Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summerland Allows Quick Access of Mt. Rainier Slopes

I have spent most of the summer roaming and recreating the forests and beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. Desperate to be back in the high mountains as the calendar turned mid-July, I heard about a trail at Mt. Rainier that was free of snow and open for exploration.

Heather displays color on the slopes of Mt. Rainier at Summerland.

Summerland is just around my two-hour drive definition of local playground equipment. The easiest way to access the area is drive 7 miles east of Packwood on Highway 12 and then urn north on Highway 123. When you arrive at the park road towards Sunrise Visitor Center take a left turn. You will drive by the Park Service entrance station where they will require an entry fee and then drive for three more miles to Fryingpan Creek.

A dense population of Glacier Lily resides along the Wonderland Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park. Summerland is one of many meadows that will feature amazing wildlower displays in the next few weeks.

The trail starts across the road from a small parking area and then proceeds on an incredibly gentle grade adjacent to Fryingpan Creek. The forest changes and those hikers that need instant gratification get occasional views of the Tahoma Ridge to the south. On my trip, the change into occasional meadow growth accented the scents of the seasons sojourn. In reality, the first 3/4 of the trail is incredibly easy. The last mile from the bridge over Fryingpan Creek to the plateau on Mt. Rainier's eastern flank is the only section that is even remotely challenging as the trail switchbacks up the ridge.

Little Tahoma towers over the Wonderland Trail and early season flowers on July 15th.

By doing the math, the total mileage from trailhead to the heavenly views as Summerland equals just over 4 miles. The overall ratio of effort to world class scenery made me feel downright guilty.

The Wonderland Trail continues towards Panhandle Gap from Summerland in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Summerland is famous as a location to watch the large mountain rodents known as Marmots. On our trip, we spent several hours among the talus slopes above the meadow, but not a marmot to be found. Of course part of the problem was that were there during nap time. On warm days, Marmots will be active in the morning and then again in the evening all the while snoozing through the heat of the day.

Clearly, those camping at Summerland have a clear advantage. If you would like to spend the night and dwaddle about the ridge, watching marmots and perhaps the sun set over Goat Island Ridge contact the National Park Service at Mt. Rainier. You can reserve one of the six secluded sites at Summerland. A couple of the sites are available on a first come, first serve basis.

A mountain stream flows through Summerland in Mt. Rainier National Park.

No matter how long you plan to stay, be sure to visit a place dominated by winter but named after the fair season.
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