(Pictured above: basin above Summerland)
10 essentials REQUIRED
$10.00 for gas
Mt. Rainier Pass required
9 miles round trip to Summerland (2100' elevation gain)
12 miles round trip to Panhandle Gap (3000' elevation gain)
NOTE: I am changing this hike from Burroughs Mountain to Summerland/Panhandle Gap. Summerland is a slightly more challenging hike than Burroughs, but only by a little bit if you're just going to the meadows. Add another mile to get into the basin above Summerland (very scenic), and a final mile to get to Panhandle Gap.
From WTA.org (modified): Many consider this the single most spectacular day hike in the entire park. It's also one of the tougher ones if you go all the way to the Gap, but the workout is well worth the effort. This section of the Wonderland Trail is also the highest of that entire 94-mile loop route. The section of trail leading up the Fryingpan Creek basin isn't all that spectacular, but once you get high, the beauty stacks up like cordwood until the sheer splendor of the route nearly overwhelms you. The wildflower meadows of Summerland are staggeringly beautiful. The rock and ice basin below Fryingpan Glacier is wonderful. Then you crest the last rocky ridge at Panhandle Gap and see the vast alpine world of Ohanapecosh Park stretched out to the south, with the spires of the Cowlitz Chimneys punctuating the eastern skyline and massive Mount Rainier towering over it all to the west. Chances are also good you'll see one of the large local herds of mountain goats either browsing or napping in one of the meadows or snowfields.
The trail climbs gradually for the first couple of miles, ascending the Fryingpan valley. Late in the season (late August and early September), you can find a few huckleberries in the sun-dappled forest along the first couple of miles of trail. At 2 miles out, the trail offers a view of the constricted waters of the creek as it pounds down a rocky chasm. The thundering waters can be near-deafening early in the year when snowmelt fills the river to near flood stage.
At 2.5 miles, the trail starts to traverse through a series of avalanche slopes. These avalanche chutes are largely full of slide alder, but the areas along their edges sport salmonberries and, at times, broad huckleberry brambles. At 3 miles, you find the largest avalanche chute. Here, the trail turns and crosses the creek before climbing steeply up the opposite valley wall. The creek crossing can be impossible early in the year--the long footlog typically has to be replaced each spring, and until crews get that done, there is no safe way across the churning water.
Once over the creek, the trail climbs steeply for 1 mile, then enters 0.25 mile of tight switchbacks before erupting out into the sprawling meadows of Summerland (5900 feet). A wonderful open backcountry camp is nestled on a small spine along the flank of Summerland meadows, and huge boulders provide plenty of warm places to lie out and rest in the sunshine. Hikers who have had their fill of scenic beauty (not to mention thigh-burning climbing) can turn back here for a wonderful 8.5-mile round trip.
The better option, though, is to push on. The next 2 miles ascend gradually. You climb the eastern wall of the Summerland basin and, at about 5 miles, enter a world of rock and ice (well, rock and compact snow). This basin below the Fryingpan Glacier is above the vegetation zone, so little grows here. Still, you'll see birds darting through the basin and possibly find mountain goats taking their leisure on the cool year-round snowfields.
At 6 miles, you top out of the last climb to find yourself on the narrow ridge of Panhandle Gap. Behind you is Summerland and Mount Rainier. Before you is the vast Ohanapecosh valley and the broad meadows that circle the head of that valley--meadows that form Ohanapecosh Park.
From Enumclaw, drive east 43 miles on State Route 410 to the Mount Rainier National Park White River Entrance. Veer right onto the Sunrise Road and follow it 4 miles west to the Fryingpan Creek trail head.
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