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Wonderland Trail – Hiking at Crystal Mountain

Last updated Apr 15, 2021 | Published on Sep 8, 2016

Tomorrow is the big day!  Tomorrow I will start my solo adventure backpacking around Mt. Rainier for my 2016 Wonderland Trail hike. This morning I am relaxing in my hotel room at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, enjoying a warm cozy bed a little while longer and hiking at Crystal Mountain.  It will be my last warm cozy bed for the next 2 weeks.

After I check out of the hotel here, I will spend the afternoon caching my food at various locations around the trail so I don’t have to carry all of my food with me. I did a lot of Wonderland Trail planning before arriving here and decided to cache food in two locations.  I have reservations tonight at the White River Campground, where I will leave my car and start on my adventure.

April 2021 Note: Mount Rainier has issued a new permitting system which was not operational when I hiked the trail in 2016. You can learn about it here: Mt. Rainier Wilderness Permits.

Crystal Mountain Resort

I’ve enjoyed my stay at the Crystal Mountain Resort more than I anticipated and enjoyed hiking at Crystal Mountain.  I don’t particularly like skiing or the snow, and so it would have never occurred to me to stay here.  The only reason why I picked this place is because of its proximity to Mt Rainier.  I drove here straight after work on Tuesday – stopping at Home Depot to get new lids for my food caching buckets and at REI to get more fuel for my backpacking stove.  It was dark as I drove through the mountain roads.  I passed a few deer along the way – one was in the middle of the road and I had to wait a while before he wandered off.  I finally arrived at about 10 pm and got the key to my room at the Alpine Inn.

The Alpine Inn is a cute little chalet with a German theme.  It has rustic black and white photos of skiers from days past – which would be charming except that I can’t help but think of The Shining every time I walk down the hall.

Hallway of the hotel at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. It's creepy.

This hallway seems like it’s right out of The Shining

I have an economically-priced no frill room with no TV and no bathtub, but I like it.  The hotel has a nice restaurant that I’ve been taking advantage of because I didn’t really plan ahead food-wise for the days before my hike started.  They have gluten-free bread (!!) which has been making me happy.  They have a rustic bar downstairs and even have an option to pack a lunch for you – which I will take advantage of this afternoon.

After I arrived on Tuesday night, I was up until 12:30 am planning out multiple possible itineraries for my trip. During my Wonderland Trail planning phase, I had been hearing how difficult the permitting process can be, and so spent hours calculating different options so that I could be as flexible as possible and increase my chance of getting a permit.  I brought my laptop and printer and then printed all of the options out at midnight.  Probably a little overkill, but hey, what can you expect from a super planny Program Manager?

Getting my Wonderland Trail Permit

I was up at 6:30 am yesterday morning, and ready to head to the White River Ranger’s Station to get my permit.  The station opened at 7:30 am, and I planned to be the first one in line.  Mt Rainier is only offering walk-up permits this year, and they only offer permits up to 24-hours in advance of when your hike starts.  I packed up my room here at Crystal Mountain (because I wasn’t sure if I would be coming back or not) and then hit the road – only to get stuck in some road construction heading down Crystal Mountain.  I spent 20 agonizing minutes waiting for a flagger to let me through a one-way road, and then raced the rest of the way to the Ranger Station – only to arrive 10 minutes after opening with 5 people in line ahead of me.  D’oh!!

The people in front of me in line clearly hadn’t been up until midnight planning out their itinerary options, because they were not very prepared and they took FOREVER to get their permits processed.  The ranger was super nice and took her time with each group.  I anxiously waited in line for about an hour and a half, wishing that I had used the bathroom before I got into line but not daring to lose my place, and then it was finally my turn.  I handed her my printed paper and let her know that I preferred to start tomorrow.  She said that my itinerary *would* work as-is if I could start one day later, but she could only issue a permit for a hike starting within the next 24 hours.  Then she got an idea.  She started my permit with the White River Campground, which is technically a Front-Country car camping campground.  This way I could technically start my permit without actually hiking anywhere, and then delay the rest of my itinerary by one day.

I thought that was a fine idea, because I was exhausted from rushing around and preparing for this trip.  I could use an extra day to relax.  And so, I got my permit.  She was very appreciative that I had all the details printed out and my permit took only 5-10 minutes to issue.

My Wonderland Trail Permit!

My Wonderland Trail Permit!

Hiking at Crystal Mountain

After obtaining my permit and doing a little happy dance, I drove straight back to Crystal Mountain and checked back into the room that I had just checked out of.  I took a nap, ate a decadent lunch, and then spent the afternoon riding up to the gondola at the top of Crystal Mountain and then hiking back down again.

View from the Gondola at Crystal Mountain. I rode the gondola so I could go hiking at Crystal Mountain on the way back down.

View from the Crystal Mountain Gondola.

Panorama photo of hiking at Crystal Mountain on a foggy day

Hiking at Crystal Mountain on a foggy day

Hiking at Crystal Mountain -the ski lifts in summer are empty and creepy

Ski lifts are compelling yet creepy in summer

These look like Dr. Seuss plants.

These sunglasses were $50, which I’ve never paid for a pair of sunglasses before.  It offends my sensibilities to spend that much money on sunglasses, plus I’m pretty sure that I look like a choad.  But, damnit, they really work great.  Those polarized lenses really cut the glare of the fog and saved me a headache.
Gratuitous Selfie with my expensive new sunglasses while hiking at Crystal Mountain

Gratuitous Selfie with my expensive new sunglasses

Then I spent the rest of the evening in the bar, enjoying a couple of glasses of wine and trying to figure out how to get my old WordPress blog started again.  After doing a bunch of research, I found an app that I can use to compose my blog posts while offline.  This way, I can write my posts using my iPhone while on the trail and then just publish them when I have an Internet connection.

You can follow my adventure here: Wonderland Trail blog.

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!


  1. Jason

    I don’t know if you will get this, but my friend Dave and I (Jason) met you at South Mowich River Camp. Dave showed you how to hang your clothes better; if that helps. We finished yesterday in the rain and were just wondering how your trip was going. Hope all is well, and what an incredible journey:)) Stay safe…

    • Unicorn

      Hey Jason – you bet I totally remember you guys! It was a pleasure to meet you. Glad you finished the trail! I’m still on the trail right now, camped at Summerland on my last night and get cell reception here oddly enough. It hailed earlier today and now it’s raining. I’m holed up in my tent and looking forward to going home tomorrow. But it’s been a fabulous trip. I had such an amazing time. I’ll be updating my blog with more posts when cell reception allows. 🙂

      • Jason

        Glad you are having a safe trip. Dave and I both LOVED Summerland. I remember we had cell reception there as well and checked in with family. Have a safe hike out, and look forward to reading the rest of your posts. Happy Trails:)) By the way, Dave and I got a little emotional (tear tear) when we finished our trip. Such an awesome time!!

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