October 7, 2013 by Deborah W. Trotter
Back in August before our own government shut down our National Parks, we were lucky to spend three nights and parts of four days at Mount Rainier. On the second full day of our visit, the mountain’s “invisibility cloak” continued to envelope the entire area in nearly impenetrable fog.
Was it worth even trying to take a hike? What would we be able to see? The fireplace at the Paradise Inn was warm and crackling . . .
At the Visitor Center the Park Rangers assured us that the 1.9 mile trail up to Comet Falls – at 320 feet high, one of the tallest waterfalls in the Park – would be worth our time, and they were pretty sure we’d be able to see the waterfall. We decided to find out.
The weather and the temperature in the high 40’s were probably the only reasons we were able to find a parking space in the 14-spot lot at this usually very popular trailhead. We headed up, following a few other brave souls, into the forest that didn’t protect us from the chill drizzle. Soon we crossed a wooden bridge above Christine Falls, and for the rest of the way up, thunderous flows of white, roiling water intermittently coursed below or beside us along the trail.
Climbing steadily through the woods, the trail was smooth at first and then became rougher with exposed tree roots and rocks, sometimes in stair steps and often slippery. We saw many wildflowers, including two varieties – tall blue bonnet and the Wiggins lily – that we hadn’t seen anywhere else in the Park, and we saw them here only on one small segment of the trail.
Just below Comet Falls, before we knew whether or not we’d have a view of it, we crossed a single log bridge over more audacious whitewater, crashing down from a side canyon.
When we reached Comet Falls, here is what we could see.
The Park Rangers were right that taking this hike was worth our time. It was a great hike, despite the weather conditions. The wildflowers were lovely, and the views and sounds of powerful water rushing down the canyon were magnificent. It was a good workout, too, almost 4 miles roundtrip with 900 feet elevation gain. However, if your main goal is to see or photograph Comet Falls, I would recommend doing it on a sunny day!