One of the most popular hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, Summerland offers stunning, close-up views of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, serene spring-fed meadows, and thundering waterfalls. The optimal time for travel is early June through late August; snow cover can hinder the hiker's pace any earlier or later in the season. The hike time ranges between 3 and 5 hours there and back, depending on how long the hiker rests at Summerland. The trail condition is very good, and most of the trail consists of rolling, steady terrain before a final a series of switchbacks climbs to the Summerland shelter. If you start in the morning, Summerland Camp offers an ideal lunch spot.
For the more adventurous hiker, continue up to Panhandle Gap, which is approximately 1.5 miles beyond Summerland Camp. Here hikers can play in the snow even in late July as they enjoy up-close panoramas of massive amphitheaters and Mount Rainier towering above blossoming meadows. Marmots, mountain goats, and Roosevelt elk are often spotted in this area where views continue south to 12,281-foot Mount Adams and the heavily eroded ancient volcano that is now Goat Rocks.
There is a fee for entering the park, and a Backcountry Camping Permit is required and should be reserved and purchased well in advance if you will be camping overnight. At Summerland there is also a pit toilet (bio-toilet) along with established campsites and a bear-bag pole for those camping overnight.
In late summer the parking lot can be congested. Be sure to stay off the road; do not park over the white line or rangers will ticket the violation. If necessary there are additional parking spaces a 10-minute walk up or down the paved road.
Note that the road leading to this trail is closed in the winter.