7 routes · Trail Running
Mount Rainier National Park
One of the most stunning trail runs in the state of Washington!
Trail Running Moderate
- 14 km
- 717 m
- 717 m
- 2-3 hrs
- Low Point
- 1.2 km
- High Point
- 1.8 km
"If you can only do one summer full-day hike in Washington, the hike to Summerland in Mount Rainier National Park is your best bet,” writes SwitchbackTravel.com. “Summerland,” the destination of your trail run, is a beautiful alpine meadow filled with stunning wildflowers. Named by famous climber and explorer E. S. Ingraham, Summerland serves as a basecamp for climbers ascending Mount Rainier via its southern slopes. A backcountry camping area of the same name has been established near the meadow to serve both climbers and backpackers.
You’ll begin your run to Summerland from a trailhead along Sunrise Park Road. After a short section of flat trail, the route joins with the Wonderland Trail—a long-distance trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier. Essentially, the rest of your ascent up the valley to Summerland meadow is a segment of the Wonderland Trail. So in addition to sharing the trail with other trail runners, day hikers, and alpinists attempting the summit of Mount Rainier, you’re also likely to encounter backpackers and fastpackers seeking to complete the entire circumnavigation of the mountain.
The trail slowly ascends a narrow mountain valley. In addition to the steep mountainsides blocking the sun during certain times of the day, the forest here is deep and dark. “Not much sun reaches the forest floor along the first part of your trail, but a few shade-tolerant wildflowers do manage to thrive here, writes Alan Gibbs on WTA.org.
Soon, the trail steepens, climbing a series of rocky switchbacks. As you gain more and more elevation, the trees get smaller, and the forest begins to open up. "Soon you are out on more open slopes, with small alpine firs and a lot of white rhododendron shrubs. . .that often display their small white blooms in June,” writes Gibbs.
As you approach Panhandle Gap and Summerland, the views begin to come in earnest! Enjoy the vistas of the alpine meadows, rushing glacial melt in the mountain streams, and the towering glaciated peaks above you. Before you know it, you’ll reach Summerland meadow.
Early in the year, the meadow is filled with colorful wildflowers! If your goal is to see wildflowers, try to time your hike to Summerland early in the season, soon after the snow melts. "When the snow first melts, avalanche lilies appear here, to be followed later by lupine, Indian paintbrush, white pedicularis, and many others,” writes Gibbs. Over the course of the summer, the intensity of the flowers will fade dramatically.
From the meadow, you’ll also enjoy views of Little Tahoma and the summit dome of Mount Rainier itself. Be sure to spend some time sitting and soaking in the view here. This is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
If you yearn for more, consider running a longer section of the Wonderland Trail—or even fastpacking entire thing!
Sources: https://www.switchbacktravel.com/great-day-hikes-near-seattle https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/summerland.htm https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/summerland-panhandle-gap