If you’re looking for the perfect day hike in Mount Rainier National Park then the Summerland Trail should be at the top of your list! This 8.4 mile trail brings you to a picturesque meadow with fields of flowing green grass and wildflowers of every color, babbling mountain streams, and up-close views of the towering Mount Rainier. The Summerland Trail is definitely one of the best day hikes in Mount Rainier National Park!
About the summerland trail
The Summerland Trail is located in the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park and is part of the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile multi-day trek that circumnavigates the base of Mount Rainier. While most folks probably aren’t in the market for a 93-mile trek, the Summerland Trail is a perfect microcosm of the longer Wonderland Trail.
Passing through old growth forests and lush meadows of rushing creeks and wildflowers with featuring expansive views of the northeast side of Mount Rainier, the Summerland Trail is easily one of the best day hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
Even better, if you’d like to extend your hike, you can continue to Panhandle Gap for an even bigger adventure and more epic views of Mount Rainier.
In addition, there is a backcountry camp at Summerland. If you are lucky enough to get a wilderness permit, you can pitch your tent and sleep under the shadow of the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48!
Fun fact | Mount Rainier stands at 14,411 feet above sea level, the fourth tallest mountain in the lower 48, and has 25 named glaciers on its slopes.
about mount rainier national park
Mount Rainier National Park is located in northwestern Washington and spans over 235,000 acres of old growth forest, wildflower-filled meadows, rushing mountain streams, rocky subalpine environments, and of course, the entirety of Mount Rainier, the 14,411 foot-tall active stratovalcano.
Established in 1899, Mount Rainier was the fourth national park signed into law and remains a hub for awesome outdoor activities. Not only are there 260 miles of hiking trails, but Mount Rainier is one of the most popular mountaineering peaks in the contiguous United States, with roughly 10,000 annual summit attempts.
When we saw Mount Rainier we were left speechless. The mountain is a behemoth! There have only been a few places that truly took our breath away upon first glance (the Grand Canyon, the Grand Teton, etc). Mount Rainier is certainly made that list!
Pair a trip to Mount Rainier with a stop in the Northern Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula, or the Oregon coast and you’re in for quite the epic adventure!
Other PNW Resources
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Summerland trail overview
- Distance | 8.4 miles to Summerland Camp; 12 miles to Panhandle Gap
- Elevation | 2,132 feet to Summerland; 3,150 feet to Panhandle Gap
- Difficulty | Moderate to Summerland, difficult to Pandhandle Ga
- Dogs allowed | No
Find this hike on AllTrails | Camp Summerland and Lakes via Wonderland Trail
Note | The AllTrails linked above includes an additional mile past Summerland Camp and meadows up to a pair of small unnamed alpine lakes.
- Diverse scenery, including old-growth forests and lush meadows bursting with wildflowers in the early season.
- Unimpeded views of Emmons Glacier and northeastern side of Mount Rainier
- Option to extend hike to Panhandle Gap
- Not as busy as hikes in Paradise area or closer Sunrise Visitor Center
- Elevation gain is fairly gradual and never too steep, especially up to Summerland Camp
- Very limited parking is a pain
- Snow can linger on upper parts of the trail well into July and even August
- Weather around Mount Rainier is notoriously fickle so be prepared for anything!
Summerland Trail packing list
Below is a list of gear we’d recommend packing for hiking the Summerland Trail.
- GPS device | If you plan on continuing the hike past Summerland to Panhandle Gap, the trail can be faint in a few spots. We recommend having the trail map downloaded offline (for example using AllTrails Pro), or better yet, carrying a GPS device for safety. We always hike with our Garmin InReach Mini in areas without cell service in case of emergency.
- Bear spray | Black bears are not uncommon in Mount Rainier National Park. Carrying bear spray with you is not a bad idea.
- Hiking boots | The trail to Panhandle Gap is steep and slippery in place. Having sturdy hiking boots with good traction is a must. The Danner Mountain 400s are my all-time favorite hiking boots.
- Hiking Poles | To help take pressure off your knees on the steep sections and give you extra traction on the final steep climb up to Panhandle Gap. Hiking poles are also helpful for extra stability crossing the snow fields if hiking earlier in the season.
- Pullovers (Hers: Smartwool Merino Quarter Zip, His: Smartwool Merino Quarter Zip) | Mornings in Mount Rainier National Park can get cold, even in the summer, so expect a chilly start to your hike. We love our Smartwool quarter zips for chilly mornings on the trial!
- Headlamp | Always good to have for a long day hike in case you finish hiking later than expected. We both use the Black Diamond Storm 400s.
- Micro-spikes | Micro-spikes are essential for crossing the final snow field on the trail up to Panhandle Gap earlier in the season. We hiked in mid-July and probably wouldn’t have continued without them.
- National Parks Pass | Covers the entrance fee to Mount Rainier National Park and all other U.S. National Parks for one year.
