Chasing Waterfalls

Hike Comet Falls and Van Trump Park

It’s difficult to imagine a place any more stunning than this.

On this hike there are three impressive waterfalls and numerous smaller falls along the way. And you’ll see even more water cascading down the mountain if you hike all the way up to Van Trump Park.

Comet-Falls-Van-Trump-Park-021The trail begins at Christine Falls, which can be seen from the main road. A short climb takes you to a sturdy footbridge where you can look down as the falls crash onto the rocks below, and up to the whitewater of Van Trump Creek crashing through a rocky gorge.

The trail climbs steeply for over a mile up the canyon above a creek — which you won’t always see as you climb higher — but will be able to hear. You’ll see a sign that reads, “Comet Falls 200 Feet.” Then you’ll cross Van Trump Creek on a single log footbridge and be greeted by a three-tiered fall plunging from 124 feet. And you will be amazed. You’ll take pictures. And then you’ll realize that is pretty Bloucher Falls.

Once you cross the bridge, head to the left; it takes a bit of effort to find the trail up over the bluff, but once you do you’ll soon discover what the sign that tricked you earlier was preparing you for — your first view of the main drop of Comet Falls in the distance. This is when the anticipation begins to build.

If you hike another quarter-mile up some switchbacks, you’ll get an up-close and personal view of the falls.

A right turn at the junction takes you down to the base of the falls where the cool spray is a welcome relief on a hot day. When the sun is shining, a lovely rainbow appears in the mist at the bottom of the falls. Once you’ve rested, cooled off, and enjoyed taking photos and perhaps had a snack, there’s more to see.

The junction to the left leads to a steep set of switchbacks that will provide views of the upper plunges of the falls not visible from below. Comet Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the park. It is officially listed by the National Park Service as 320 feet tall, but some waterfall surveys list it as tall as 462 feet.

Comet-Falls-Van-Trump-Park-123For those willing to climb an additional 1,300 feet, the panorama that awaits at end of the forested climb defies description. Let’s just say you’ll be glad you made the climb.

Less than one mile and 700 feet up, stunning beauty floods the senses from every direction as you step out into Van Trump Park. You will see Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens, and the Kautz and Van Trump glaciers. There’s so much beauty all around, you won’t know which way to turn.

A sign marks the end of the maintained trail, but you will see a path carved through the green grass, and possibly the snow leading up to one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the park, Mildred Point. Look for lovely white avalanche and yellow glacier lilies early in the season as they are the first to pop up when snow begins to melt. Beargrass, lupine, phlox, columbine and paintbrush are just a few of the dozens of species of wildflowers that grace the slopes of this sub-alpine meadow.

You can extend the hike to 7.3 miles by leaving one car at Longmire and catching the Rampart Ridge trail back down it.

This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so you’ll want to arrive early. Or even better, plan your hike mid-week when it won’t be as crowded, and there will be less competition for the 20 parking spots available at the trailhead.

Comet-Falls-Van-Trump-Park-227This is a strenuous hike. It’s not an easy walk in the park. But for those up for the challenge, the rewards are great and the memories will last a lifetime.

Good to Know

The trail is not normally snow-free until mid-July, and avalanches can be a hazard early in the season.

Round-trip mileage:
to Comet Falls: 3.8 miles
to Van Trump Park: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain to Comet Falls: 900 feet

Elevation Gain to Van Trump: Park: 2,200 feet

Map: Green Trails No. 269, Mount Rainier West

How to get There
From the west entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, 13.5 miles east of Elbe on State Route 706. Drive 10.2 miles to the Comet Falls trailhead parking lot, on the left.

From the east entrance, or within the park, travel west 5 miles from the junction of Paradise Road and Stevens Canyon Road, to the parking lot a quarter mile past the Christine Falls Viewpoint. There is parking for 16 automobiles and a few motorcycles, but no trailhead amenities.

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