Tag Archives: Indian Bar

Indian Bar

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Oh Indian Bar.  To be clear, this hike is not for the weak or weary.  This hike is a hard stretch of the Wonderland, with 14.5 miles round-trip and a 2,900 foot elevation gain on the way in (800 on the way out). Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  A hundred times over.

In an interview with the backcountry carpenter at Mt. Rainier, see blog here: (https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/07/stories-from-the-mountain-meet-mt-rainiers-backcountry-carpenter/)  he said that Indian Bar is one of his favorite places in the park.  Furthermore, he said that he had never NOT seen a bear at Indian Bar (sorry for the double negative), and sightings included a mother bear with three cubs, and a six-bears-in-one-day day.  Bears, wildflowers, dozens of waterfalls, and a babbling brook all in a private, wide-open valley.  YES PLEASE!

Indian Bar can be reached from two different access points – beginning from Box Canyon or from Fryingpan Creek Bridge (taking the the Summerland Trail from the White River side of the park).  I’ve done the Box Canyon route, and will focus on this route for all intensive purposes.  The Box Canyon trailhead is on Stevens Canyon Road, 11 miles east of the Longmire-Paradise Road. The gravel trail (with a sign) is directly across from the parking lot.

The first mile-and-a-half allow hikers to pass alongside Nickel Creek and another small creek with a mild grade. The next mile and a half are tough – there is a lot of elevation grade without much reprieve, and the area is all forested – not allowing for scenic overlooks until the 3-mile mark. At three miles, hikers will reach the crest of the Cowlitz Divide, which hikers will follow for the next four-and-a-half miles. Off the right hikers can settle themselves into a moderate sized field of wildflowers with nice views southwards, to drink and eat trail mix before continuing north and climbing onward.

As hikers continue onwards on the ridge, the trail gradually opens up.  Mt. Rainier will start to show its southeast side ahead and to the left through the trees, and the trail will follow the contours of the ridge, at times quite steep, but allowing hikers to rest on some flat stretches, and enjoy the wildflower meadows as they widen and beckon. Finally, the trail widens to show Mt. Rainier in all of its glory, with a colorful valley in the foreground. This is the high point of the trail at 5,914′ and from here, hikers will descend 800′ into the valley where Indian Bar sits in a huge open meadow.

The Ohanapecosh river splits the meadow in two, and the Indian Bar shelter beautifully sits to the west side of the river, its open side facing the flowing water.  Animals frequent the meadows north of the shelter and camping areas, and in late spring there are many waterfalls pouring down the lava cliff faces high above the valley. The backcountry camping area is southeast of the shelter about 100 feet, and sits right above Wauhaukaupauken Falls, which are small but beautiful.

Once you’ve set up your camp and rested a bit, it is recommended to clamber up the hill above the camp.  Elk sightings are almost guaranteed when the animals are in rut in September.  Remember always to give animals plenty of space.  Bull elk can be extremely aggressive in mating season, and you should take care never to surprise a black bear.  Take extra precautions around the black bear if there are cubs around.  Never get between a mother and her cub, and make sure to make plenty of noise when hiking at dusk and dawn, so as not to catch a bear unaware and on the defense.

This hike is generally snow-free from late July – September, and the wildflowers are out in full effect late-July to mid-August. If hikers arrange for a car drop-off, the Box Canyon hike can be combined with the Summerland trail to the trailhead at Frying Creek bridge (another 8.7 mile hike), for a one-way 17 mile hike through some of Mt. Rainier’s most beautiful country.

If you choose to do the Box Canyon trail in and out of Indian Bar, it is most definitely recommended as a two-day hike, so make sure that you apply for the appropriate backcountry camping permit, which must be arranged in person. Wilderness Camping and Climbing permits are available at the Longmire, White River, and Carbon River Wilderness Information Centers (WICs) and at the Paradise Climbing Information Center during the summer season. Permits are also available at visitor centers.

Stories from the Mountain: Meet Mt. Rainier’s backcountry carpenter!

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The Mt. Rainier Visitors Association is beginning a new series we like to call “Stories from the Mountain.”  This will be a series of interviews with Nisqually Valley locals, National Park staff, and visitors just like you!

