Mother Mountain/Northern Loop – Mount Rainier National Park

Earlier this week I did a figure-eight of the Mother Mountain and the Northern Loops in Mount Rainier National Park, as part of the UP Wilderness Challenge. Route and trail conditions below, with some notes about the experience in the photo captions. Strava link here. 

Figure-eight combo of Mother Mountain and Northern Loop – 48 miles and 14,400 ft gain

Trail conditions:

Mowich Lake to Spray Park – The trail is in excellent condition with zero blowdowns. There is no snow on trail until you are well into Spray Park. Wildflowers were still in bloom as of July 17. Take the spur trails to see the Eagle Cliff view point and Spray Falls – the spurs are short and the views are worth it.

Spray Park to Seattle Park – This is the only place I encountered any noteworthy snow, in the form of several large patches as you enter Seattle Park.  When I went through early in the morning (630-7 am) the snow was icy and firm, and there was evidence of an overnight freeze (ground frozen solid, a thin layer of ice over small tarns). I did not have traction, and felt comfortable without it. I carried one trekking pole for stability (no axe) and that worked for me. As illustrated in the pic below, most of the snow that remains is low-angle. When I was there (on a Monday after a sunny weekend) there was a clearly established, frozen solid, bootpath through the snow, and routefinding was not an issue.

Southern half of the Mother Mountain Loop (Wonderland Trail): Excellent condition. No blowdowns, no snow, just smooth sailing all the way until you connect with the Northern Loop trail.

First light on Rainier, as seen from the Eagle Cliff viewpoint off of the Spray Park trail.
Early morning in Spray Park
Thin layer of ice on some of the tarns
This is a good example of the remaining snow fields in Spray/Seattle Park. They were hard and icy when I went through early in the morning, but low-angle and with a well-defined bootpath.
Cairns, paint, and MORE paint (?) in Seattle Park


Dropping down from Seattle Park
Suspension bridge over the Carbon River – good for a giggle!
Sweet soft singletrack along the Carbon River

Northern Loop trail: Once you leave the Wonderland Trail and start climbing towards Yellowstone Cliffs along the Northern Loop, you start to encounter a few blowdowns, but overall the trail is still in excellent condition with no significant obstacles. In fact, for the entirety of the Northern Loop trail, there is no snow, minimal blowdowns, and no major obstacles. The only section that gave me pause was crossing the White River after Lake James. The bridge is out, so getting across requires wading through two braids of the river and then doing a bit of bushwhacking to cross the final stretch on a sturdy log. I crossed late afternoon on a sunny day, and the river was approx 1.5 – 2 ft deep at its deepest. It was kind of fun to engage my brain again after mindlessly cruising along well-maintained trail for so many hours.

Yellowstone Cliffs – what a treat! Endless wildflowers.
Yellowstone Cliffs
One more pic of the bear grass and lupine below Yellowstone Cliffs
Unnamed tarn before Lake James. Perfect for swimming.
The water was clear and not too cold.
More smooth sailing
I took a 1-mile detour to refill my water bottles, and was rewarded with western coralroot orchids in the sun-dappled forest.
Heading into Berkeley Park
Paintbrush in Berkeley Park
Lupine fields in the Sunrise area
It’s not a trip to Rainier without a marmot.
Headed towards Skyscraper Pass
Sneak peek at Rainier
Little Tahoma playing coy
Cinnamon-colored black bear! I saw him and said “Hey Bear!” He looked at me, and then put his head down and kept eating – ZFG.
Final river crossing of the loop – the bridge over the Carbon River. A definite no-go.
Luckily this option was just a little bit upstream. Feet still got a little wet! 🙂

All in all, it was a lovely route with fantastic conditions, and a great way to see some spectacular scenery in the park. Thanks to  Kathy and Ras for coming up with the figure-eight route!

p.s. I realize this report is heavy on the pics with not a lot of text. I blame it on a busy summer schedule without much time for writing.  If you have any questions about specific sections of the route, I’m more than happy to answer them! Just shoot me an email. 🙂


6 Replies to “Mother Mountain/Northern Loop – Mount Rainier National Park”

  1. Lovely report. I was up at Crescent two weeks ago, and we marveled at Yellowstone Cliffs, too. And I remember that final bridge crossing! The water is much higher on both logs now.

  2. What a fantastic day. (or three day trip) Seems like the trip had everything. Those beargrass below the cliffs!!

  3. Did you need to get specific camping permits for each night or just an overall backpacking camping permit?

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