Running Around Mt. Rainier

It took a few years but I finally got a chance to cover this route in 2010. What a spectacular run this is! It is a big commitment with a need for crew but is the best volcano run.

Click Current Conditions Link for latest info on run conditions

General Logistics

There are of course variations but, with 93 miles to cover, most runners do this run in three days. If run clockwise the runners start at Longmire and head to Mowich Lake for their first night. The second day is from Mowich Lake to White River. The final day is then from White River to Longmire (or option to drop/cut distance after Box Canyon). To make this possible, you of course need a crew to drive your camping gear around the mountain. The crew will need to spend an average of 2 hours of driving time between sites.

Run Distance, Time and Direction

Distance/Time
Listed below are the distance for the 3 legs and climbing required

Leg Distance Elev CW Elev CCW Time Est Notes
Longmire to Mowich Lake
34 miles
10,500 ft
8,500 ft
11.5 hours
Bring flashlights  
Mowich Lake to White River
26.5 miles
6,200 ft
7,400 ft
8 hours
 
White River to Longmire
31 miles
6,000 ft
7,000 ft
9 hours
Snow likely

The above information comes from Ken Ward's Wonderland Mileage Excel spreadsheet ( pdf version ). Please note that Ken's time estimate come from a very experienced ultra marathon group. I'd set this as a lower limit. When we traveled from Longmire to Mowich lake it took us 13 hours (and proportionately we were even further off on other days). I know of runners that have taken 16 hours from Mowich to Longmire. Do not underestimate the time required on the trail.

Direction
Either direction is popular, my preference it to run CW. The reasoning is as follows. First I'd like to get the hardest day completed first. Secondly, by running it CW, you cross the road at Box Canyon (about 19 miles on day 3). This gives the option of shortening the route. Even if you don't plan on shortening there is some security in crossing the road several time over the last 11 miles - you at least have the option of exiting if necessary.

There are however some advantage to running in the opposite direction. You get the most "boring" part of the run out of the way. Day three is still the hardest day but at least it is a few thousand feet less climbing when done in that direction. You are committed to running the whole trail (for better or worse)

When To Do This Run?

The answer of course depends on the yearly snow level. To be really safe I would suggest second week in August to the first of September. Most years the season is longer than that. It is probably possible in late July and you might be able to run this as late as end of September. There is often snow on the route, the question is how much. You may see snow in Berkeley Park (near Sunrise on North side) and between Summerland and Indian Bar on west side. I would suggest that you check in with the ranger before your run to get recommendations for crampons/ice axe.

Permits, Campgrounds and Ranger Info

Ranger Stations
In contrast to my experience running around the other volcanoes. At Rainier I was actually able to talk to a real person (not an endless voice mail look up). I had best success at the Longmire Ranger Station. I would strongly encourage you to check with the rangers before you head out. I'd ask about detours, snow crossing, bugs, bears ...

Wilderness Permit
I received mixed information on this. One would argue that since we are car camping sites that we are just "day hiking". This sentiment was shared by the two rangers we met on the trail. However some runners have been told that they need a wilderness permit to do this run.

To be safe, I would suggest getting a wilderness permit. I would also suggest doing this early in the year. You can submit a permit as early as 15 March for processing on 1 April. The following link may take you to Wilnderness Reservation Info. If the link is broken just do a Google search.

Campgrounds
You can and need to get a reservation for camping at Cougar Rock Campground. This campground gets fully booked. Note that at most of the campground you can only have two tents. You may need multiple campgrounds. The other two campgrounds, Mowich and White River are first come, first serve. Mowich is somewhat haphazard (there are not designated sites) but in theory they could turn your crew away. White River has designated sites and once full you are out of luck. My advice is to ask your crew to break camp early and hustle over to the next campsite and then relax and enjoy the day.

Car Parking
When you pick up your Wilderness Permit at Longmire ranger station, they will ask for your car license number for a vehicle you are leaving there. I suspect you could park there if you did not have a wilderness permit but it is easier to just get the permit. There is also overnight parking up at Paradise lodge.

Northwest Forest Pass
For many of the runs on this website you need a Northwest Forest Pass. You don't need any such pass within Rainier National Park (but you do need to pay an entry fee to enter the park.

What to Bring

Maps
While the trail is well marked it is common sense to bring a map with you. There are two excellent options. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated and the Green Trails map. My preference is for the Green Trails map as it has a trail profile chart for the whole trail. There are also a few maps available from the NPS. This are not as good but to start planning you can use this Wonderland Trail Map and this Wonderland Trail Profile. You probably want to do a web search for the most recent maps.

A final options is to bring a GPS. When we ran in 2010, I brought along my GPS and recorded the track. The GPS Zip File has the trail in Garmin format, GPS interchange format and Google Earth format (it can be particularly fun to preview the route in Google Earth.

Equipment
This is going to be a long day. Make sure you bring your 10 Essentials along. About the only thing I would not take to the extreme is water. There are quite a few streams. One could do pretty well with two hand bottles and pump or iodine tablets.

Weather

The mountain can create its own weather. It is not uncommon to be sunny in Seattle and raining/snowing up at Rainier. This NWS link is a starting point. I'd check a few locations around the mountain and ask you crew to update you on weather as they head around.

Pictures

A number of folks have put together a great selection of photos. Take a look at this is you want to get a feel for the trail.


NOTE: This page contains running information for experienced ultra runners. Experience ultra runners are people who have already completed 50K, 50Mile or longer ultramarathons. The advice on this page is not directed towards hikers or typical 10k recreational runners. No guarantee is made about the accuracy of maps or information on this page. This page is only intended as a starting point for your own research on places to run. Always check route information yourself and be prepared.


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