Summerland / Panhandle Gap

  • August 24, 2014 · 8:00 AM
  • This location is shown only to members

(Pictured above:  basin above Summerland)

10 essentials REQUIRED

$10.00 for gas

Mt. Rainier Pass required

Statistics:  

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.

Driving Directions:

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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Disclaimer: Trailside is not a professional guide service. Our leaders function, as facilitators only, to enhance your outdoor experience. Reports of trail and weather conditions are based on best available information, are subject to change, and are no guarantee of fitness for any particular purpose. You may join us on this hike at your own risk. Keep in mind that hiking involves risks and weather changes quickly in the mountains. You are responsible for your own safety and the more prepared you are, the better the chance you will remain safe.

Signing up for any Trailside organized event indicates that you have read, understand and agree to the terms of this disclaimer and hold harmless all Trailside Organizers and Leaders in the event of injury or loss.


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  • Barry

    Was a great hike! Beautiful weather even with the rain and hail at the end! I enjoyed the weather :) Great group of people to hike with. Hope to see you all again soon. Enjoy the photos... I have more but I think those were the best shots. I have video of the water falls if anyone is interested. I can email them to you as they are too large to turn into .GIF

    3 · August 26

    • Sandy

      Great photos Barry! Thanks for sharing. Hoping to get mine posted tomorrow :)

      2 · August 26

  • Kimberly

    Fantastic hike, great people, jaw dropping scenery. Thanks one and all for a wonderful day!

    4 · August 25

  • Paul

    A great hike with both old and new friends. I had a blast, especially the race to the end in the rain and hail. Thanks Lee!

    4 · August 25

  • Christine

    Great hike and what a view from the top! I can't wait to see everyone's pictures! So fun meeting and hiking with you all!

    4 · August 25

  • Brian E. M.

    Terrific hike and well-organized from start to finish. First time hiking at Mount Rainier was a blast!

    August 25

  • Brian E. M.

    Terrific hike and well-organized from start to finish. First time hiking at Mount Rainier was a blast!

    2 · August 25

  • Louise

    Just great, even thru the downpour. !!!!

    2 · August 25

  • Louise

    Just great, even thru the downpour. !!!!

    1 · August 25

  • Roman

    I have to cancel. Have a great hike everyone!

    August 24

  • Sandy

    Deborah and I are meeting at the Martin Way Park n Ride in Lacey at 7 am. Have room for 2 more. We will be meeting you at the trailhead! :)

    August 21

    • Sandy

      Ok Lena...thx!

      August 23

    • Sandy

      Barry...you're welcome to join but we are leaving at 6:30. See you there.

      August 23

  • Dennis H

    Am driving from seattle, anyone from the area who would like to carpool? I can drive 2 others in my small car but dont have a park/parking pass. Willing to ride with someone and split fuel cost as well. Thanks.

    August 21

    • Dennis H

      Hi Brian, are we meeting the group at the trailhead or at safeway? I should be at the P&R by 645am so we can leave on time. here is my ph# in case you need to get a hold of me: [masked] txt or call. see you early tomorrow!

      August 23

    • Brian E. M.

      We're meeting up with the group at Safeway in Enumclaw at 8:00 am. See you bright and early tomorrow!

      August 23

  • Barry

    Anybody want to carpool with me. Seems Sandy and Deborah's carpool group is full and I don't want to drive all the way by myself... I am coming from Olympia and my car can hold a max of 5. Four would probably be more comfortable seating arrangement however. Let me know if you're nearby Olympia/Lacey or I can pick you up if it's not too out of the way.

    August 22

    • Barry

      It's a dark gray Toyota Corolla. Where do you want me to pick you up? The lacey park & ride or some place else?

      August 23

    • Barry

      Hey George, not sure if you want to meet me at the lacey park & ride so I am going to go there first and see whats going on with the other group coming from Olympia. So hopefully see you there, my number is [masked] if you need to call/text me.

      August 23

  • Lee J.

    The forecast for the part of Rainier we will be going to tomorrow is mostly sunny with a chance of an occasional shower. Bring your rain-shells :)

    August 23

  • Kelly

    I'm meeting at Safeway. Is anyone coming from Tacoma and want to carpool?

    August 21

    • Louise

      I am coming from Tacoma and also plan on meeting at Safeway.

      August 23

    • Kelly

      Louise, Do you want to carpool to safeway?

      August 23

  • Andy

    I will meet the group at the trail head.

    August 23

  • Lee J.

    Bring sunscreen, folks, and lots of water. Probably some bug juice, too (although we're starting to get to that time where they go away). Oh, yeah ... bring a camera :)

    1 · August 22

  • Roman

    I'll be leaving from Sammamish and can pick up 3 people on the way there. We can meet around 7am at Issaquah TC. I have Rainier annual pass too. Let me know if you need a ride from this area.

    August 21

  • Richard

    Is anyone coming from Puyallup would like to carpool from there. If not I'll be at Safeway at 8am would like to catch ride but have National park pass.

    August 21

  • Lee J.

    Please indicate whether you will be meeting at the trailhead. Otherwise, I will assume you are meeting at the Safeway parking lot.

    August 21

    • Paul

      Hey Lee, because the actual parking lot is so tiny, people will have to park just off the road in both directions. So you would do best to gather folks right at the actual trailhead sign. Also, make sure to park completely off the road. They write tickets!

      August 21

    • Brian E. M.

      I'll be meeting at Safeway and would like to car pool with others from there to the trail head. :)

      August 21

  • Roman

    I still plan to go and do full hike to the Panhandle Gap.

