Van Trump Park

This past weekend, I had hoped to take advantage of the virtually full moon with a trip down to Mount Rainier National Park. I opted to head for a new location within the park and decided on Van Trump Park on the mountain’s south side. The wildflower meadows of Van Trump Park have looked nice in photos I’ve seen and the viewpoint offered by Mildred Point also looked mighty impressive. The area can be accessed by two different trails but the more “direct” route is via the trail up to Comet Falls.

The Park Service says that it’s 1.8 miles to Comet Falls and then another 0.8 miles up to Van Trump Park with a total elevation gain of 2,000 feet. The waterfalls make this a very popular hike and I had some doubts about finding a parking spot during the middle of the afternoon. As luck would have it, there were two spots available so we quickly grabbed one of them. Washington has been experiencing its own “heat wave” so the temperature was in the 80s to start our hike. Thankfully, the hike is mostly forested which helps moderate the temperatures slightly.

Van Trump Falls from the trail to Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Van Trump Falls from the trail to Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Van Trump Falls from the trail to Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
The trailhead itself is just west of Christine Falls and stays close to Van Trump Creek once it finally crosses the creek. Ascent is steady but manageable except the last 1/3rd of the distance to Comet Falls where some switchbacks increase the rate of elevation gain. Van Trump Creek is very pretty with constant twists, turns, and drops. About 200 yards before Comet Falls, the trail crosses and East Fork of Van Trump Creek and just below the triple falls of Van Trump Falls (also known as Bloucher Falls).

We dropped packs to take a break and to take some photos. The creek here has some nice back & forth movement over bedrock. After finishing up, we traveled around the corner for our first good look at Comet Falls. The main waterfall is main attraction but just downstream from Comet Falls are two sizable waterfalls in succession. Immediately around the Comet Falls area was a real nice display of wildflowers including Lupine, Arnica, Cow Parsnip, Sitka Valerian, and American Bistort. It may be September but the falls still had a nice amount of volume to it.

Wildflowers and Comet Falls - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier from Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier from Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
We were somewhat pressed for time so I wasn’t able to really explore the compositions available around Comet Falls. On paper, the trail gains MORE elevation than the hike up to Comet Falls but it didn’t feel that way. The toughest part above Comet Falls was tempered by the ever expanding views and wildflowers. The trail finally levels off and then arrives at a junction. To the left, the trail winds its way towards Mildred Point (another 0.9 miles away) and to the right lie the expanding meadows of Van Trump Park. We managed to arrive about an hour before sunset so we had some time to head further into Van Trump Park to look for good displays of wildflowers.

The trail into Van Trump Park ends officially in 0.3 miles but the path continues onward and upward. Shortly after this point, the trail bisects a real nice meadow so we decided to stop here. One thing I thought I’d never see- Avalanche Lilly blooms in prime condition in SEPTEMBER! Although our day had been largely bug free, the meadow was a different matter. I think the mosquitoes knew that their season was shorter than normal so they were fairly aggressive. Through in some warm weather and odds are you’re getting a lot of bites because you’re not wearing long sleeves of pants!

Wildflowers in Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Wilson and Van Trump Glaciers - Mount Rainier National Park
Kautz Chute and Wapowety Cleaver - Mount Rainier National Park
Sunset was fairly sublime and didn’t offer much dramatic light over Rainier or the Tatoosh to the south. We hastily made a retreat from the clouds of mosquitoes and then leisurely hiked back down to Comet Falls. The moon had risen above Cushman Crest to our east but wasn’t rising very fast. About halfway down to Comet Falls, we stopped to put on our headlamps and continued on. Reaching Comet Falls before the moonlight did, we stopped to assess our options. I wanted to take some moonlit shows of Comet Falls and that seemed like it would be a LONG wait.

In the end, we both made to decision to hike out. We had to really watch our footing on the way out so it took longer than I expected to make it back out. The trailhead was quiet and deserted except for my lone truck. It was just after 9pm, and we decided to drive up to Ricksecker Point to admire the mountain bathed in moonlight. Despite a virtual full moon, the moonlight wasn’t that strong. A smoggy haze made the mountain appear like one of those landscape paintings in the background of a 1950s movie.

Wildflowers in Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Sunset from Van Trump Park - Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier in moonlight from Ricksecker Point - Mount Rainier National Park
I’m currently using my old dSLR body (my Pentax K-5 is getting a warranty repair at the moment) and night photography is not one of its strong points. We spent about an hour or so at the view point as I experimented with different exposure lengths. I just wasn’t getting any good shots and we needed to decided whether to car bivy for a sunrise shot the next day or head back home. I ended up voting for the long drive home. The thought of driving back through South Hill / Graham / Kent / Renton / Bellevue on a Monday morning didn’t appeal to me.

This was a nice first trip into Van Trump Park. Pressed for time, we weren’t able to make it all the way out to Mildred Point. This is something I’d like to correct sometime in the future (the vast canyon view from there looks fantastic). The wildflower display here might not be as stunning as Paradise or Mazama Ridge but the greater potential for solitude more than makes up for it.

3 Responses to Van Trump Park
  1. Michael Russell

    Great shots Steve! I had hoped to get back to Rainier this year, but I might opt for Olympic NP instead as I have never been there. Been 3 times still haven’t seen wildflowers at Rainier yet, at least not in any numbers like you’ve shot here.

  2. Steve Cole

    Thanks Michael! Usually I consult websites such as nwhikers.net or wta.org for recent trip reports but the Park Service also has a page buried on their website for wildflower reports that’s worth checking:

    http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wildflower-status.htm

    I need to get over to the Olympics myself. I’ve only visited once in the 12 years since I moved up here! Luckily, I do have a long weekend in the works to address that.

  3. Michael Russell

    Thats a good resource thanks! I’ve also been scouting trip conditions in the last few years by doing searches on google images and flickr etc and listing them by date. Can often see photos of areas taken recently to judge the conditions. I also follow enough photographers on Google+ and Twitter now that I see enough posts like yours here to gauge things. Easier to do for Washington than BC though, seems to be more action down there!