We’re all for tag­ging sum­mits, but the best way to ex­pe­ri­ence a peak? Hike around it. You’ll see a moun­tain’s many faces on a sin­gle, peak-cir­cling loop. These 14 trips cir­cum­nav­i­gate the best of the best.

Backpacker - - Contents - By Ryan Wichelns

A moun­tain has many faces. See them all when you cir­cle—not climb—a peak. Here are the 14 best sum­mit cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tions in the coun­try. By Ryan Wichelns


IF THERE’S A mother of all moun­tains in the Lower 48, it’s this Cas­cade vol­cano. Climb­ing it is a life-list ex­pe­ri­ence—hik­ing around it is even bet­ter. Iron­i­cally, the 93-mile Won­der­land Trail en­cir­cling 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier was ini­tially built as a util­i­tar­ian—not recre­ational—route. Com­pleted in 1915, the orig­i­nal path was 130 miles long and used by rangers to mon­i­tor wild­fires, poach­ers, and van­dals through­out the park. To­day, it’s a high­light-reel thru-hike that threads sub­alpine mead­ows, ice-fed wa­ter­falls, and shady tem­per­ate rain­forests, all with views of the peak’s 25 ma­jor glaciers. Two must­camp spots: On the peak’s re­mote west side, spend a night at Kla­p­atche Park for mead­ows reach­ing to Rainier’s rock-stud­ded shoul­der be­low Point Suc­cess; on its north side, spend a night near Mys­tic Lake to watch ice and snow tum­ble from the con­stantly avalanch­ing Wil­lis Wall.

Trail­head White River Sea­son July to Septem­ber Per­mit Re­quired ($20); ap­ply on­line. Climb Mt. Rainier See page 70. Con­tact nps.gov/mora

See Mt. Rainier’s north­east face from the Won­der­land Trail, near Sun­rise Rim.

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