Comet Falls

Mt Rainier National Park / Paradise, Washington, USA

About Comet Falls


Hiking Distance: 4 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2-2.5 hours

Date first visited: 2011-08-25
Date last visited: 2011-08-25

Waterfall Latitude: 46.79615
Waterfall Longitude: -121.78033

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Comet Falls could be arguably Mt Rainier National Park’s most beautiful waterfall (though I could easily see how Spray Falls or Narada Falls could challenge that assertion).

It’s said to plunge at least 320ft in mostly freefall from a hanging valley (which I believe is known as Van Trump Park).

Rainier_276_08252011 - Comet Falls
Comet Falls

There were also additional tiers both above and below the main plunge so the reported height could conceivably be an underestimate.

Adding to the scenic allure was that Julie and I were lucky with our timing as we witnessed a very bright rainbow across its base on the morning of our visit (see photo above).

In order to reach Comet Falls, we had to earn it with a pretty hot and tiring uphill hike of about 2 miles each way (4 miles round trip).

Although the distance was modest, it was the relentlessly uphill nature of the hike that took a lot out of Julie and I.

Rainier_301_08252011 - Distant view of Comet Falls revealing a couple of lower waterfalls further downstream of its main drop
Distant view of Comet Falls revealing a couple of lower waterfalls further downstream of its main drop

Essentially, it was one switchback after another with very few breaks in between, and the climbing began almost immediately from the car park.

Fortunately, there was plenty to see along the trail to help distract us from the physical exertion.

Allow us to break down the hike.

Detailed Trail Description to Comet Falls

First, after ascending the stairs leaving the trailhead parking and going into the forest, we crossed a bridge over Van Trump Creek above Christine Falls.

Rainier_205_08252011 - Julie ascending the steps as she started the long uphill hike to Comet Falls
Julie ascending the steps as she started the long uphill hike to Comet Falls

Looking upstream from the bridge, we saw some cascades in addition to the cascades we noticed tumbling downstream below us.

Beyond this creek crossing, the trail began its first very long climb, which passed by a handful of fair-sized cascades along Van Trump Creek itself as the trail pretty much followed its eastern banks.

Author Gregory Plumb in his Pacific Northwest Waterfalls book called these cascades Lower Van Trump Falls.

When the trail finally flattened out for a bit of a breather, it then narrowed as it hugged the volcanic slope with a bit of overgrowth protruding onto the trail.

Rainier_212_08252011 - Looking upstream at some lower cascades on Van Trump Creek, or Lower Van Trump Falls as Gregory Plumb called it in his book
Looking upstream at some lower cascades on Van Trump Creek, or Lower Van Trump Falls as Gregory Plumb called it in his book

Julie and I couldn’t tell, but we thought the vegetation resembled poison ivy so we were careful to minimize skin exposure to them.

Anyways, it was also in this stretch that the clouds started clearing thereby allowing us to get glimpses of Mt Rainier.

The last long ascent traversed a series of large volcanic boulders before flattening out again.

The ascent began near another impressive cascade on Van Trump Creek, and I believe this was what Gregory Plumb referred to as the Middle Van Trump Falls.

Rainier_238_08252011 - Julie on the Comet Falls Trail which continued to follow along Van Trump Creek
Julie on the Comet Falls Trail which continued to follow along Van Trump Creek

At the end of this ascent, the trail then rounded a bend before a one-sided log bridge made another traverse of Van Trump Creek.

This was where we were a little confused and nearly mistook Van Trump Falls (or Upper Van Trump Falls) for Comet Falls!

The reason for this confusion was that the three-tiered Van Trump Falls looked impressive in its own right.

However, after such a long and tiring climb to get to this point, if we hadn’t seen Comet Falls photos in the literature, we easily could have stopped here and turned back prematurely!

Rainier_246_08252011 - Julie crossing the one-sided log bridge before Van Trump Falls
Julie crossing the one-sided log bridge before Van Trump Falls

Fortunately, our pre-trip research along with us noticing a sign (indicating that Comet Falls was another 200 feet away on the other side of the one-sided log bridge) were enough to indicate to us that we weren’t done with the hike yet.

In fact, it turned out that Comet Falls wasn’t even on Van Trump Creek (as it fed that creek from a different watercourse instead).

Once we were finally able to go that extra 200 feet, we managed to get varying views of Comet Falls.

Initially, we got an angled view of its main plunge as well as its two lower tiers facing us.

However, the trail continued to switchback some more as it got closer to the falls.

Rainier_309_08252011 - Julie looking at the Upper Van Trump Falls after crossing the one-sided log bridge. Good thing we didn't mistakenly think that this was Comet Falls!
Julie looking at the Upper Van Trump Falls after crossing the one-sided log bridge. Good thing we didn’t mistakenly think that this was Comet Falls!

After about the 2nd or 3rd switchback, there was a spur trail leading right to the misty base of the Comet Falls.

This also happened to be the place where we saw a rainbow at its boldest shining in the mist of the waterfall.

I managed to climb another 3 or so switchbacks more before I finally turned back.

From up there, I got some additional views of the main tier of Comet Falls.

However, I felt the views had gotten progressively worse the higher I went so I didn’t continue any further.

Rainier_272_08252011 - Context of people enjoying the Comet Falls and rainbow after having worked so hard to get up to its base
Context of people enjoying the Comet Falls and rainbow after having worked so hard to get up to its base

It turned out that had I continued up the rest of the switchbacks, I would have gone beyond the waterfall and into Van Trump Park.

Like Spray Park above Spray Falls, I believe this was another subalpine meadow with wildflowers and views of Mt Rainier.

I could imagine that under Winter and early Spring conditions, this meadow would contain the snow that would ultimately source the Comet Falls when it would melt as the weather warmed up.