    August 21

  • Paul

    I still plan to go, and do the 12 mile loop at this point. Thanks.

    August 21

  • Sandi B.

    I decided to hike further north since no one else is driving from the north end and I don't want to drive that far by myself. Someone else can have my spot.

    August 21

  • Lee J.

    Meeting at the trailhead? Let's shoot for 9 a.m.

    2 · August 21

  • Lee J.

    1) Please verify your RSVP. If you're not going to make it, let us know so people on the waiting list can get on the hike.

    2) If we continue to have a large group, we will break up into two smaller groups, one made up of faster to moderate hikers, and the other made up of moderate to slower hikers. I will try to set up landmarks along the way where we can regroup.

    3) There are essentially three places that can serve as your goal on this hike: 1) Summerland Meadows, 2) the basin above Summerland, and 3) Panhandle Gap. I would encourage all of you to at least try to reach the basin above Summerland. There is flowing water there, a beautiful emerald-green tarn, and rock and ice. If you wish to reach the gap, I suggest you bring poles or microspikes, as there is often a final, short, snowfield to cross. Not everyone has to go to the same place, but you will be expected to wait for people who went further to return before heading out.

    1 · August 21

  • Lee J.

    Hello, all. Right now we have 21 RSVPs. I'm currently keeping the last three spots open to accommodate a friend of one person who has RSVP'd, and two friends of mine who may be accompanying us on the hike (sorry, I couldn't get the +1 function to work on this hike for some reason). I suspect there will be movement on the RSVP list as we get closer to the hike, so those on the wait list shouldn't give up hope.

    August 18

  • Roman

    If I get on the list I could drive. My car fits 4 people (3 passengers) comfortably. I don't have Rainier Pass though.

    August 15

  • Deborah

    Does anyone want to carpool from Olympia?

    August 12

    • Deborah

      I might need to be a passenger, as my truck is not running well at the moment. If that's okay with you. . .

      1 · August 14

    • Lee J.

      Yes, people can meet at the trailhead. I'll calculate the time and get back to you, Sandy.

      1 · August 14

  • Deborah

    I don't know how I got signed up for this? I must have pushed buttons before drinking coffee. Sorry people I've done this one Have Fun

    August 14

  • Kathy G.

    I have America the beautiful pass. Prefer to be a passenger as I have a small car but can drive if needed and roads are good

    May 28

    • Sandy

      Hi Kathy... want to carpool with Deborah and myself. Martin way P&R 6:30 :)

      August 14

    • Sandy

      Oops. Sorry. Looks like you aren't going. My bad.

      August 14

  • Sandi B.

    Is anyone carpooling from the north end?

    August 14

  • Brian E. M.

    Is anyone interested in car pooling from South Seattle? I live in Burien and am willing to be the driver.

    August 13

  • Lee J.

    I've added additional people from the waitlist, and we'll split into two groups of 12. I've hiked with a number of people on this hike before who I trust to lead a second group. If you were on the waitlist and are now RSVP'd, please update your status if necessary. We still have a waitlist :)

    August 5

    • Sandy

      Thank you so much Lee!!

      1 · August 5

    • Brian E. M.

      I'm looking forward to joining this hike and will gladly lead the second group if needed Lee. :)

      1 · August 5

  • Kathe

    AWESOMEness !!! Thank You Lee.... looking forward to meeting you :~) and other Trailside enthusiast's...

    1 · August 5

  • Sybil B

    I'm going to cancel, just did this hike the other day. :)

    August 5

    • Lee J.

      thanks for letting us know, Sybil :)

      1 · August 5

  • Lee J.

    Due to the interest in this hike, I think we will start exploring the possibility of putting together a second group from the waitlist.

    August 4

  • Sabina A.

    I hiked Camp Muir yesterday - how difficult is this hike in comparrison?

    July 28

    • Sabina A.

      Thanks Lee, that gives me a good idea - I would like to bring a friend and (of course) it depends on her ability. I'm on the waitilit :(

      July 30

    • Lee J.

      You're welcome, Sabina. If this hike is like most others, there will be movement on the waitlist as we get closer to the event. If there are a large number of people who don't get in off the waitlist, we may explore the idea of creating a second group.

      1 · July 30

  • Lee J.

    What would people think if we changed this hike to Summerland (and above to Panhandle Gap, for those willing and interested)? The trailhead to Summerland is a little below Sunrise, so no further driving is involved. Summerland is a longer hike by about a mile, and a little more elevation gain. Just testing the waters here. If people want to keep the hike at Burroughs, that's not a problem. They're both great hikes. Your thoughts are welcome, either way.

    1 · July 17

  • Lee J.

    I also may change the automobile meetup location to Enumclaw, to better accommodate those coming from the north. Stay tuned.

    July 17

  • Andy

    Due to special need, I will need to drive myself. I do have a pass.

    June 20

  • Deborah

    I can drive, and have a pass. Truck seats 4 people.

    June 14

  • Kathy

    If necessary, I can drive with 3 passengers, if the roads are good as I have a newer midsize car, but I do not have a pass.

    May 28

  • Kelly

    I can drive, but no pass

    May 28

  • Christine

    Sorry, I answered the questions when I rsvp'd but didn't put my answers here as well. I am able to drive, have room for 3 others, possibly 4, but I do not have a Rainier parking pass.

    May 27

  • Lucia C C.

    Hello, I can drive and take 3 pax with me. I have a federal pass

    May 27

  • Nancy S.

    I love slow.... 'being' in the wilderness is what I go for.... not a race to the end ;) Yes... I think I could drive and I do have a Mt Rainier Pass

    May 27

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