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Wonderland Trail Day 4: Golden Lakes to South Mowich River

Jeff Fjords South Mowich River on the Wonderland Trail

Day 4 on the Wonderland Trail was misty and damp. We woke up with our tents wet from the moisture in the air. The hot sun from yesterday’s hike was nowhere to be found.

Day 4: South Mowich River
Distance: 7.2 miles
Time: 3.5 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation +/-: 433’/2,705′
The foggy morning did add an eery beauty to Golden Lakes as we filtered water for the day’s seven mile trek. This day was going to be the opposite of yesterday in more than just weather. Today’s hike would involve more descent than climb.

We broke camp and headed off into the fog.

The dampness of the day was reflected in the trail. The undergrowth is lush and green, and everything in a state of perpetual decay and regrowth. Except for the bridges. They were just decaying.

Bridges on the Wonderland Trail are varying states of decay

The trail itself on the west side of Mount Rainier is a pleasure to hike on. Lined with ferns, mushrooms and other plants, the tread is soft and padded by a cushion of pine needles.

Trail to South Mowich River on the Wonderland Trail

The first two miles were gentile forest trail with little elevation gain or loss. And then began a steady downhill. We would drop 2,700 feet in the next 4.5 miles.

At the bottom of the canyon, we could hear South Mowich River before we could see it. The water is fast and the current strong enough to move bowling ball-sized stones downstream. We heard them rumble and crack as they tumbled downstream.

When you reach the river, the trail itself is ever changing, as the water winds its way through the scrabble and finds a new route. Stone cairns served a real purpose here, helping us find the “most likely” route across. We reached a point where there was no good log crossing, and we would have to wade through a couple sections.

We unbuckled our packs in case we fell in, and steadied our steps with our trekking poles, probing for hidden rocks that could turn an ankle or worse. We all made it across without incident, although I think it took most of the remainder of the trip for Derek’s camp shoes to dry out.

Not far beyond the river crossing was the sign for South Mowich Camp. We were first there, and claimed the shelter, giving us a chance to get out of the damp air and maybe even dry out some of our gear.

The camp is quite near the river, but you cannot use it for a water source due to the high silt content. If you try to filter it, it will quickly clog your filter. Instead, we had to hike a few hundred yards further north on the Wonderland Trail to a calmer creek that ran clear.

Tomorrow, our first resupply at Mowich Lake. 

Golden Lakes to South Mowich River Trail Map and Elevation Profile

Download file: day-4-golden-lakes-to-south-mowich-8819-90324am(cleaned).gpx

Originally hiked on August 8, 2019 with Derek and Jason.

Back to Day 3  |  Continue to Day 5, South Mowich River to Eagle’s Roost

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