A unique section of the Wonderland Trail
along miles of ridge, through subalpine meadows, with views of the southeast side of Mount Rainier. It ends in a broad green valley into which pour a dozen waterfalls. One of the legendary places in the park. A great spot to sit in the moonlight on a late-August night and listen to the bull elk bugling. Generally snow-free late July through September.
Like other trails in the park, this is more of a hike trail than a run. This route features very steep terrain unsuitable for most runners.
The first one mile is easy walking on a moderate grade to Nickel Creek. Good campsites along the stream and on the far bank. In another .5 mile is a small creek, the last water before Indian Bar. From Nickel Creek the trail climbs steadily to the Cowlitz
Divide, reaching the crest approximately 3 miles from the road. Here, are junctions with the abandoned Backbone Ridge Trail and the trail from Ohanapecosh.
The next 4.5 miles are along the crest of the Cowlitz
Divide, going up and over some bumps and contouring around others. At times the way is very steep. First, there are glimpses of the mountain through trees. Then the trail climbs higher, the meadows grow larger, and finally, atop a 5914' knoll, the mountain comes completely and grandly into the open. To the southeast is Bald Knob. Beyond is Shriner Peak
. From the knoll, the trail drops 800' to 5120' Indian Bar.
The Ohanapecosh River divides the large green meadow. The shelter cabin is on the west side of the river. At the valley head are small remnants of the Ohanapecosh Glacier. In early summer numerous waterfalls splash down the lava cliffs. Just 100' below the shelter is Wauhaukaupauken Falls, a name almost larger than the falls.
Don't forget the considerable elevation gain on the return run. If transportation can be arranged, Indian Bar can be combined with running the Summerland Trail for a beautiful one-way trip of 17 miles.
At the upper elevations of high elevation forests, trees become less dense as the forest transitions into subalpine parkland. The subalpine parkland covers approximately 23 percent of the park; vegetation in this zone is a mosaic of tree clumps and herbaceous meadows extending from forest line to tree line, or about 5,000 feet to about 7,000 feet (approx. 1500-2100 meters) elevation. Tree cover and the location of plant communities in this zone is limited by the depth and duration of the snowpack.
Lush meadows, part of the subalpine parkland, circle Mount Rainier at elevations between 5,000 feet to about 7,000 feet (approx. 1500-2100 meters). The meadows are a favorite spectacle for park visitors, who flock to the mountain to see the elaborate wildflower displays blooming in the meadows. The subalpine meadows can be cloaked in snow well into the month of June if not later, driving the wildflowers to bloom aggressively in order to take advantage of the short growing season.