At Carbon River, a spur trail crosses a log bridge to the campground. Carbon River campground has four camp sites. Turning east, the Wonderland Trail soon reaches a large cable bridge which spans the Carbon River.
The path takes one up through the deep glacial canyon. On the eastern edge, the crumbling Northern Crags vanish towards the sky, and on the western side, the Echo Cliffs rise thousands of feet to Seattle Park. The climb starts out sharply just below the lower terminus of the Carbon Glacier. This is a rocky and desolate glacial landscape, and is one of the more intimate views the Wonderland Trail provides of a glacier. The trail immediately runs parallel to the edge of the rock-covered glacier as it climbs the cliffs toward Dick Creek. One is offered dramatic views of the ice and rock falls from the edge of the glacier. The layer of rocks that blankets the glacier is from edifice failures that come crashing down from the Willis Wall — the most unstable face of Mount Rainier. The first mile of travel from the suspension bridge is both awe inspiring and a bit nerve wracking. As you watch the glacier calve and crumble you come across rocks the size of basketballs sitting squarely in the middle of the trail, reminding you that you are in an area of rapid geological change. There is strong evidence that small rock avalanches sometimes rain down from the Northern Crags above. This will put a little spring in your step as you grind up the difficult path which rises nearly 1,000 feet in the next mile in steep switchbacks across the hillside.
Once you arrive at Dick Creek, the dangers of falling rocks diminishes. This is a small camp with only two sites and no room for large groups. Clear and cold water rolls down from marshy Elysian Fields, just a mile above. I consider Dick Creek a nice place to stop for the day, as it allows you to split the long ascent to Mystic Lake into two parts. If you are just passing through, this is a good place to see how much chocolate you can eat. You will need a lot of fuel to finish the climb.
Mystic Lake lies 3.6 miles ahead, and the trail ascends steeply from Dick Creek, rising nearly 1,000 feet in the next half mile. Rounding inland past Goat Island Rock, Carbon Glacier again comes into view. The trail hugs the glacier closely for the next two miles before nearing Moraine Park.
If this is the end of a long day, it is quite easy to overestimate your mileage at this point. Looking up the valley it seems likely a glacial cirque lake lies just over the next rise (and then the next one). During the summer, the path is flanked by lush patches of lupine and Castilleja (Indian paint brush), and as you near Moraine Park, the view of the volcano and the Willis Wall can be superb when the sky permits.
The hike to Moraine Park is nearly magical, a sub-alpine sanctum of wildflowers where fog frequently drapes the narrow valley. The warning whistles of marmots announce your presence as you arrive at a large open meadow. You will pass through to a steep hillside where you should muster your best efforts and lean into the final climb before Mystic Lake. Rising off the meadow floor, the trail switchbacks steeply up the ridge. Finally the crest is reached and Mystic Lake will be visible in the treed marshland below. It is reached in 0.8 miles of long switchbacks.
It is a nice place to camp and can be a social place as it’s often fully booked with overnight backpackers from Sunrise. Don’t come without a reservation. In addition to many small tent sites, there are two large group camps here. The campground is on the far side of the lake, partway down a wooded hillside. Some sites offer views towards the passage to Berkeley Park, past the south side of Skyscraper Mountain. Beware of the mice.