For a more detailed day hike gear list, you may be interested in this article:
Are you new to hiking and trying to figure out what to pack for a day hike? Or an experienced hiker looking to upgrade your gear? In this article, we’ll…
How difficult is the summerland trail?
The Summerland Trail is 8.4 miles round trip and covers 2,132 feet in elevation gain, making it a moderately difficult hike. The trail is never super steep but does feature some switchbacks and decent incline so be prepared for a solid day’s worth of exercise.
When we hiked in mid-July 2023, it took us about 2 hours to reach Camp Summerland, with one stop for a rest and snack.
If you’re looking for something a bit more strenuous, you can extend your hike by continuing on to the Panhandle Gap. Keep reading to learn more!
When is the best time to hike the summerland trail?
The best time to hike the Summerland Trail is early July through mid-September. Snowfields can linger on the upper parts of the trail leading from Summerland to Panhandle Gap well into late June and mid-July, making the path a bit precarious for those not comfortable traversing slippery snow.
Make sure to stay up to date on current conditions before you leave. While the trail leading up to Summerland camp is usually mostly snow-free in late June or early-July, snow can remain on the trail to Panhandle Gap much later into the season.
In addition to lingering snowfields, the weather around Mount Rainier is notoriously unpredictable so be ready for rain, wind, and quick changes in temperature at any point!
Where to stay before the summerland trail
There are a few lodging options near the trailhead for the Summerland Trail, ranging from campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park to more upscale hotel accommodations.
White River Campground
Located just 6 minutes from the trailhead for the Summerland Trail, White River Campground is the most convenient lodging option. White River Campground has 88 individual sites, each costing $20 per night.
White River Campground is first-come, first-served and is generally open from late June through late September (always check the NPS website for current conditions).
Silver Springs Campground
Located 19 minutes from the trailhead for the Summerland Trail, the Silver Springs Campground is a good option if you’d prefer not to rely on finding a site at White River Campground. There are 56 sites, each costing $33 per night.
You can make reservations on Recreation.gov. The Silver Springs Campground is usually open from late May to mid-September.
Crystal Mountain Resort
A private resort located 30 minutes from the trailhead for the Summerland Trail, there are a number of lodging options at the Crystal Mountain Resort. If you’re looking for a nicer accommodation close to the trailhead, then the Crystal Mountain Resort is perfect for you. Rooms start at $180 per night.
Backpacking the Summerland Trail
If sleeping under the stars under the shadow of Mount Rainier sounds appealing to you, then you’re in luck! The Summerland Camp is located at the terminus of the Summerland Trail and is the perfect backpacking destination.
If you want to backpack the Summerland Trail, you will need to do some advanced planning. A backpacking permit is required and the backpack permitting system in Mount Rainier National Park is a bit complicated.
How to get a backpacking permit
Backpacking permits for the Summerland Trail are some of the most popular permits in Mount Rainier National Park, so it’s important you do everything you can to maximize your chances of getting a permit.
Advanced Reservations & Lottery
The National Park Service releases two-thirds of all backpacking permits for Mt. Rainier National Park for advance reservation.
The remaining one-third of permits are available at Wilderness Information Centers in the park on a first-come, first-served basis. These permits can be requested a maximum of one day before the start of your trip.
For advanced reservations, there is an early access lottery, which grants successful applicants the ability to reserve their preferred campsites earlier than the general population. The early access lottery is typically open in late February through early March.
If you are lucky enough to be selected for the early access lottery, you will then be assigned a date/time after which you can book your preferred itinerary, typically sometime between late March and mid-April.
After the early access lottery period has ended, the remaining portion of the two-thirds of available permits becomes available for the general public to reserve. In our experience, you should not expect to get advance permits for popular campgrounds along the Wonderland Trail during this general access period.
Most of the campsites will be scooped up during the early access lottery. Therefore, you will need to try for an in-person permit if you don’t get the early access lottery. Walk-in permits are made available the day prior to your trip start date.
Other tips for getting a permit
Here are a few other helpful tips and reminders for getting a backpacking permit for Summerland Camp:
- Be prepared to apply for the early access lottery to increase your chances of getting the Summerland campsite.
- If you don’t get selected for the early access lottery, be ready to reserve your permit as soon as the general on-sale period begins.
- If you don’t get your preferred permit during the general on-sale period, you’ll need to try for an in-person permit. We highly recommend showing up to any Wilderness Information Center before it opens on the day before you’d like to backpack.
- Starting your hike in the middle of the week may increase availability but not always, especially during peak season.
- If you are able to get a permit in advance, you still need to go to a Wilderness Information Center to activate your permit up to 1 day in advance of your departure date.
You can read more about wilderness permits in Mount Rainier National Park on the NPS website.
summerland Trail Overview
With all that background information out of the way, let’s talk about what you can expect on the Summerland Trail!
