You are here: Home Find a Hike Hiking Guide Ape Canyon

Ape Canyon

» REI » Amazon

A portion of all book sales from the links above benefits WTA and helps protect and maintain our trails.

A mile-wide lahar scoured portions of the Muddy River valley, while other parts of the canyon offer you features created by eons of erosion from floods and long-forgotten mudflows. The trail takes you in and out of several small side basins, each providing a unique thrill. Some are filled with wildflowers and ferns. Others are rich woodlands. All are alive with birdsong and critter activity.

From the trailhead, the route starts out fairly level, moving up alongside the massive mudflow that swept the Muddy River. You'll find lots of greenery and wildflowers along the first mile, before coming to a nice viewpoint looking out over the lahar basin to the volcano that spawned it.

From here, the trail climbs slowly but steadily into a lush stand of ancient forest. For nearly 2 miles, you'll climb through this rich woodland, marveling at the massive old Douglas-firs that line the trail.

At more than 3 miles out, the trail breaks out onto the ridgetop, providing long, open views down into Ape Canyon and up onto East Dome on the flank of Mount St. Helens. These views continue for the remainder of the climb up the ridgeline.

At 5.5 miles, the trail intercepts the Loowit Trail just below East Dome. Turn around here.
Driving Directions:

From Cougar, drive east on Forest Road 90 just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam, and turn left (north) onto FR 83. Drive about 11.8 miles to the trailhead on the left, found approximately 0.25 mile before reaching the road's end at the Lava Canyon Trailhead.

Improve or add to this guidebook entry

Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

Hiked here recently? Submit a trip report!
There are 19 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Ape Canyon — Sep 25, 2013 — Ryan Ojerio
Day hike
Expand report text Hide report text
Britta and I took advantage of a break in the weather to ride up to the Plains of Abraham on the Ape...
Britta and I took advantage of a break in the weather to ride up to the Plains of Abraham on the Ape Canyon Trail. The previous rains were starting to break up and patches of blue sky greeted us as we arrived at the trailhead.

Its easy to see why this trail is such a popular mountain bike ride, the tread surface is smooth and winding with a gradual climb up.

The mist through the trees was really magical and it was humbling to consider how many lahar's these huge evergreens have escaped given their age.

As we joined the Loowit Trail and headed up towards the Plains of Abraham we passed a steep drop that could easily be fatal for an unwary hiker or rider.

Thankfully the winds were light on the Plains. The clouds parted and closed in around the mountain giving us glimpses of the brilliant white new snowfall on the upper reaches of the mountain. Just below the snow line I could barely make out what appeared to be a group of mountain goats.
Read full report with photos
Ape Canyon — Sep 14, 2013 — Randy
Day hike
Issues: No water source
Expand report text Hide report text
Four of us did the 22 mile out and back mountain bike ride to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. Certainly ...
Four of us did the 22 mile out and back mountain bike ride to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. Certainly the best mountain bike ride I have ever done. The trail is in excellent shape. The first 4.5 miles are a gradual climb through the woods. When you break out of the trees at Ape Canyon, Wow, the mountain! The pumice is pretty loose for about a mile and we were on and off the bikes a bit. The two mile ride across the Plains of Abraham is indescribable. It is an apocolyptic landscape and I felt like the only person on earth - peaceful and scary all at once. The ridge ride to "the stairs" opens up to the northeast side of the mountain which is also fantastic. We completed the additional two miles to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint in order to see Spirit Lake. I cannot recommend this as it means four miles of gravel road (gentle climb and descend) and carrying or pushing your bike up "the stairs". I would highly recommend turning around at the top of the stairs. The ride back across the Plains of Abraham is as good as the ride out and then 4.5 glorious miles of very nice decent through the trees. Be careful of other riders and hikers coming up on the blind corners. We were "Woo hoo'ing" so they heard us coming. If you are a mountain biker do this ride. If you are a hiker there might be better ways to get to the mountain views as the first 4.5 miles are in the woods. Finally, bring a lot of water as it is dry and hot.
Read full report
Ape Canyon, Loowit Trail — Jun 22, 2013 — GoatWalks
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs | No water source
Expand report text Hide report text
My dad and I took advantage of a perfect sunny day to head for Mt. St. Helens and the Ape Canyon Tra...
My dad and I took advantage of a perfect sunny day to head for Mt. St. Helens and the Ape Canyon Trail. The road to get there is in excellent shape and all paved. The trail follows a ridge that skirts the edge of the Muddy River lahar on the southeast side of the mountain.

Right from the beginning, the view of the mountain and the lahar is outstanding. The climb is gentle but steady. The trail is in perfect shape and spends most of its time in the shade of an old growth forest full of tall Douglas firs, but there's no water available. There were some mosquitoes that accosted us. The views of Mt. St. Helens improve as you go, and soon you can see Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier in the distance as well.

After 5.25 miles, you reach Ape Canyon. At 5.5 miles, there's the junction with the Loowit Trail. From here, you can see Mt. Hood to the south. I know of few other trails that give good views of Adams, Rainier, Hood AND St. Helens, but this one does! We thought we could glimpse the Goat Rocks crest from here as well (about halfway between Adams and Rainier).

