To Van Trump Park: 5.6 miles round trip, 2200 feet elevation gain
To Mildred Point: 7.5 miles round trip, 3000 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate (to Comet Falls and Van Trump Park), Moderate-Strenuous to Mildred Point
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Mount Rainier National Park entrance fee required
The hike to Van Trump Park in Washington State's Mount Rainier National Park visits multiple destinations of note, making it a hike with good rewards adjustable to level of fitness. The wildflower meadows of Van Trump Park and the stark, wild view over the canyon of the Kautz Creek from Mildred Point are both worthy spots, but luckily for hikers who prefer a lighter outing, the true highlight of this hike is the wispy, free-falling Comet Falls, one of the most extraordinary waterfalls in a national park packed with them.
I hiked this trail on a hazy, early August weekend with a friend, setting out from Seattle early in the morning after finding an AQI reading of less than 100 for Mount Rainier that day. From Seattle, we took State Route 167 and then SR 512 south to Puyallup, exited onto SR 161 and followed it south past South Hill, Graham, and Eatonville to the junction with SR 7; we turned left and followed Highway 7 to Elbe and continued on Highway 706 from Elbe towards Mount Rainier. Passing Ashford, we entered the park and followed the road past Longmire to the Comet Falls Trailhead, where there was limited parking on the left side of the road. We snagged the last parking spot and started up the trail.
The trail started out by climbing above the road, running parallel to it for a couple hundred meters until the trail reached a bridge crossing over Van Trump Creek. Here, the pretty blue water of the creek tumbled down successive steps in a narrow canyon, falling down Christine Falls just a little downstream of the bridge crossing.
|Van Trump Creek|
At about 1.8 miles from the trailhead, we crossed a log bridge over a tributary of Van Trump Creek. Looking upstream, we spotted a pretty three-tiered waterfall, one of the multiple scenic water features along this hike.
|Cascades along the trail|
|Rainbow at Comet Falls|
|Beargrass on the trail|
The Van Trump Park Trail made an aggressive uphill push in its short 0.3-mile length, climbing through steep meadows with occasional views of Mount Rainier and improving views of the Tatoosh Range; as Mount Rainier was coated in haze at the time of my hike, the meadows were the true highlight, showcasing beautiful blooms of paintbrush, western anemone, lupine, heather, and beargrass. After an especially steep section of the trail, we reached the end of the maintained trail at a spot amongst the trees; an unmaintained and clearly oft-traveled use path continued forward, so we plowed ahead. I'm glad we did: the most expansive meadows at Van Trump Park were still ahead.
A couple hundred feet beyond the sign, we broke out into a lovely, lush meadow with an explosion of lupine, heather, and paintbrush. Wilted avalanche lilies were also everywhere; we were perhaps a week too late to see that portion of the bloom. Point Success, the southernmost peak of Mount Rainier, towered above us.
|Lupine blooms at Van Trump Park|
|Bloom at Van Trump Park|
|Wildflowers of Van Trump Park|
Half a mile from the Van Trump Park Trail junction, we came to a second, signed junction for Mildred Point; we took the right fork at the junction for the trail to Mildred Point. I was surprised that this trail was marked at all: the path felt unmaintained at times as it embarked on a steep, direct climb along a ridge, ascending 600 feet in just under half a mile. Along the way, we passed through even more beautiful wildflower meadows, including a huge, open slope on the longest, steepest hill of the ascent that was carpeted with valerian and tiger lilies. A stretch of trail on this hill was both steep and sandy, making footing very difficult on the way up; the trail to Mildred Point is substantially more difficult than anything seen on the hike into Comet Falls and Van Trump Park.
|Wildflowers in the meadows along the way to Mildred Point|
|Hazy Tatoosh Range from trail to Mildred Point|
|View of the Kautz Creek Valley from Mildred Point|