Meet James, one of the backcountry carpenters for Mt. Rainier.  James has been working for Mt. Rainier for 10 years, working for the Maintenance Department in a variety of roles. In 2007, James began doing historical carpentry on the back-country structures for the park.  James gets many questions about what this job entails, and which structures he works on.

Here is the deal: all of the older structures in the park are historically protected.   While visitors most often are familiar with the Visitor’s Centers and the Longmire and Paradise Lodges, anyone who has hiked in the backcountry of Mt. Rainier has likely enjoyed the site of one of the backcountry patrol cabins, shelters, or the fire lookouts that are spread throughout the park.  The National Park works to preserve these structures, along with their historical integrity, meaning that James and his co-workers maintain these buildings using traditional woodworking and masonry techniques.

There are ten backcountry patrol cabins spread throughout the park.  These are cabins that park rangers stay in while they are working in the backcountry to protect hikers and ensure park rules.  These backcountry patrol cabins include Lake George, Ipsut Creek, Golden Lakes, Lake James, Mystic Lake, Huckleberry Creek (no longer used by rangers), St. Andrews, Three Lakes, Mowich Lake, Indian Henry’s. These cabins were built between the 1930s and 1950s and are all old-growth log cabin structures. although Lake James and Mystic have been completely rebuilt. The most common work on backcountry cabins includes replacing rotten logs, and repairing storm damage to roofs, windows or beams. There are also two base camp patrol cabins located at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman.  While technically ranger stations, these structures differ from the other backcountry cabins in that they  are located at 10,080  and 9,440 feet respectively, and are made out of slabs of rock.

There are four fire-lookouts in Mt. Rainier: Shriner, Gobblers Knob, Fremont, and Tolmie.  All of the fire lookouts were built between 1932 and 1934.  Because the lookouts are all built at high points, they offer stunning views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding areas.  However, their vantage points also leave the lookouts exposed to extreme weather conditions, and the lookouts often need to have their decks, windows, and roofing repaired.

There are also three backcountry shelters, located at Indian Bar, Camp Muir, and Summerland. These are the only backcountry structures that the public can stay in.  Interested parties should speak to a Park Ranger when obtaining the wilderness permit required for backcountry camping. Permits can be obtained from any ranger station in the park during their normal hours of operation.  More info. on obtaining overnight permits can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping-and-hiking.htm

James has had the opportunity to visit every structure in Mt. Rainier National Park.  His favorite structures are the Ipsut cabin (complete restoration still in progress), Three Lakes, and the Indian Bar shelter. James believes that Ipsut and Three Lakes are the best examples of traditional full-scribed log-work, and he enjoys the combination of log and rock-work that comprise the Indian Bar shelter.

In term of location, James has trouble choosing a favorite place to work or visit. He likes the way Camp Schurman is built out of the rocks and often sits above the cloud deck nestled at the bow of Steamboat Prow, exactly where the Emmons Glacier and Winthrop Glacier split and become their own entities. One of his favorite views is from Tolmie Lookout where you can see all of Puget Sound, the Seattle city-scape, and the Olympic Mountains; and he also enjoys the panorama of Mt. Rainier from Fremont Lookout. James loves Indian Bar because of its plethora of animals – (he says he’s never visited the shelter without seeing a bear!), and because of the shelter’s beautiful valley setting.

While James works for the Maintenance Department year-round, (specifically for the Carpentry shop), he does most of his backcountry work during the summer, as the structures are inaccessible during the winter due to snow.  James and a co-worker usually hike to the structures they work on, and stay and work in the structures for eight-day tours in the summer and fall. The supplies and materials they use are usually flown in by helicopter in the beginning of the season, although snowmobiles, ATVS, and mules are also sometimes utilized in designated areas.

James will be working on the Camp Muir project along with his colleagues beginning the latter half of summer 2013, and his other major upcoming projects will include replacing sill logs at Lake George, and continuing to finish the rebuild of Ipsut cabin.  Good luck James, and thanks for all of your hard work!

If you have a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at, or call the Visitor’s Center at to be in touch.  We’d love to share your story!