The Northern Loop Trail is a 15.5-mile offshoot of the Wonderland Trail on Mt. Rainier, and is considered to have the most pristine wilderness in Mt. Rainier Park; it is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.
What Makes It Great
Access the trail via Carbon River entrance station, and spend the night at Isput Creek Campground, about five miles in. The next day, hike another 5.25 miles along the river and through switchbacks until you get to the Yellowstone Cliffs campsite. From there, you can drop off your stuff and take a quick 1.75 round trip hike on Windy Gap Trail to Natural Bridge, a fascinating 200 ft. andesite arch that highlights some beautiful views. Alternately, you can camp at Lake James, which is a little over seven miles from Isput Creek, and 4.5 miles from there, you could spend the night at Fire Creek Camp. If you choose to camp at Fire Creek, you should make sure you have enough water first, as there is no reliable water source nearby. You can get water at Van Horn Falls.
About nine miles from Lake James is Berkley Park Camp, a gorgeous spot with wildflower filled meadows and clear streams. You can overnight there and then climb about a mile to link back up to Wonderland Trail. Granite Creek campsite is 4.5 miles from there, where you can spend the night or head for Mystic Camp, which is another 4.5 miles. Basically, you've got options!
If you’re looking for an even longer trip, the route can be extended to Mowich Lake to include the Spray Park Trail/Ipsut Pass loop. This adds another 15.7 miles, through some of the most picturesque parts of the park.
Be aware that this trail is certainly a bit of a challenge. Trekking poles are a good idea, as well as a certain level of fitness to deal with the constant elevation changes and climbs. A backcountry permit is required and it may take a while to get one, so plan ahead. Permits are available from the wilderness information centers, ranger stations, and visitor centers within the park.
Who is Going to Love It
There is nothing quite like truly losing yourself in the backcountry. The Northern Loop Trail makes for an excellent multi-day trip that is sure to sweep you away from the worries of everyday life.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Northern Loop Trail is most easily accessed by taking the 2.4-mile hike on the Wonderland Trail from the Sunrise Visitor’s Center (where you can park). You can also get to the Northern Loop via the Lake Eleanor or West Fork Trails, which begin outside of the park.