stuff sacks on bear poles). Take time to visit the Summerland Shelter, a rustic, yet majestic, lean-to made of rock and timber.
From Summerland, hike alongside Meany Crest to a flat, snowy expanse located below Panhandle Gap. Past this point, the trail climbs through volcanic rock and tops out on Panhandle Gap, the highpoint of the Wonderland Trail at 6,750 feet. The top of the Gap showcases impressive views to the south across the Tatoosh Range to distant Mt. Adams and, on clear days, Mt. Hood. Keep your eyes peeled for the substantial herd of mountain goats that wander this area below the Gap.
South of Panhandle Gap, the route passes views of the Ohanapecosh Valley, and the multiple long cascading flows of waterfalls that make up the headwaters of the Ohanapecosh River. As you descend the ridgeline above Ohanapecosh Park, listen for the distant whistling of marmots echoing and reverberating off the walls. You may spot more mountain goats grazing in the lush valley or hanging out near the waterfalls and rock ramparts of the park.
The trail continues its descent through huckleberry fields and eventually re-enters stands of alpine firs that line the meadows around Indian Bar at 5,087 feet. Lush meadows crowd the riverbank, and the many braids of the Ohanapecosh River run down the volcanic rock bed, providing a melodic soundtrack.
Further down the trail, the waters rush through a small slot canyon, between pillars of solid rock, to form the Wauhaukaupauken Falls. The footbridge crosses the torrent here, providing safe passage to the other side and to a historic shelter. At dusk, it’s not uncommon to see deer and elk roaming in the meadows.
From Indian Bar, it’s a relatively steep uphill to the top of the rolling Cowlitz Divide, where incredible panoramas extend in every direction. (Be on the lookout for black bears and roaming elk herds.) The trail crests a 5,030-foot summit at mile 9.7 before curving south. At mile 12.9, turn right (west) and descend switchbacks to Nickel Creek and Box Canyon. At the parking lot, drop your packs off at the shuttle car and visit Box Canyon, a deep slot in solid granite where the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River rushes through.
TO TRAILHEAD: From Seattle, drive south on I-5; merge onto I-405 N. In 2.2 miles, merge onto WA 167 S. In 20.1 miles, exit onto WA 512 W. In 3.5 miles, take the Eatonville exit; turn left onto WA 161 S. Go 26 miles; bear left onto WA 7 S/Mountain Hwy. E. Go 10.1 miles to Elbe; continue straight on SR 706/Paradise-Longmire Rd. In 29 miles, turn right on Stevens Canyon Rd. Go 8.6 miles, then park shuttle car in lot on the right. Continue 10.4 miles; turn left at WA 123 N (seasonal closures). In 10.9 miles, turn left on WA 410 W. In 3.5 miles, turn left at Sunrise Park Rd. Go 4.3 miles to parking pull-out on right.
MAPS USGS quads: White River Park, Chinook Pass, Mt. Rainer East ($8, store.usgs.gov); Trails Illustrated Mount Rainier National Park ($12, natgeomaps.com); or create a custom topo map of this route at backpacker.com.
GUIDEBOOK Discovering the Wonders of Wonderland Trail: Encircling Mount Rainier, by Bette Filley ($15, rei.com)
Multiday Gear List Wear Waterproof/breathable
jacket and pants
Fleece and down jackets
Synthetic T-shirt (2)
Hat and gloves
Wool/synthetic socks (3)
Pack 32 oz. water bottle (2)
Headlamp and batteries
Down bag (15° to 40°F) and sleeping pad
Compass, map, GPS unit
Gas stove and fuel bottles
Lighter and matches
Cookset, bowl, insulated mug, eating utensils
Toilet paper and trowel
611 S. Meridian Ave.
203 Center St. E
RESTAURANT SCALE BURGERS
54109 Mountain Hwy. E
30027 SR 706 E
BARNEY’S CORNER MINI MART
40512 Meridian Ave. E
Wonderland Trail, WA: Fryingpan Creek to Box Canyon
Distance: 15.37 mi
Total Time: none
Speed: 0.0 mph
Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none
Speed: 0.0 mph
Pace: 0:00 / mi
Points of Interest
Location: 46.888369, -121.610670
This section hike begins from Sunrise Park Road. Hike southwest along Fryingpan Creek and continue straight at the 3-way junction at mile 0.1.
Location: 46.870301, -121.625029
Stop at this overlook, which showcases views of a waterfall on Fryingpan Creek.
Location: 46.869742, -121.653950
Cross footbridge over Fryingpan Creek.
Location: 46.865964, -121.659980
At the top of the switchbacks, the forest opens into Summerland, a rolling meadow ringed by alpine firs and picturesque views.
Location: 46.865676, -121.659183
Optional: Turn left to reach Summerland Camp. Summerland Shelter, intended as a group site, is straight ahead. The shelter is a rustic, yet majestic (nice wood floors, too), lean-to made of rock and timber.
Location: 46.866089, -121.658092
Summerland Camp: Located just beyond the outhouse. Hang food on bear poles.
Location: 46.855434, -121.645349
Panhandle Gap: The highpoint of the Wonderland Trail at 6,750 feet. The top of the Gap showcases impressive views to the south across the Tatoosh Range to distant Mt. Adams and, on clear days, Mt. Hood. Keep your eyes peeled for the substantial herd of mountain goats that wander this area below the Gap.
Location: 46.826907, -121.639339
Indian Bar: Lush meadows crowd the riverbank, and the many braids of the Ohanapecosh River run down the volcanic rock bed, providing a melodic soundtrack.
Location: 46.826383, -121.639104
Wauhaukaupauken Falls: Water rushes through a small slot canyon, between pillars of solid rock, to form these impressive falls. Cross the footbridge above the torrent. At dusk, it’s not uncommon to see deer and elk roaming in the meadows.
Location: 46.826104, -121.639176
Look up the valley to the north: you'll see meadows and alpine firs on one side and the towering granite walls that hold back the Ohanapecosh Glacier on the other. Optional: Turn right to reach Indian Bar Shelter. This historic shelter has a fireplace (filled with rocks) and 10 bunk beds. Bonus: The toilet above the shelter has arguably the most impressive view you’ll ever get when answering the call of nature (no newspaper required!).
Location: 46.815278, -121.622605
This 5,030-foot summit on Cowlitz Divide features views in all directions. Mt. Rainier dominates the skyline to the west; to the east the Cowlitz chimneys are in plain view; the peaks of the Tatoosh Range rise to the southwest; and the distant profiles of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are visible on cloudless days.
Location: 46.776699, -121.606272
Turn right for a descent to Nickel Creek.
Location: 46.765847, -121.634749
The route ends at Box Canyon. Pick up your shuttle car and return to Waypoint 1.
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