Summerland, Mt. Rainier National Park Trip Report
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October 16, 2002
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Directions: Drive from the White River Entrance 3 miles to a parking area just beyond the Fryingpan Creek bridge, elevation 3800 feet.
Trail notes: One of my favorite hikes in the park, on a wide path to an alpine meadow under the pinnacle of Little Tahoma. For those who do not wish to do the whole trip, the lower portion of the trail makes a fine forest walk. Many deep-woods flowers that by early summer have come and gone on the south side of the park are just starting to bloom in this valley as late as the middle of August; especially notable is the queens cup beadlily.
The trail starts across the highway and in 0.1 mile joins the Wonderland Trail. For 2 miles the way ascends gently in forest to an overlook of thundering Fryingpan Creek. At about 3 miles pass through debris of a large avalanche and cross the creek. The final 1 mile is steep, ending in a series of short switchbacks; here, during July and August, look for attractive displays of avalanche lilies.
The stone shelter cabin and wilderness campsites are in the grove to the left. Little Tahoma dominates the meadows, rising above the Fryingpan Glacier to the southwest. West are the Emmons Glacier and Mount Rainier. North is Goat Island Mountain. East are the Sarvent Glaciers. South is Panhandle Gap. If transportation can be arranged, and one of the very limited backcountry camping permits obtained, a classic 2- to 3-day trip is over Panhandle Gap to Indian Bar and on down to Box Canyon on the Stevens Canyon Road, a total one-way distance of 17 miles.
From Summerland climb 840 feet in less than 2 miles to 6750-foot Panhandle Gap. A good share of this distance is through rough moraine. From the Gap the trail traverses wintry and barren slopes above Ohanapecosh Park 1.5 miles before descending 2 miles to Indian Bar. This is the highest and most desolate section of the Wonderland Trail. Much of the way lies over large snowfields; though the route is marked by a few rock cairns, it is very easy to lose in a fog, not to mention a storm. Inexperienced hikers should not attempt to travel this area early in the season or in bad weather. After spells of good weather, though, generally the track is clearly booted into the snow and probably can be followed even in a dense fog. From Indian Bar proceed on out the Cowlitz Divide to Box Canyon. Panhandle Gap demands a special note. Atop the Gap, look up and left to the Cowlitz Chimneys, volcanic plugs from old eruptions; except on very hot days, there is a fair chance of seeing mountain goats.
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Reviewed By: Milt on Friday, October 21, 2011 @ 09:38:57 AM
Took this trail in the middle of October. Weather reports made it seem that this might be the last day to hike around the higher elevations without piles of snow. I was going to do something at Sunrise, but they closed the road at White River. Time to use plan B - Summerland. I stopped the car at the first trail sign on the way back to see if it was the trail to Summerland (it was). I parked the car and started hiking. About a mile in, I came to the Summerland trail that everybody uses. It seems that I started at a Wonderland trail access point a mile up the road from the trailhead parking lot. Looks like I'll be hiking an extra 2 miles today for not reading the map right!
The trail is one of the best in the park. Wide, smooth and well taken care of. There was talk of running into bears, but I only ran into piles of bear poop. Summerland had about 4 inches of old snow. Only a handful of hikers on a Monday. I looked up and spotted the snowy footprints up to Panhandle Gap and decided to go for it. The snow was over a foot deep, but hard and walkable. Once I was out of Summerland, I had the whole place to myself. Temps were in the low 50's and little wind. The trail did have a tricky section of snow at 40 degrees just before the Gap, but past hiker's footprints had iced over to solid steps. Once I crested the Gap, Mt. Adams came into view. There were hundreds of mountain goat tracks everywhere and even my cheap pay-as-you-go cellphone worked at the top. I was able to send pictures to all my friends at work. While they sit in their cubicle, I'm on top of the world. I just thought I'd let them know that.
I'll be back next year during the summer, but this perfect weather fall hike in the snow really did give me a sense of adventure.
Different View of Rainier
Reviewed By: Anonymous on Monday, September 19, 2011 @ 05:01:27 PM
Did this hike a couple of weeks ago. Very nice meadows and a very different view of Rainier was nice than what I am use to at Paridise or Sunrise. Tryied to go all the way up to Pan Handle Gap but there was so much snow. Like to try it again when there is a year without so much snow. A bear did cross the trail a little bit in froung of me so do watch out for bears. I was kind of surprised since the trail was pretty crowded.
Reviewed By: FabulousFreddyFarkwater on Monday, August 15, 2011 @ 01:21:00 PM
I enjoyed this hike when I did it mid September time a few years back. I did it during week and there was no other hikers on the trail that day. I did run into one up by Panhandle. Talk about solice. I went up to Panhandle Gap and then to Little Tahoma. Ranger gave me a nasty, ok not so nasty note to not hike alone. He said because I was crossing a glacier - Fryingpan on my way to Tahoma the route I took. The mountain was out in all her glory and Tahoma was fantasic. I only got about a 1/4 way up Tahoma as it was very rocky route. Difficulty is due to the climb to Tahoma other wise it's more average 'cause the trail was/is in good shape. Another beautiful hike is Spray Park. Check it out.
Please see "don't miss this one" for more as I don't want to dup her/his remarks.
