Looking for a beautiful half-day hike through Mount Rainier National Park? The Glacier Basin Trail is definitely worth your consideration. Described as a moderate difficulty hike, the trail is a 7-mile long round-trip with 1,700 feet of elevation gain.
The trail ascends the upper White River Valley through dense evergreen forests and wide expanses of wildflower-filled meadows, following an old mining trail to reach a glacial moraine with impressive views of Mount Rainier and St Elmo Pass.
The Glacier Basin Trail is described as family-friendly, and if traversed in the summer months, hikers will be rewarded with many opportunities to view wildlife living in this area. Mountain goats, chipmunks, pikas, and the occasional bear have been sighted along the trail. Hikers report finding rusted mining tools along this once busy mining road. With no more mining, the trail is left to nature enthusiasts and mountaineers, wildlife, and wildflowers.
About The Glacier Basin Trail: Fast Facts
- Location: Mount Rainier National Park
- Length: 7.82mi (AllTrails),6.5mi (WTA)
- Elevation Change: 2194.88ft (AllTrails), 1600ft (WTA)
- Highest Point: 5900ft (per the Washington Trails Association)
- Type of Hike: Out and Back
Glacier Basin Trail History
Although the trail follows an old mining road, no mining has been done here since 1984, a whole decade after the area became a national park. According to Mt. Rainier Tourism Guide, the Glacier Basin at one time was home to as many as 41 mining claims. The largest, Starbo Mine, had its own hotel and power plant.
With dreams of unearthing riches, copper ore mining began in the region in the late 1800s. “Nothing of commercial value was extracted and mining operations were eventually suspended” leaving a path for hikers and mountaineers which would become the Glacier Basin Trail. Located on the eastern side of Mt. Rainier, (the sunny side), the trail winds alongside the glacier-fed White River.
After flooding yet again washed out the trail in 2006, the park decided to build a new trail, no longer susceptible to seasonal flooding. Over four summers and with Herculean effort, the WTA (Washington Trails Association) and park employees constructed the new trail. Now high, dry, and wide, the 6,500 feet of the new trail is enjoyed by all.
Before Europeans appeared on the scene, this area was home to Native Americans who used the park not for permanent habitation but as hunting grounds and for spirit quests. Archeologists from Washington State University have uncovered evidence of pre-historic humans inhabiting the area from 8,000 to 4,500 BCE, discovering charcoal for cooking fires they used.
Fast forward to more modern times, years of effort by conservationists and the Sierra Club resulted in Congress passing a bill establishing the Mount Rainier National Park in 1899 making it the fifth national park and the first national forest. The bill was signed by then-President William McKinley after assurances the land was not suitable for farming or mining.
In 1931 the Mount Rainier National Park opened with one road and a small visitors center. In the following years, the CCC expanded the park’s trails and facilities. Most of these trails are still in use today.
The park was named a National Historic Landmark in February of 1997. Since its inception, the park has been very popular with both locals and tourists, receiving an average of 2 million visitors per year. On track for a record-breaking year, the park received over 130,000 visitors in the first few months of 2021.
Getting to The Glacier Basin Trail
From Enumclaw, travel east on Highway 410 for 43 miles to Mount Rainier National Park, White River entrance. Follow this road for five miles, cross over the White River, then turn left onto White River Road.
Continue on this road until it ends at the White River Campground. The trailhead is at the upper loop in the campground. Arrive early during sunny summer months as the parking lot fills up very quickly.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
As a designated wilderness area, Mount Rainier National Park has a list of items and activities prohibited in the park, on the trails, or in the backcountry. Please note the following prohibitions:
Fire – white-gas, iso-butane cartridge, or alcohol stoves are allowed. No bio-fuel fires utilizing woods, sticks, pinecones, weeds, etc. allowed
- Use of firearms
- Bows/arrows or slingshots
- Destroying or disturbing any natural, cultural, or archeological feature
- Feeding, disturbing, or hunting wildlife
- Short-cutting the switchbacks on any trail
- Polluting or contaminating any water source (with soap or human waste, etc.)
- Camping within 100 feet of water (except in designated campgrounds)
- Leaving trash in pit toilets or elsewhere in the wildernes
Also please note the following:
● ALL trash must be packed out
● Anyone remaining overnight must have a wilderness permit or a climbing pass
● Camp only at the site designated on your permit and only on the date allowed
● Be advised that party size limitations and backcountry regulations are strictly enforced.
