Spend a hot summer weekend in the relative solitude of Mystic Lake, escaping the crowds at Sunrise and Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. The world famous Wonderland Trail deposits you at the shores of this crystalline alpine gem, tucked between the Carbon and Winthrop Glaciers.

Mystic Lake is a great out-and-back overnight trip from Sunrise, or can also be accessed as part of longer loop through Grand Park. Those wishing to get a taste of the Wonderland Trail without committing to the full trip will not be disappointed.

Plan on arriving early on a summer weekend in order to find a parking spot. Additionally, try to reserve a wilderness permit for camping at Mystic Camp well in advance, but if no reservable permits are available plan on arriving at the ranger station as early as possible to pick up a first-come, first-served permit. Scheduling your trip for September increases your chances of getting your desired camping permit, snagging a parking spot, and finding solitude in the backcountry.

From the Sunrise parking lot, follow signs for the Wonderland Trail, and avoid the hordes of people heading towards Burroughs Mountain. The Wonderland dips through the high Alpine country past Frozen Lake, before dropping gently into Berkeley Park, an open meadow offering open views of Mount Fremont and Skyscraper Mountain. The trail here is a joy to hike, as you softly tread among the tundra on your way to the ridgeline in view.

Crest onto the ridge of Skyscraper Mountain, dwarfed by the sight of the Northeast flank of Mount Rainier. If you have binoculars, pause here and try to spot climbers high on the Emmons Glacier, directly to the south. Soak up the magnificence of Rainier, before ultimately beginning the descent towards Winthrop Creek.

Switchbacking through evergreen trees, pass Granite Creek camp as you drop 2100 ft. over the course of 3.8 miles. Winthrop Glacier begins to peek out through the trees as you drop below the black snout of the glacier. The water gushing from the glacier’s terminus is much more of a river than a creek - log bridges pieced together among the glacial detritus guide you across the raging water.

A pleasant ramble up the glacial moraine brings you back into the trees, as you approach Mystic Camp. Reaching your campsite, drop your backpack, set up your tent, and continue along the trail to enjoy a fine evening by the shores of Mystic Lake.

Have an extra day or two to spent in the backcountry around Mystic Lake? Consider scrambling up Mineral Mountain to the south, or Old Desolate to the north. When the time comes, head back towards Sunrise, as you plan your next backpacking trip along the flanks of Mount Rainier. 

Pack List

  • Backpack with Rain Cover
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Water Bottle (1 or 2)
  • Water purification method
  • Backpacking Stove
  • Camp kitchen kit (personal preference)
  • Headlamp
  • Trekking Poles
  • Camp Chair (optional)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Repair Kit
  • Bathroom kit with trowel and TP
  • Sun screen
  • Toiletries
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Rain Jacket
  • Rain Pants
  • Puffy Jacket
  • Warm Baselayers
  • Hiking shirt and pants
  • Fleece/warm pants
  • Fleece/warm top layer
  • Warm Gloves
  • Swim suit (optional)
  • Hiking Boots
  • Socks
  • Map
  • Camera
  • Wilderness Permit
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RT Distance 18 Miles
Activities Photography, Swimming, Backpacking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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