Van Trump Park was one of the most beautiful places I visited at Mount Rainier — and that’s saying something, considering that my hike to Van Trump took me through pouring rain and even a couple of downpours of sleet. Thanks to all the clouds, I couldn’t see half of my surroundings, yet it was still a stunning place.
I chose this hike on the first day of my week-long visit to Rainier, in late September. It was a rainy day, so it made sense to visit Comet Falls — a destination that could be photographed in cloudy weather and still look okay.
Comet Falls is where the hike to Van Trump Park begins. If you’ve made it here, then you’ve already hiked 1.9 miles from the trailhead near Christine Falls. Pushing on to Van Trump Park will require another 1.3 miles (or more, depending on how far you go beyond the end of the maintained trail). It also requires another 1,100-foot elevation gain, on top of the 900 vertical feet you’ve already climbed to get to the falls. The uphill slog is the only reason why you might want to think twice about a hike to Van Trump Park — but I promise, it’s worth the effort, especially if the wildflowers are blooming.
From Comet Falls…
… go ’round this switchback, and head back into the woods, beginning the climb to Van Trump.
You’ll be expending so much effort in climbing, that you’ll need to make a few stops to take a look around (i.e., catch your breath). As I mentioned, this was far from an ideal day, and waves of clouds kept blowing through. At times, I had a brief view of the surrounding mountains, but it was never enough to know exactly what I was seeing.
Somewhere around this point, the trail splits, and a sign promises that Van Trump Park is only about 3/10 of a mile away. At this moment, I captured my best picture of the nearby hills to the south. Right in the middle of the photo, you can just barely see the one-way loop road that splits off from Paradise Road, and circles around Ricksecker Point.
The final uphill climb to Van Trump Park is the most brutal of all. You probably can’t tell from this photo, but at this point, the trail is like climbing a staircase.
This is where the trail is heading. Around this point, the incredible presentation of wildflowers begins.
I’m not sure what kind of flower this is, but it’s the only one I saw, anywhere in the park.
When you reach this knoll, you can look backwards…
… and consider going forward. In most places in the park, you’re forbidden from walking off the maintained trails. Van Trump Park is different. Beyond this sign…
… the trails get much narrower, but you’re allowed to continue — so long as you make every effort to minimize the damage your feet could cause.
This part of the trail was packed with wildflowers, mostly purple Lupine.
These flowers would have been even more brilliant if the sun was shining. And just imagine the mountains that should be in this shot!
You’ll have to step carefully along the trail to avoid the flowers…
… as the trail zigzags uphill. Yes, you’re still climbing here, even after the end of the official trail.
Your ultimate goal is at the top of this ridge. I was so tired from the climb, and growing increasingly concerned about the weather, that I decided to stop short of the goal. I’d guess that, on a sunny day, there would be an incredible view of Mount Rainier at the top of that ridge, but I figured there wasn’t much of a reason to keep climbing, since I wouldn’t be able to see it, anyhow.
Click on the image for a larger version.
I turned around and took in this sweeping panorama (it’s the same picture that’s at the top of this page). A few mountains were still visible, but the trail hooked to the left — and headed into that thick bank of clouds. I couldn’t see any of the surrounding landscape that was visible just a half-hour earlier. I began to realize that I was very cold, very wet (despite wearing a good rain jacket), and a very long way from my car. There was no shelter up here, and conditions were only going to get worse. So, I had just one option. I put away my camera, zipped up my jacket and pulled down my hood.
As I trudged downhill, I passed through that cloud, only to discover that it wasn’t raining, it was sleeting. The ice pelted me for a while, and I bundled up as tightly as possible, leaving just a small, round hole for my face.
The camera didn’t come out again for a while, as I covered ground without stopping. Eventually, the sleet, drizzle, and downpours all came to an end…
… and I was better able to appreciate the beauty of the trail — including the dense patches of wispy moss that hung from the trees.
A tiny creek trickled underneath this footbridge.
And then an amazing thing happened — the sun appeared! It was brief, but much appreciated, and I couldn’t help but wonder what Van Trump Park would have looked like, if I had been blessed with a similar fleeting break in the clouds.
The entire hike (including the Comet Falls section, covered on the previous page) took 6 hours. On a clearer day, I could have easily added another hour, with extra time spent at Comet Falls and Van Trump Park.