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Wonderland Trail to Kautz Creek, Mount Rainier National Park— June 2007

By Dan Paquette

Mount Rainier is open and like George Banks in the movie, Mary Poppins, “I feel a surge of deep satisfaction.” However, many of the trails are often open only to the first creek crossing. It’s not just the weather from last winter. Most years, bridges periodically get washed out and have to be repaired. Here is an outing which begins at Longmire and gets you back in mid afternoon so that you can enjoy a late lunch at the National Park Inn.

I recommend parking at Longmire, and then walking past the restrooms and the museum, to the northeast end of the complex. There, look for a brown sign entitled “Wonderland Trail” with an arrow. This is a little spur which takes you to a junction where the right fork heads east to Paradise and the left fork heads to destinations such as Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, also Rampart Ridge and Van Trump trailheads. Take the left fork to Indian Henry’s.

It’s about 3.3 miles to Kautz Creek crossing, so that’s 6.6 miles out and back. If that’s not enough, one can add another mile by coming back via the Rampart Ridge Trail.

The walk begins among typical west side tree cover. Viola glabella (violet) will be blooming. Blechnum spicant (Deer Fern) is a dominant ground cover with an occasional smattering of Vaccinium parvifolium (Red Huckleberry), Chimaphila umbellata (Prince's-Pine) and later on, bunches of Vaccinium ovalifolium (Oval-leaved Blueberry). The trail crosses the road, passes a wetland on the left, also an avalanche area, and then one is immersed in the big trees.

There are so many giants, that when they topple, there's hardly anywhere for them to land. As you ascend, you will pass beyond these very old Hemlocks, Cedars and Doug Firs and come to areas that have been subject to more recent fires. On the ground, Rubus lasiococcus (Dwarf Bramble) and Linnaea borealis (Twinflower) show up frequently along with the conspicuous tube-like moss known as Rhytidiopsis robusta (Pipecleaner Moss).

You'll pass the trailhead for the Van Trump Park, and later the trailhead for Rampart Ridge. Now you've moved from the Nisqually watershed to the Kautz Creek watershed. Pinus monticola (Western White Pine) is not uncommon and there are a few Tsuga mertensiana (Mountain Hemlock) as well. I found bobcat scat lying on open snow on this trail in May. As you near Kautz Creek, take care; roughly fifty feet above the stream bed, the trail runs along the edge of a dirt cliff that has been undermined. Be sure to stay away from the edge.

Near the creek on a clear day, the views for humans are quite rewarding. To the north, lie Copper and Iron Mountains, closer to the northwest is Satulick Mountain, named for Indian Henry and up the Kautz valley is that frightful dark narrow gap from whence the Kautz Creek flows. And beyond that is that taller mountain with all the snow - its name escapes me.

If you'd like more information on the forests in this area around Longmire, take a look at William H. Moir's Forests of Mount Rainier. In chapter five, he provides an excellent tree map from the work of Jerry Franklin and Miles Hemstrom.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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