“How about Comet Falls?” I chirp as Old Iron Knees and I completed Day 2 of a week-long hiking trip in western-ish Washington state.
We already racked up some hefty trail miles exploring waterfalls, lakes, and more dirt roads than you can shake a lug nut at in Lewis County. We then turned our Camelbaks on our fall staple: Mount Rainier National Park. We try to plan a hiking trip at the park every September.
“When did we last hike Comet Falls?” Iron Knees asks. We had just crested the final ridge out of Berkeley Park Wilderness Camp on the NE side of Mount Rainier National Park. (More on that later.)
“Oh, I dunno,” I huff, digging in with my Black Diamond Trail Backs as we navigated the rocky, barren “moon scape” above Berkeley Park, elevation roughly 7,000 feet. “Maybe five, six years ago?”
“Isn’t Comet Falls to Van Trump Park that steep hike just past Longmire? With that Lilliputian parking lot that fills up by nine a.m.? The one we about killed ourselves on last time?”
”The very same!”
Iron Knees wrinkles his nose, looking less than thrilled.
“Aw, come on,” I nudge. “It’ll be fun!”
And that’s how we wound up nabbing the verrrrry last parking spot at the trailhead for Comet Falls and its alpine meadow counterpart, Van Trump Park.
Pouring over a rocky lip like Chenin Blanc out of a Venetian glass, Comet Falls cascades 320 feet to its base above Longmire. It’s one of the highest falls in the park. Many considerate it the most spectacular.
The trail climbs steadily for the first 1.9 miles. You’re nearing the falls when you cross a foot bridge over a creek. Just over your shoulder and up the canyon is tri-tiered Van Trump Falls.
Cross the foot bridge. You’ll see a sign that says – duh – “Comet Falls 200 feet.” Scramble up the dirt bank. Catch your first Wow! moment and clear view of the falls through a thick forest. Keep going for an in-your-face view.
The trail is steep and stair-steppy in places. If your idea of “exercise” is 12-oz curls of Bud, you may want to think twice about this one. Or work up to it.
But wait. There’s more.
If your legs are up for it, continue climbing for about another .8 of a mile up a hamstring-hollerin’ series of switchbacks to Van Trump Park. The trail isn’t for wusses or whiners. It’s steep, especially as you near the End of Maintained Trail sign. Think mountain goat.
Just past the sign, the trail opens out into the sweetest little alpine meadow you ever saw. We stopped here to stuff our lungs back into our chests and drink in 360 degrees of awesome with eye-popping views of the Nisqually Valley, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams to the southeast.
You’re gonna work hard on this “dual-purpose” trail.
“Are we getting close?” one hat-less, pack-less, water-less sandal-footed woman huffed during our afternoon descent back to the trailhead. She mopped her brow with a hankie. Rivers of sweat ran down her arms.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her she wasn’t even at the halfway mark yet.
“Not really,” I replied, mustering what I hoped was an encouraging smile. “You’ve still got a ways to go. The steep, rocky part is ahead.”
Her face fell like an over-baked quiche. “The falls are worth the effort,” I tried to buck up Sandal Lady’s spirits. “They’re spectacular.”
She looked at me like I just flew in from Planet Krypton. “Well, at least the trail isn’t crowded,” I offered. “And it’s mostly downhill on the way back.”
Sandal Lady put her head down and continued the uphill trudge.
I’m not sure what happened to Sandal Lady and her hiking buddy. Next time, however, I hope they’re better equipped. And prepared.
Coming off the trail into the parking lot, Old Iron Knees and I smacked trekking poles. It’s kind of “hand shake” thing between victorious hikers who Made It!
“I can’t believe we were dumb enough to do that hike again” he groaned. Divesting himself of Camelbak, trekking poles and a camel’s load worth of other trail essentials, Iron Knees slowly folded himself into the driver’s seat.
“Yeah,” I observed, following suit. “Is this place great or what?”
The hike to Comet Falls is just under two miles. But it’s uphill, sometimes steeply, through a couple of rocky avalanche chutes and several switchbacks. The second half, to Van Trump Park, is even steeper. But the rewards are worth the effort.
Comet Falls/Van Trump Park
Rating: Moderately Difficult/Difficult
Distance: 3.8 miles RT to Comet Falls/6.0 miles RT to Van Trump Park viewpoint
Elevation gain: 1,600 feet/2,200 feet
High point: 5,200 feet/5,850 feet
Pro Tip: Don’t even think about trying this trail without some sturdy trekking poles. Your knees will thank you, especially on the descent.
The Comet Falls trailhead is located four miles east of Longmire on the road toward Paradise. Parking space is limited and fills early. There’s no additional parking nearby. Resist the temptation to park on the road’s shoulder unless you want to become citation bait. Either arrive early or have an Option B.