August 19, 2013 by Deborah W. Trotter
Anyone who has trouble believing just how massive Mount Rainier is should consider these Wonderland Trail stats: it circles the 14,000-foot mountain at lower elevations, requiring a trek of 93 miles in distance and 22,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain.
If you are interested in sampling just a segment of the Wonderland Trail, there are places in the Park where it intersects with the highway. One of these places is at the Box Canyon, southeast of Paradise.
There the trail heads up to Nickel Creek Camp and beyond, and we hiked a couple miles of it earlier this month on a foggy summer day in the Park.
Amazingly, in a Park as popular as Mount Rainier, we saw just one other person on the trail. He said he was one day from completing the entire Wonderland circuit, and he looked as if he had just stepped out for an afternoon stroll. Obviously, the trek’s rigors agreed with him.
From the highway up .8 miles to Nickel Creek, the trail climbed steadily through healthy forest with thick branches above and a variety of plants below, some flowering, all green and lush.
The surface of the trail was soft dirt and forest duff, mostly free of tree roots and rocks, a pleasure to hike.
A log bridge spanned Nickel Creek, and on the banks of the creek we found several varieties of wildflowers. Not far along the trail after crossing the creek, we came to the side trail to the Camp which consists of three private campsites and one group camping area.
Returning through forest the way we had come, just before we got to the bottom of the trail we detoured along a paved path above the Box Canyon to get a view of the mocha-and-cream-colored torrent roaring beneath our feet as we stood on a wooden bridge that straddled the gorge.
From there on a clear day, the view behind you up the canyon would be dominated by Mount Rainier, but on that day there was only fog and mist. If you didn’t know the mountain was there, you would never have guessed what rose invisibly above you into the undefined sky.