Documenting my Rainier obsession
about Mount Rainier where to start
about this site future plans
itinerary planner permits

Spray Park Loop

Difficulty: strenuous (overnighter) or extreme (day hike)

16 miles

Elevation gain: 4910'

Max elevation: 6380'

Camps: Mowich Lake, Eagle's Roost, Cataract Valley, Carbon River, Ipsut Creek

First hiked by me: 2019

The Spray Park Loop is also known as the Mother Mountain Loop, or Around Mother Mountain.

Wonderland Trail hikers have a choice when they reach the northwest corner of the mountain: stay on the Wonderland proper over Ipsut Pass, or take the scenic detour over Spray Park? This loop combines both these options. If you've completed the Wonderland but are yet to hike the Spray Park Loop, you owe it to yourself to do this and check out whichever section of trail you missed before!

I first heard of this loop when a friend and I hiked to Spray Park in 2017, as a gear shakedown in preparation for my first Camp Muir trip. Near our turnaround we met a grizzled mountain man coming down from a glacier where he'd climbed up to catch the dawn. He told us that if we kept going we could hike a big loop, all the way around Mother Mountain, returning to Mowich Lake on the far side of the dramatic crags we could see to our left.

I didn't know Rainier nearly as well then as I do now, so was fascinated to learn this. 16 miles, though. Further than we'd attempted before, but my friend was training for a marathon and I was in the best hiking shape of my life. Perhaps this should be our next challenge after I got back from Muir?

When we got home, I looked up the details and saw the elevation gain. Nope, I'm out. There are some who could day hike this, but not me.

A couple of years later I completed the Spray Park Loop as an overnight backpacking trip. I got a walkup permit for Ipsut Creek Camp, and went counterclockwise from Mowich Lake. This resulted in long first and short second days, but Carbon River Camp, which would have balanced my trip more evenly, was full by the time my turn came at the ranger station.

Like a mini Wonderland, this loop packs an incredible variety of scenery (and also altitude) into a relatively short distance. There are several distinct types of forest including magnificent temperate rainforest, alpine wildflower meadows, high altitude rockeries, snowfields, many waterfalls, babbling brooks, the devastation of a glacier-fed river valley, craggy cliffs, and a fun suspension bridge.

Going counterclockwise: hike to Spray Park but keep on keeping on where you'd normally turn around, over snowfields (earlier in the season) or a desolate rockscape (later in the year). Beware getting lost in bad weather up here, and be sure to turn left at the high point rather than following the boot track further up toward Echo Rock (an easy mistake).

When the trail eventually heads downhill, you're in Seattle Park. Enjoy the descent through these lovely meadows, which have quite a different flavor to Spray Park. Then descend more steeply as you enter forest, past Cataract Valley Camp, and down again to Carbon River Camp. Cross the Carbon River on the suspension bridge, hike through lush rainforest down the east side of its valley, cross over the river again to continue along the west side, and turn left onto the trail signposted Ipsut Pass. Or continue another 0.3 miles if you're staying at Ipsut Creek Camp for the night.

The final section climbs for 3.5 miles through a temperate rainforest populated by giant trees and numerous streams and waterfalls. The trail becomes steeper as it emerges from forest for a final brutal climb, overlooked by some impressive cliffs, up to Ipsut Pass.

Phew, made it to the top! Only to be underwhelmed as you realize that the flat area through the notch in the ridge you climbed so far to reach doubles as the trail to Tolmie Peak. I was applauded by a very fresh looking passing family as I staggered up the final switchback and collapsed gasping for air in front of them :-)

From here it's an easy mile back to Mowich Lake.

Rainier, from Spray Park

Looking backward over Spray Park

Near the top, where Spray Park becomes Seattle Park

Cairns mark the way through this barren landscape

About to drop down from Seattle Park toward the Carbon River valley

Suspension bridge over the Carbon River

Mossy forest along the climb from the Carbon River to Ipsut Pass

Crossing a small stream next to a rainforest nursery stump

Approaching Ipsut Pass

Looking down from Ipsut Pass