Emmons Moraine Trail, Glacier Basin Trailhead, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Emmons Moraine Trail - 4.0 miles

Glacier Basin Trailhead

View of the White River Valley from Emmons Moraine

View of the White River Valley from Emmons Moraine

Round-Trip Length: 4.0 miles
Start-End Elevation: 4,315' - 5,240' (unmaintained path continues beyond this point)
Elevation Change: +925' net elevation gain (+1,027' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Emmons Moraine Trail - 4.0 Miles Round-Trip

Emmons Glacier (4.3 sq miles) is the largest of Mount Rainier's 25 named glaciers, and largest glacier in the contiguous US. It extends from the summit and forms the White River, one of five major river systems emanating from the mountain. 

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Glacial movement grinds the land beneath it, depositing till on its margins that accumulate on ridges called moraines. Emmons Moraine is an archetypal lateral moraine on the north side of Emmons' terminus.

The Emmons Moraine Trail runs up the moraine's high, steep spine with useful insight to the glaciers formation and 3+ mile path from summit to river.

Views of the glacier are concentrated on its terminus, which is covered by debris from a 1963 rockfall off Little Tahoma. This coverage has insulated the ablation zone and slowed melting, resulting in periods of glacial advance and irregular melting patterns under the debris.

Note that trail maintenance ends .5 miles from the Glacier Basin Trail split, but a serviceable path continues further up valley. Travel beyond this point is rugged and moraine edges can be unstable - use caution:

The Glacier Basin Trail heads west on a mild grade over Inter Fork, which joins the White River near the campground. It rises fast to panoramas of Rainier, Goat Island Mountain and the White River just before reaching the Emmons Moraine Trail split (1.05 miles : 4,845'). 

The Emmons Moraine Trail drops across the cobbled channel of Inter Fork on a footbridge and switchbacks to the top of the moraine. You'll have good views of White River and a lake formed by a terminal moraine from this point, though access to both is deliberately blocked.

It levels on the moraine to the End of Maintained Trail Sign (1.55 miles : 5,035'), but several clearly defined paths continue up-valley along the spine. Scrambling down to the river is not advised due to steep, unstable terrain and falling rock.

The most usable path drops off the spine and shifts erratically through tightly packed vegetation with minimal clarity (2.1 miles : 5,230'). It edges back to the moraine-top with good views, but quickly fades in rugged terrain (2.3 miles : 5,315'). Further travel is difficult with minimal payoff.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N46 54.093 W121 38.752 — 0.0 miles : Glacier Basin Trailhead
  • N46 54.062 W121 39.361 — .5 miles : Fast, mild grade climb
  • N46 54.001 W121 39.919 — 1.05 miles : Emmons Moraine Trail split
  • N46 53.827 W121 40.370 — 1.55 miles : End of Maintained Trail sign
  • N46 53.753 W121 40.469 — 1.75 miles : Shifting travel along moraine
  • N46 53.571 W121 40.720 — 2.1 miles : Defined path continues along moraine
  • N46 53.462 W121 40.746 — 2.25 miles : Defined path fades

Worth Noting

  • Emmons Glacier is named after Samuel Franklin Emmons, a geologist and explorer who surveyed Mount Rainier in 1870.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Wilderness Permits are required year-round for overnight camping in the backcountry. Wilderness Camping Permits are free (*see notes for climbers below). There are no designated campsites on the Emmons Moraine Trail.

  • Permits and current trail conditions are available at all wilderness information centers, visitor centers and ranger stations (360.569.2211).
  • Camp only in sites designated on your itinerary. Fires are not permitted anywhere in the backcountry.
  • All trail-side camps have primitive toilets, marked sites, poles for hanging food and a nearby water source.
  • Cross-Country Zone Camping: there are no maintained trails, campsites or amenities in cross-country zones. Camp at least 1/4 mile away from any road or established trail, and 100' from water sources. Cross-country camping is not permitted for those hiking the complete Wonderland Trail.
  • Summer Party Size Limit (May 15th - September 30th): 5 people per individual site or cross-country zone designation. Families are an exception to this rule (parents + children).
  • Winter Party Size Limit (October 1 - May 14th): 12 people per individual site or cross-country zone designation.
  • Groups (defined as 6 - 12 people) are permitted in 25 designated sites throughout the park, and when camping on snow in Alpine Zones.
  • Climbing Permits are required year-round for any day or overnight travel on glaciers or above 10,000', including Little Tahoma. The Climbing Permit also serves as the wilderness camping permit for overnight trips. Wilderness Camping Permits are free while a Climbing Permit requires the purchase of an annual Climbing Pass for each member of the party.
  • Sites at Glacier Basin Campground are $20 per night.

Fishing Information

A Washington State Fishing License is not required to fish in Mount Rainier National Park:

  • A Washington State catch record card is required to fish for salmon or steelhead and they must be accounted for as if caught in state waters.
  • Fishing regulations are specific to site, species, and season. Always contact the Park before setting out for the latest guidelines.
  • Fishing for Bull Trout, Dolly Varden, Coastal Cutthroat and Chinook (King) Salmon is strictly prohibited in Park waters.

Park Lakes:

  • There is no catch limit in Park lakes.

Streams and Rivers:

  • Daily catch: Six pounds of fish plus one additional fish, not to exceed 12 fish.
  • Possession: 1 day's limit
  • Minimum size: none
  • The Ohanapecosh River and its tributaries are open to fly fishing only. The use of bait or other lures (except artificial flies) is not permitted.

The following areas are closed to fishing:

  • Klickitat Creek above the White River Entrance water supply intake
  • Ipsut Creek above the Ipsut Creek Campground water supply intake
  • Laughingwater Creek above the Ohanapecosh water supply intake
  • Edith Creek basin above the Paradise water supply intake
  • Frozen Lake
  • Reflection Lakes
  • Shadow Lake
  • Tipsoo Lake

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $25 entrance fee to Mount Rainier National Park (good for 7 days). Annual Passes are $50.
  • Pets and Bikes are not permitted on hiking trails or climbing routes in Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Fires are not permitted in the backcountry in Mount Rainier National Park.

Directions to Trailhead

Glacier Basin Trailhead is located 5.1 miles from the White River Entrance Station in Mount Rainier National Park. Drive 3.9 miles from the entrance station and turn left into the Glacier Basin Campground. Drive slow on this narrow, busy road. 

Continue 1.2 miles to the Picnic - Climber Parking Area on the left. Park here and walk .2 miles to the trailhead at the very far end of the campground. Do not park in spaces near the trailhead - these are reserved for specific campsites.

Contact Information

Mount Rainier National Park
55210 238th Avenue East
Ashford, WA 98304

General Information

Lost and Found

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