Authorities

Comet Falls resides in Mt Rainier National Park. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Rainier_206_08252011 - Julie on the Comet Falls Trail
Rainier_207_08252011 - Julie going through a forest after the initial ascent to leave the Comet Falls Trailhead parking lot
Rainier_208_08252011 - Approaching the bridge over Van Trump Creek just above Christine Falls as we continued to make our way up to Comet Falls
Rainier_216_08252011 - So far the hiking on the Comet Falls Trail had been pretty straightforward though it was noticeably uphill
Rainier_217_08252011 - Possibly Lower Van Trump Falls as seen through some foliage along the Comet Falls Trail
Rainier_220_08252011 - Julie traversing a volcanic boulder field during the initial climb up to Comet Falls
Rainier_222_08252011 - Julie continuing along the Comet Falls Trail which skirted alongside the cascades on Van Trump Creek
Rainier_224_08252011 - Closer look at some wildflowers blooming alongside the Comet Falls Trail
Rainier_225_08252011 - Partial view of some other cascade on Van Trump Creek as seen along the Comet Falls Trail
Rainier_226_08252011 - Julie continuing to ascend the Comet Falls Trail as it maintained its relentless uphill climb
Rainier_229_08252011 - The Comet Falls Trail continuing to skirt alongside Van Trump Creek
Rainier_234_08252011 - The very top of Mt Rainier started to reveal itself as the clouds started to clear up during our uphill hike to Comet Falls
Rainier_235_08252011 - Traversing an overgrown part of the Comet Falls Trail. We weren't sure if the overgrowth contained any poison ivy
Rainier_236_08252011 - Julie going around a sinkhole on the Comet Falls Trail. Not sure what they'd do besides close the trail if the sinkhole expanded back onto the trail itself!
Rainier_240_08252011 - Looking towards possibly Middle Van Trump Falls from the Comet Falls Trail
Rainier_243_08252011 - Julie traversing through another boulder field on the last of the big ascents up to Comet Falls
Rainier_244_08252011 - Julie and that sign indicating Comet Falls is another 200ft away after crossing the bridge fronting the Upper Van Trump Falls
Rainier_253_08252011 - Our first look at Comet Falls. Good thing we kept going beyond the Upper Van Trump Falls!
Rainier_258_08252011 - Another contextual look at Comet Falls, including its lower two tiers
Rainier_262_08252011 - Julie back in the forest as we hastily made our way closer to the Comet Falls
Rainier_264_08252011 - Approaching the base of the Comet Falls and its rainbow
Rainier_273_08252011 - Rainbow and mist dwarfing the hikers below looking to get closer to the base of Comet Falls
Rainier_283_08252011 - Rainbow seemed to expand and rise the higher I went on the trail. Notice the people trying to get closer to the base of Comet Falls for a sense of scale of how big the waterfall was
Rainier_287_08252011 - Clean look at the entirety of Comet Falls fronted by a bold rainbow
Rainier_289_08252011 - Julie checking out Comet Falls from its base
Rainier_295_08252011 - Context of someone enjoying a distant look at Comet Falls as we were headed back
Rainier_299_08252011 - Closeup angled look at Comet Falls, including the two lower drops of the waterfall further downstream
Rainier_313_08252011 - Julie heading back on the one-sided footbridge fronting the Van Trump Falls
Rainier_315_08252011 - It's all downhill on the way back from Comet Falls

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The Comet Falls trailhead is about 10.5 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance of Mt Rainier National Park on the left side of the road.

The parking lot seems to fill up fast as we witnessed this firsthand at 9:30am on a weekday.

Rainier_203_08252011 - The parking area at the trailhead for Comet Falls
The parking area at the trailhead for Comet Falls

We also observed some people using the pullouts for Christine Falls (about a 1/4-mile further east) as spillover trailhead parking.

We reached the Nisqually Entrance from Seattle by taking I-5 south to the Hwy 167, then took the Hwy 167 to Hwy 161.

Going south on Hwy 161 from the suburbs of Puyallup and South Hills is actually on surface streets.

I think it’s this stretch that slowed us down due to a combination of traffic lights, the heavy volume of traffic, and police looking to issue speeding tickets.

Rainier_318_08252011 - Looking back in the other direction at the limited parking lot for Comet Falls
Looking back in the other direction at the limited parking lot for Comet Falls

Eventually, the 161 leaves the suburban sprawl, passes through Eatonville, then goes east on Hwy 7 before continuing east on Hwy 706 just east of Alder Lake.

Hwy 706 is the highway leading to the Nisqually Entrance.

Now with all that said, it’s barely 60 miles from Seattle to Mt Rainier’s Nisqually Entrance, but it can still take nearly 2.5 hours to cover this drive thanks to the surprising lack of a dedicated highway once you get onto the 161!

Bottom up sweep from near its base starting with the brink of one of its middle tiers before sweeping past a bright rainbow and ending at the top of the towering falls


Bottom up sweep from right at the base of the falls starting with a downstream view then facing the mist as the camera pans to the top of the falls


Bottom up sweep of the falls from one of the switchbacks continuing onwards to Van Trump Park. Please excuse the shakiness as I was busy trying to prevent a mosquito from biting me as I was filming!


Bottom up sweep from an open spot where you can see the full extent of all the main tiers of the waterfall


Top down sweep from the footbridge crossing Van Trump Creek showing upper cascades upstream and more cascades as it continues downstream towards the main part of Christine Falls (not seen from here)


Downstream to upstream sweep from the log bridge over Van Trump Creek on the Comet Falls Trail ending at the three-tiered Van Trump Falls. Don't do what Julie did and mistake it for Comet Falls!

Tagged with: mt rainier, mount rainier, national park, paradise, pierce, washington, waterfall, van trump



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