Reviewed By: Anonymous on Thursday, August 3, 2006 @ 06:05:55 PM
Reference my Summerland review dated 28 June 2006. Since the Mariners were off today, I opted to heed the musical advice of Van Halen ("...why put it off another day..."), and returned to Summerland with two companions. Simply stated, it was a near perfect day. Blue sky, temperature about 70 degrees, few folks on the trail (at least going up), zero snow on the trail all the way to and at Summerland, great comradeship. The essential statistical data: Start time at the trailhead parking area was 1000 (elevation 3,780 feet); roundtrip distance was 8.4 miles and required 4 1/2 hours for three middle aged baby boomers (one male/two females) with a combined age of 154 years. The good news since 28 June is the trail is snow free all the way to Summerland (5,998 feet +/-) and in great shape. Multiple water sources enroute. For those who enjoy wildflowers, the last mile to Summerland after the final crossing of Frying Pan creek will fulfill your fantasy--lots of wildflowers since the snow melted--purple, red, yellow, white, and blue. If I had studied botany in school, I might even know what they were called, but they were still gorgeous. Even the final series of switchbacks (only about a 1/4 mile) to the top had wildflowers at almost every turn. Summerland remains a great lunch spot and was today. We consumed our sandwiches and trail mix at Campsite #4 and were entertained by a troupe of chipmunks who appeared to re-enact acrobatic stunts last seen at Teatro Zinzanni (it was less expensive today). We scanned the adjacent mountains for goats or elk (none sighted) and watched backcountry hikers trudge upwards towards the snowfields covering the approach to Panhandle Gap as they continued south on the Wonderland Trail. Yes, Mount Rainier looked great as always and the famous solar toliet is still active at Summerland (...you almost feel obligated to use the thing...). No bears sighted but the flying bugs with the voracious appetites were active at the lower elevations. For my fellow hikers, bring sunscreen, bug juice, camera, and binoculars in addition to your normal hiking gear. We did see one backcountry Ranger heading to Summerland on our return so campers need to ensure they have the appropriate permits. The downhill return (virtually all downhill) saw many dayhikers and backcountry hikers heading to Summerland. On our return at 1430, the parking area was filled with cars--obviously a popular hike destination even for a Thursday. Moderately difficult (...okay...let's be honest...it's essentially all uphill to Summerland...), this is still a dayhike not to be missed this season. Happy Trails!
Summerland (28 June 2006)
Reviewed By: Glenn on Wednesday, June 28, 2006 @ 05:24:24 PM
Although I completed this hike on 28 June 2006, I recommend folks consider waiting a few weeks until more of the snow melts off the upper trail. The final mile is tricky. Summerland remains my favorite hike at MRNP, but still alot of snow the final mile to the top (5,980 feet). The great views will still be there in August (and easier to access). According to my GPS, the elevation at the trailhead was 3,780 feet (+/-). The roundtrip distance is 8.5 miles with and elevation climb of about 2,200 feet over 4.0 miles. The initial three miles is a gradual climb with an occasional switchback...just enough of a climb that make's you glad you brought extra water. Lots of "Kodak Moments" as you make your way up the trail which is in good shape. Snow (1-2 feet) sporadically covers the trail but does not impede progress. Once you cross the final footbridge across Frying Pan Creek, and start the final mile, the trail gets more challenging. Snow (1-3 feet) on the trail is virtually constant, especially above 5,300 feet. Footprints to follow are few and far between this early in the season. Above 5,500 feet, the trail is covered by crusted snow and an ice axe/crampons and good navigational skills are essential to hike/climb the final 1/2 mile to the top. No bears sighted and all footbridges are intact. Again, I'd wait a few weeks to tackle Summerland in 2006.
Summerland to Panhandle
Reviewed By: John on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 @ 07:24:48 AM
Did this hike 9/17/05. Rainier was in and out of the clouds, very dramatic. A nice change of terrain and a great way to get above the treeline pretty fast. Saw a just few marmots from a distance but there were a number of people on the trail being Saturday. Would love to go farther than Panhandle next time. A wonderful day hike.
Don't miss this one
Reviewed By: Madsen on Wednesday, August 3, 2005 @ 02:58:51 PM
Review: There was something new and exciting around every corner on this hike. Beautiful rivers, grandious views of mountains and glaciers, green rolling hills and meadows filled with a myriad of wild flowers (this is probably only in late Summer, hence the name Summerland). The marmots and birds were quite enjoyable but when my girlfriend walked up to bear about 10 feet away I got a little uncomfortable. Luckily he seemed really tame and used to people and he just wandered off. Either that or I scared him off when I jumped in front of her. I prefer to think the latter. There is a picture of him on my website:
He is running from the bridge (i forget the name but its the only bridge) where we saw him. We saw another near the trailhead. Both sightings were in the cool time at the end of the day.
This is a very easy hike with a wide, level trail, except it gets a little trickier (actually quite a bit trickier) once you get beyond the camp at Summerland. But Summerland alone is worth the trip. Think of a mixture of the Sound of Music and the Shire in the Lord of the Rings. The trail up to the gap is absolutely spectactular so, if you can, keep going. Probably too long for most small kids but I know a six year old who would do just fine if her dad was with her.
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