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Ptarmigan Trail

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Folks looking to bag the summit start here. The Ptarmigan Trail is the only route remaining to get to the summit of Mount St. Helens since the eruption of May 18, 1980. Hikers who don't plan to summit will also enjoy this route, as far as the Loowit Trail junction. The trail weaves through wonderful open forests, runs along nice ridgelines, and offers incredible views over the Yale Reservoir Basin all the way to Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Adams to the east.

The trail climbs right from the get-go, ascending steeply at times through rich forest environments. You'll find the forests filled with blooming beargrass early in the summer, and ripe huckleberries later in the summer.

After more than 1.5 miles of very limited views, the forests begin to open a bit. As you near 2 miles, you'll enjoy views both up the southern face of Mount St. Helens and south to the expanse of forests between St. Helens and Oregon's Mount Hood.

At 2.1 miles, the Ptarmigan Trail crosses the round-the-mountain Loowit Trail. Here, you have a few options. You can go east on the Loowit a short distance (about 0.1 mile) to a broad hillside meadow. This is a nice, cool place to sit and enjoy lunch while marveling at the sweeping views spread out before you.

You could also go west on the Loowit about the same distance (0.1 mile) to a stark lava flow, where you'll revel in the experience of seeing the result of an old magma eruption of this big volcano. Or, you can ignore the Loowit and push on up the Ptarmigan Trail another 0.2 mile to a grand viewpoint on the flank of Monitor Ridge. Note that at this point, non-climbers must turn back. To go above the 4800-foot level requires a climbers' permit.
Driving Directions:

From Cougar, drive east on Forest Road 90 just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam, and turn left (north) onto FR 83. Continue north on FR 83 to the junction with FR 81. Turn left onto FR 81 and drive 1.6 miles before turning right onto FR 830. Follow this to the large trailhead parking lot. The trailhead, known as the Climbers' Bivouac since it is the starting point for every group headed for the crater rim, offers composting toilets and plenty of parking.

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

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 2 trip reports for this hike.
Ptarmigan Trail — Nov 20, 2013 — Sam
Day hike
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The day was fabulous and so the presence of 2 cars in the parking lot. I arrived at 11:15 and starte...
The day was fabulous and so the presence of 2 cars in the parking lot. I arrived at 11:15 and started hiking. I did not mean to get to the St. Helen's peak. The trail was in great shape. Even in the presence of ice/snow it was easy to find the trail. Moreover, there is blue signs on trees.

I hiked with a half boot without any other accessories except of my poles. However, I did not feel comfortable to go beyond the level of 4,400 ft. I stopped there because a gentleman who was coming back from the peak told me not to go beyond where we were. I had microspikes in the backpack but I was seriously told me that it is not enough for a safe hiking to 4,800 ft. Well, I was the only one in the trail and I am not that an expert in hiking with ice. Perhaps I should get some attachment that has blades attached to boots. This is what that that gentleman suggestion.
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Mount St. Helens Summit - Monitor Ridge, Ptarmigan Trail — Jul 05, 2013 — Medusa La Stone
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Today was PERFECT for summiting Mt. Saint Helens! When we arrived at the trail head around 10:30a it...
Today was PERFECT for summiting Mt. Saint Helens! When we arrived at the trail head around 10:30a it was misty with low elevation clouds. Once we started climbing, this burned off into sunshine. Most of the cloud formations we did encounter were from the snow fields on the volcano itself. By the time we reached the summit at 3:15p the clouds were dissipating and you could see into the crater and the aftermath from the 1980 eruption into the valley below. Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt Hood also made their presence known, so the panoramic pictures I took were awesome! ^_^

The Ptarmigan Trail to 4800' is pretty clear with a few snow patches and muddy spots that are easy to avoid. The Monitor Ridge Trail above 4800' is pretty much a free for all navigating large boulders, scree and gravel. There are posts/flags up the ridge to keep you on course and a few cairns towards the top to tell you you're almost there! We met a couple who climbed to the top with snowboards strapped to their backs, which was impressive to watch as they descended the mountain. We also made the most of the snow and was able to glissade the 3 miles back towards the 4800" mark. WHAT AN EPIC DAY!
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Location
Ptarmigan (#216.1)
South Cascades -- Mt. St. Helens
USFS Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Statistics
Roundtrip 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain 1000 ft
Highest Point 4700 ft
Features
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Summits
Ridges/passes
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
South Cascades
Green Trails No. 364 Mount St. Helens

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

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Red MarkerPtarmigan Trail
46.1458 -122.1834
(46.1458, -122.1834) Open in new window
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