Want more? By turning right, you can wander (as we did) two miles to the flat, rocky and desolate Plains of Abraham. The trail climbs a little, but it's very gentle and easy to follow. Just as you reach the junction with the Plains of Abraham trail two miles from Ape Canyon, a view opens up of the range behind Spirit Lake, including Coldwater Peak and Mt. Margaret. To actually see Spirit Lake, though, you have to go one mile further on the Loowit Trail to Windy Pass. We didn't do that. I kind of wished we had, but that would have made it a 17-mile day hike.

All told, it was a 15-mile round trip with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Be aware that the entire route as described is frequented by mountain bikers. It's good etiquette to stand aside for them, particularly when they are coming downhill. The first one will usually tell you how many are in the group.
Read full report with photos
Ape Canyon — May 04, 2013 — Luv2Climb
Day hike
Expand report text Hide report text
LOST: Orange and grey backpack with lots of stuff in it left on Mt. St. Helens. The bag was left aro...
LOST: Orange and grey backpack with lots of stuff in it left on Mt. St. Helens. The bag was left around 6600 ft near the last rock outcropping before the final push. If you found or have it, please call me at 206.856.4578. I will come wherever you are to pick it up. Thank you!
Read full report
Ape Caves, Ape Canyon — Sep 02, 2012 — Ydain
Day hike
Issues: Mud/Rockslide | No water source
Expand report text Hide report text
This was our first trip to the Ape Caves though I'd been wanting to go for quite some time. We got t...
This was our first trip to the Ape Caves though I'd been wanting to go for quite some time. We got there at 11 and the parking lots were already full and ppl were parking down the road so the cave was already quite highly populated. The other groups were all polite, the slower ppl letting us pass just as we let the faster folks pass us. We hiked upper and started at the entrance near the interpretive center and worked our way up.

We were prepared with jackets, gloves, sturdy boots, headlamps & spare flashlights. Batteries are good to bring too as we ran into more than one person whose batteries had died and were relying on others for light. Gave most of our spares out but withheld one set for ourselves.

I picked up the previously mentioned beer cans along the way, and my pack was full of trash by the time I got to the end. I'm surprised that with as many rangers as I saw around the interpretive center they didn't assign one to make a clean up run through the place on a daily basis. Maybe check for bodies along the way! I can't believe how many people were dragging their young children through the upper cave which is clearly marked as being not recommended for young children.

Once I made it through there was a good-sized crowd milling around the head of the stairway to climb out. No one wanted to come down, they just wanted to stand there and look into the cave, take pictures, etc. Would be nice if people would realize that the people coming out of the cave have been in the dark for 2-4 hours and give them a little room to climb out without having to squeeze by.

As much fun as I had, this place is dangerous. You will be climbing over rocks and boulders through pitch blackness for a mile and a half or 2-4 hours depending on your speed. There are lots of cracks and crevices just waiting for a foot or leg to slip into and twist or break. I can't imagine how many rescues they must carry out of here each year. My husband had to gently coax one child out of a complete and total screaming meltdown at the foot of the second big climb. He was terrified and crying and did not want to go any further, but had already passed the 8 ft wall and couldn't go back either. People were backed up in both directions waiting and this poor kid was just stuck. I would NOT recommend this hike for children under 12 and even then only if they're relatively athletic kids.
Read full report
Ape Canyon Susan Saul.jpg
Ape Canyon. Photo by Susan Saul.
Location
Ape Canyon (#234)
South Cascades -- Mt. St. Helens
USFS Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Statistics
Roundtrip 11.0 miles
Elevation Gain 1300 ft
Highest Point 2800 ft
Features
Old growth
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Wildlife
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
South Cascades
Green Trails No. 364 Mount St. Helens

Improve or add to this guidebook entry

Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Map it
Red MarkerApe Canyon
46.1646666667 -122.092116667
(46.1647, -122.0921) Open in new window
Document Actions
  • Print this
  • Share
Get the Guidebooks

Mountaineers three booksSelect content from The Mountaineers Books' guidebooks is featured in this Hiking Guide. Sales of the books from this website help protect and maintain trails.

> Shop Now

More hikes » Hike of the Week
Diablo Lake Trail (Apr 17)

Diablo Lake

North Cascades

Follow the Diablo Lake Trail up and across talus slopes on the flanks of Sourdough Mountain to impressive cascading waterfalls and stunning views. This hike in the North Cascades Institute's backyard makes a great option for an early season hike in stunning North Cascades National Park, much of which is inaccessible during the winter and spring.

Get Trail News

Subscribe to our free email newsletter for hiking news, events, gear reviews and more.

What's Happening
Trails and Ales - Spokane 2014 Apr 22, 2014 Meet fellow hikers and raise a glass for trails!
GiveBIG 2014 May 06, 2014 Donate to WTA during The Seattle Foundation's GiveBIG event and grow your impact on trails!
Hiker Potluck in Vancouver May 28, 2014 Come out for an evening of great food, meet other hikers and learn what is happening on trails near you.
More »