Getting to the summerland trailhead
The trailhead for the Summerland Trail is located here, in the northeastern corner of the park, along Sunrise Park Road (also known as White River Road). About 3 miles after you pass through the White River Ranger Station, you’ll cross a bridge that goes over Frying Pan Creek.
The parking for the trailhead is immediately on the other side of this bridge. The closest visitors center is the Sunrise Visitor’s Center, which is about 11 miles farther along Sunrise Park Road.
Parking at the trailhead
Parking at the trailhead is very limited. There are maybe 20 or so designated parking spots on the side of the road just past the bridge.
If you can’t snag one of the designated spots, there is room to pull out and park on the side of the road, but you may need to walk a bit farther to reach the trailhead.
We arrived at the trailhead for the Summerland Trail at 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning in July and the designated parking spots were already full. We ended up parking along the side of the road just next to the trailhead. It worked out just fine, but space was filling up fast.
From the trailhead to Summerland
The first 3 to 4 miles of the Summerland trail pass through old-growth forests with steady but manageable elevation gain and small breaks in the trees showing views of the surrounding mountains.
The trail is very well-maintained and easy to follow. There are a few switchbacks and you will be gaining elevation, but it’s nothing too difficult.
Eventually, the trail will reach a more open area as the trees thin out and low-lying shrubs border the trail on both sides. At this point, will you get your first real views of the majestic Mount Rainier in the distance!
If you’re hiking in early July, this section of the trail will be bursting with wildflowers of every color!
Summerland camp Area
Soon enough, you’ll reach the Summerland area, a flat grassy meadow, bursting with green shrubs, wildflowers, and views of Mount Rainier.
Babbling streams and rushing creeks cut through the alpine paradise, providing a picturesque spot to rest and relax. Keep an eye out for chunky marmots lounging in the sun, deer or elk passing through, or even a black bear!
There is a bathroom at the Summerland camp. The backcountry campsites are located right off the trail and are marked with signage.
If you’re just planning to hike to Summerland, then it’s time to turn around and head back to the trailhead the same way you came.
However, if you don’t want the good times to end, then consider continuing on to the Panhandle Gap. The trail past Summerland leads through a rocky alpine environment to even better views of Mount Rainier!
Summerland to Panhandle Gap
As you continue on from the Summerland area to the Panhandle Gap, you will quickly leave behind the grassy meadow and enter a rocky, alpine environment.
Marmots will start appearing in every rock pile, the trail becomes difficult to follow at times, and you’ll likely experience some snow fields that will require a bit of extra attention.
This last section of the trail is steep, covering about 1,500 feet of elevation gain in just 1.5 miles. As the vegetation thins out and the trail becomes more rocky, it does get a bit difficult to follow. Make sure you have the AllTrails map downloaded and keep an eye out for any cairns.
In addition, as you traverse this higher-altitude alpine environment, you are more likely to encounter snowfields, especially if you’re hiking anytime in July. It’s especially important you have microspikes and trekking poles for this section of the hike.
Some of the snowfields we crossed in early July were pretty sketchy, and we felt way safer with the additional traction.
As you continue along the trail, you’ll pass by a few unnamed small alpine lakes and cross a handful of glacier-fed streams. The views of Mount Rainier continue to get better and better and distract from the burn in your legs!
Soon enough, you’ll reach the Panhandle Gap, which opens up to stunning views of the surrounding mountains and up-close views of Mount Rainier to the north.
On a clear day, you can even see all the way to Mount Adams to the south. We hiked on a smoky day, meaning Mount Adams was just faintly visible in the distance.
This is a great place to rest, soak up the views, and congratulate yourself for the work you put in to reach this point!
Spur trail for views of Mount Rainier
If your legs aren’t totally dead, there is a short but very steep spur trail up to a smaller, rocky outcropping with more views of Mount Rainier. You’ll be able to see the spur trail going up the hill to the west.
We hiked up the spur trail and were glad we did. The views here are even better than from the Panhandle Gap. Plus there are a few really nice rocks to sit on and you’ll probably have the area entirely to yourself.
Returning to the trailhead
The Summerland Trail is an out-and-back trail. Simply turn around and head back the same way you came up to reach the trailhead.
Other Things to Know about the Summerland Trail
Lastly, we’ll finish with a few other important details to know about hiking the Summerland Trail.
Is water available on the trail?
The Summerland Trail follows along Frying Pan Creek and crosses countless smaller streams, so water is plentiful. We each brought 2.5 liters of water and filled up with a few extra liters on the way back to the trailhead.
We love bringing our Sawyer Squeeze on long day hikes so we can fill up with fresh water whenever we want. It’s super small and easy to use!
Are dogs allowed?
Dogs are not allowed on the Summerland Trail. Please do not bring any pets into the national park. This is an extremely sensitive environment.
Are there bears on the Summerland Trail?
There are black bears in the area but no reports of grizzly bears. We brought a can of bear spray just to be safe but you’d probably be fine without it.
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