Whether you’re looking for a challenge, long-lasting memories or unmatched views, Mount Rainier National Park’s Wonderland Trail will take care of you.
All it, or any trail for that matter, really asks in return is that you take care of it.
Here are some tips for minimizing your impact on the trail:
The Boy Scouts summed it up perfectly when they drafted their motto. This means knowing the conditions and hazards of where you are going. Have a plan for emergencies. And know how to navigate the wilderness. Being prepared will minimize the chances that officials will have to use time and resources to rescue you.
Pick your camp wisely
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (lnt.org) says “good campsites are found, not made.” If you are removing branches or smothering vegetations in order to pitch your tent, then you’re doing it wrong. Camp on durable surfaces.
Embrace the mud
If you’re wearing good boots, then walking through muddy patches in the trail shouldn’t faze you. When hikers walk around puddles they create wide spots in the trail. Same goes for branches and downed trees. Remove them to the downhill side if possible or go over them if safe. Hiking off trail to get around them should be the last resort.
Campfires aren’t permitted in wilderness campsites in most national parks, including Mount Rainier. In areas where campfires are permitted, keep fires small and contained and put them out completely.
Don’t cut switchbacks
While it might be tempting to shave a few steps off your hike by cutting switchbacks, don’t. This is not good for the trail, the vegetation, and can potentially change the way water flows downhill in that area.
It should go without saying that backpackers should carry out their own trash. Backcountry pit toilets are not trash cans and, as signs warn, trash can interfere with the composting process.
Don’t bury your TP
If you can’t make it to a pit toilet, dig a hole at least six inches deep and at least 200 feet from the trail and the nearest water. Cover the hole when you are done, but don’t bury your toilet paper. Animals are likely to dig this up. Pack it out. Or use natural “toilet paper” (grass, moss, pine cones, etc.).
A dip in a lake can be refreshing and remove trail grime, but Mystic Lake is not a bathtub. Leave your soap — no matter how biodegradable the label claims it is — in your pack. If you need to soap up, take some water and your soap at least 200 feet from the nearest water source.
Don’t take anything
Don’t even think about collecting interesting rocks and flowers or adopting that cute marmot as a pet. Need a souvenir? Take a picture.
Don’t leave anything
Don’t carve the initials of you and your sweetheart into trees and structures. It’s not romantic. It’s vandalism. Also, double-check camp before you head out to make sure you didn’t forget something. But mistakes are made. If somebody before you forgets something, pack it out for them. (To the Buddhist group that hiked the Wonderland Trail last September, I have your Pema Chdrn book.)
Don’t feed the animals
Feeding animals trains them to associate people with food. You don’t want bears seeing you as a walking summer sausage so give other hikers the same courtesy.
Rainier ranger Daniel Keebler says visitors frequently arrive for hikes with their dogs. Pets aren’t permitted outside the parking lots and campgrounds at Rainier (With the exception of a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that briefly enters the east side of the park). Park officials say the pet ban is designed to protect the environment, park animals and the dogs. However, dogs are permitted in the national forest’s surrounding the parks.
Have fun playing cards and telling stories at the end of the day, but remember that just a few feet away somebody else it trying to enjoy their trip too.
Yield to others
Allow others to pass without, if possible, stepping off the trail. If you’re hiking downhill, yield to those chugging their way uphill.
There are several organizations that help people volunteer to maintain, clear and repair trails. Check out the Washington Trails Association (wta.org) or Mount Rainier Volunteers (rainiervolunteers.blogspot.com).
This story is part of a series on the Wonderland Trail from The News Tribune. Read the rest here.