Any activity which damages or disturbs the natural resources of Mount Ranier National Park is prohibited. Follow the above regulations, including the Leave No Trace principles, and maximize your efforts to minimize damage. You will be rewarded with a memorable wilderness experience and know you are preserving a similar experience for generations yet to come.
Navigating the Glacier Basin Trail
From the parking lot/picnic area, follow the campground road to Loop D. Stay left on the loop passing campsites perched on the bluff overlooking the great White River. At 0.3 miles, you will reach the Glacier Basin Trail.
The Glacier Basin trail is wide and easy to hike. This part of the trail is the original mining road, you will soon come to the new trail ahead. After hiking through several washouts, you can appreciate the work completed by the park and its volunteers. Tons of boulders had to be blasted and many cedars were sawed down to make way for the new trail.
Bridges were built and blasted boulders became walls and the foundation for the new trail. The work was accomplished in four summers by hundreds of workers and volunteers using pulleys and harnesses. The new trail, away from the river, will be here for many seasons to come.
After a mile in, you will pass a half-mile side trail that crosses two bridges and leads to the Emmons Moraine Glacier. Worth a trip, if you have the time, the park boasts it is the largest glacier in the contiguous 48 states. With fantastic views of the large glacier and the blue-green milky glacier-lake below, many hikers take this side trail.
Proceeding on the Glacier Basin Trail, in another mile pass the trail leading to Burroughs Mountain, a more strenuous hike. This trail ascends 2,800 feet to the summit of Second Burroughs Mountain. If you are up for the challenge, you will be rewarded with sweeping views, prolific wildflowers (in season), and an excellent opportunity to view mountain goats.
Passing this intersection you will come to the Glacier Basin wilderness campsite located in a forested glen. There are six campsites and a group camp available for overnight stays. A camping permit is required and can be obtained at no cost from the ranger station.
Just past this campsite, Glacier Basin opens up to wide meadows filled with wildflowers, a large shimmering tarn, and views up The Mountain of The Wedge and Mount Ruth. Note the well-traveled climber’s trail leading up to Camps Curtis and Shurman.
The trail comes to an end here at a small pond. Head down to the outwash of the river where you can find rusty relics of the mining days. Wander a short distance up the climber’s path for excellent views of Mount Rainier hovering over the basin and of the Inter Glacier high above. Scan the high country with your binoculars for views of climbers and mountain goats. Then turn around, and take the trail back to the beginning.
Note To Pros: Make this hike a loop! While quite a bit longer, clocking in at 11.5 miles with 3100 feet of elevation gain, you can summit 7,400 foot Burroughs Mountain, descend to Frozen Lake, then follow Wonderland Trail through Sunrise Camp and Shadow Lake, back to where you started at the White River Campground.
For more incredible hikes in Mount Rainier, check out our guide to Finding the 10 Best Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
If you’re planning a trip to Mount Rainier and are looking for a great place to stay, look no further than The 6 Best Hotels Near Mt Rainier National Park: Our Picks
Something for Everyone at Glacier Basin Trail
Glacier Basin Trail is a family-friendly favorite with its wide, easy trail and moderate elevation gain. Whether you chose the four-hour in-and-out hike or the more strenuous loop route, you will be rewarded with expansive views of wildflower-filled meadows, enormous glaciers, wilderness campsites, and abundant wildlife.
Glacier Basin Trail campsites are popular with climbers beginning their ascent of Mount Rainier. Plan an overnight stay and rub elbows with mountaineers of all skill levels. Remember to exercise caution and consider your skillset before hiking. Mount Rainier National Park gets hundreds of inches of snow every year making some trails icy and precarious at times.
The camp road leading to the trailhead is prone to closure due to the weather conditions. The best time to plan this hike is mid-July to October. Always check road and trail conditions before heading out for the day. Following these precautions, you and your family should have a fun hike through the wilderness of the Cascades Mountains, creating memories you will enjoy for years to come. Glacier Basin Trail is a great outing for all.
Next, check out the other top hikes in Mount Rainier outside the Glacier Basin Trail by following the links below: