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Loowit Trail

The Loowit Trail circumambulates Mount St. Helens, dropping into and climbing out of deep gullies left by the eruption of St. Helens and its subsequent debris flows. This hike is very challenging, with sparse camps, little water and some sketchy sections of loose pumice. Since the eruption denuded the slopes of the mountain, you’re almost always in sun, so make sure you wear your hat and bring sunscreen. It is all too easy to get a severe sunburn on these slopes.

With those cautions in mind, you’ll fully appreciate the stark, otherworldly beauty of the blast zone. Vast fields of pumice gouged with deep gullies frame the gaping immensity of the mountain.

There are multiple points where you can access the Loowit, here are four of the most commonly used access points. (If you want a taste of the Loowit without the full meal deal, each of these hikes is a great way to sample the mountain.)

Windy Ridge
Follow the Truman Trail (#207) for approx. 3 miles, then take the Windy Trail (#216E) for another 1 mile to the Loowit (#216). This route will take you closest to “The Breach” and Loowit Falls. Note that camping is not allowed in the blast zone which includes the northern portion of the mountain between the South Fork of the Toutle River and Windy Pass.

Ape Canyon Trailhead
Park at the Ape Canyon Trailhead and go 5.5 miles on the Ape Canyon Trail (#234) to the junction with the Loowit (#216). Turn right (north) and hike another mile or two across the spectacular Plains of Abraham. Note this route is very popular with mountain bikers.

Climber’s Bivouac
Take the Ptarmigan Trail (#216A) 2 miles to the junction with the Loowit (#216). Turn left or right to experience the Loowit as it skirts the treeline along the volcano’s southern flank.

Blue Lake Trailhead
Follow the Toutle Trail (#238) for about 3 miles. Ascend the Sheep Canyon Trail (#240) 2.5 miles to the Loowit. You can make a nice lollipop loop by following the Loowit another 2.5 miles north to its intersection with the terminus of the Toutle Trail, then following the Toutle Trail approx 5 miles back to the Blue Lake Trailhead.

Circumnavigating Mount St. Helens
Some recommend starting from the south at Climber’s Bivouac while others chose to start on the NE side from Windy Ridge. In either case you need to plan on crossing the blast zone in one push as camping is prohibited between the South Fork of the Toutle River and Windy Pass. Since the most rugged section is on the west side where major washouts require extensive detours and/or scrambles, plan your trip to hit those sections when you are relatively fresh.

Although each year hikers do complete the Loowit, others have turned back unable to find safe passage through some of the gullies. Since conditions change so frequently and people’s route finding ability and tolerance for risk vary, it is impossible to predict if the circumnavigation is “doable” at any given time for any hiker.

This route description is for a counter-clockwise circumnavigation hike starting from the north side where the Windy Trail (#216E) meets the Loowit.

Your first seven miles will afford near constant views of denuded slopes as you cross the blast zone looking into “The Breach”. A short side-trail to Loowit Falls is a worthwhile break. As you come around the mountain to the NW, the route drops into the valley carved by the South Fork of the Toutle. Here the trail is frequently obliterated by the river and sliding loose rock and pumice. Crossing this gully is the first of three major wash-outs on the route.

Continuing on the Loowit, the trail climbs up into remnant old growth forest on Crescent Ridge, and then enters a zone of burned trees and flower-rife meadows. You’ll enter subalpine forest, the trail climbing and falling until it again ascends to timberline near 4,700 ft. About a ½ mile beyond the junction with the Sheep Canyon Trail the Loowit was obliterated by a washout in the Blue Lake Wash, leaving a huge chasm with near vertical walls in its place. The Forest Service completed a bypass route that adds another few miles, but it is much safer than attempting to scramble through the massive gully.

Next, you’ll reach the junction with the Butte Camp Trail #238A. You can drop steeply along this trail—roughly 800 feet—to Butte Camp, if you need to make camp.

Most of the trail from here on in is rugged as it runs through several lava beds, sometimes with nothing but posts or cairns to show the way. After crossing Swift Creek (the winter climbing route), there is one more lava bed crossing to the junction with the June Lake Trail. For a pleasant campsite, follow the steep June Lake Trail (#216B) ¼ mile to its namesake lake. Continuing around the SE side of the Mountain you will encounter the 3rd major washout on the Loowit at Muddy Creek. It is approx. 4 miles from the June Lake Trail junction. Like the previous two washed out sections, the steep canyon walls and loose rock make it difficult and dangerous to scramble through the chasm. WTA volunteer Backcountry Response Teams restored a badly washed-out section here in 2010.

You’ll traverse more lava on the 4.75 miles to the Ape Canyon Trail. Some of the best wild flowers are at the top of the canyon north of Pumice Butte. You finally have 4 miles of relatively smooth trail across the Plains of Abraham, then up Windy Pass and back to the intersection of the Windy Trail (#216). From there you’re on familiar terrain following the Truman Trail (#207) back to Windy Ridge.

NOTE: Trip mileage does not include required approach trails to the loop. Some guide books give total vertical around 4000 ft, but with Blue Lake Wash detour and careful measurement, all the ups and downs make it more like 6000+ feet including whatever approach you choose.
Driving Directions:

Take FR 25 just outside of Randle, take FR 99 16 miles to the end of the pavement at Windy Point. Walk the gated service road signed “Truman Trail No. 207” toward Mount St. Helens for two miles until you descend into a dry arroyo. From here, take the Windy trail #216E until you reach the Loowit at about 4,500 feet.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 45 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Loowit Trail — Oct 26, 2013 — rnnrgrl
Day hike
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On this beautiful day 2 of us circumnavigated Mt St Helens via the Loowit as an all-day trail run. W...
On this beautiful day 2 of us circumnavigated Mt St Helens via the Loowit as an all-day trail run. We started with headlamps from the June Lake TH and headed clockwise to the lava section right at the golden morning light. This is not a section you would want to attempt in the dark, as it is a technical boulder hop and you find your way by looking for the next marking pole. Once back on the trail, we admired the views and carried on through the ups and downs of the gullies until we reached the Toutle River. I was here in August (see my Aug 3 trip report) and the trail had some new surprises. The September storms had eliminated some of the more established routes in and out of the larger gullies. The Toutle approach was fine, and the rope to climb out was still there. It is a long rock hop or one wet foot step across right now. The long sandy climb out brought beautiful views and even Rainier then Adams came into sight. The plains had many smaller run-off gully crossings with the only major water coming out of the Loowit Falls. This creek was about the same size as the Toutle now. We had lunch here and carried on, admiring views of Spirit Lake and the falls. Windy Pass is steep but short, the climb down was harder than the up with the loose pumice marbles underfoot. This next section is the most runnable (mostly flat) and provides some of the best views of the mountain. We also encountered several mountain bikes out to enjoy the view. Then as we rounded the east face the large gullies started again. There is one which I believe is Muddy River(?)that had a nice waterfall in August but now was dry. Not only that but the trail down to cross it had been obliterated which required a little butt scooting in the ash and lava to get down the steep walls. That was probably the worst section of the trip however. With tired legs we carefully navigated the rest of the lava field before the trail dropped down below it and met back at June Lake. The round trip took us just under 10 hours, with plenty of picture stops.
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Loowit Trail — Oct 18, 2013 — notcoppingout
Multi-night backpack
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This is a logistically challenging trail late in the season. In addition to not being able to camp i...
This is a logistically challenging trail late in the season. In addition to not being able to camp in the restricted zone, water is only available in a a handful of places.

We chose to start at the June Lake trailhead and travel counterclockwise. This allowed us to have a shorter first day, long second, and somewhat shorter final day to give us time for the return drive.

We spent the afternoon crossing gullies and enjoying views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. We camped the first night near Pumice Butte. The sunset, moonrise, and sunrise were amazing looking down to Mt. Adams. There is a small stream here. This day was around 7 miles.

The next day we hiked over Windy Pass into the restricted area. The climb up towards Windy Pass includes some sketchy footing in places. On the way towards the Loowit Falls trail there is a year-round spring. The water is amazing. We took the side trip to Loowit Falls and then continued on. Water is available again when crossing the Loowit. We also saw a herd of Elk to the East. We crossed more gullies before some impressive switchbacks took us way down to the South Fork Toutle. The final climb down to the river has a rope to assist. This was our last water source for the trip so we loaded up. It wasn't clear where the trail climbed up from the river. It is slightly upstream. We improved the cairn to make it easier to see. Once you climb out you can camp 1/4 mile away. We chose to make a little more distance, gaining elevation before finding a nice spot in the woods. This was about a 13 mile day.

The final day we finished the climb up from the Toutle and began finishing the circle around the mountain. There is a massive gully on this side that requires you to hike down and back up. There are also many rock fields to cross. The wood poles marking the trail are helpful. This was about 12 miles.

On this trail you will experience varied terrain and beautiful views. It is a great trip for those who like a good challenge. Having done it in the counterclockwise direction, I would say clockwise would be somewhat harder. We were very fortunate to have almost summer-like weather in mid-October.
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Windy Ridge Trail, Loowit Trail — Aug 16, 2013 — EraSeek
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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Park at the Wind Ridge area, and from there take the service road at the end of the parking lot 2 mi...
Park at the Wind Ridge area, and from there take the service road at the end of the parking lot 2 miles to the trail head at the end of the service road. These first 2 miles you can do on mountain bike. From there it must be on foot only. I took the lower route (207) to (207A) then (216) west all the way across the blast area for about 6 miles, and returned up to Loowit falls and back to the start. Total trip about 16 miles and 7 or so hours. The trip is an awesome trek across a primal landscape. Well worth it. Lots of elk. Many washes and debris plains, and a few streams. The best water source is headed back between Loowit falls and the trail head. The other streams come out of the crater and are full of grit, but this one is clear and cool, coming off one of the snow fields on the rim. You'll recognize it by the growth. This is a landscape you will never forget! My third time out here. To me doing it solo adds to the solitude of the place.
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Loowit Trail, Windy Ridge Trail, Plains of Abraham Loop, June Lake — Aug 09, 2013 — Kscomley
Multi-night backpack
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Fall foliage | Ripe berries
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown | Mud/Rockslide | Washouts
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My girlfriend Dani and I headed up to Windy Ridge Friday morning from Vancouver, WA. planning on hea...
My girlfriend Dani and I headed up to Windy Ridge Friday morning from Vancouver, WA. planning on heading West through the blast zone (counterclockwise) around the Loowit. I have previously done trail work all around Mt. St. Helens and am very familiar with the blast zone but very intrigued to complete the entire around the mountain trail.

Day 1 Leaving Windy @ roughly 10:30 a.m. we headed through the blast zone taking lots of pictures. Sharing many stories and some history about the 1980 blast with my girlfriend. We are placing our footsteps onto once was the Largest Landslide in the history of human record. We have both seen the rich and old growth forest of the south, once again the destruction of Loowit reminds you how fragile life can be on any Cascade volcano.

We were very lucky with the weather, party cloudy skies and low 70ies with a light breeze kept us cool in the rather dry blast zone. The trail is mostly level until you reach the Plains of Abraham but it is long with a few creek crossings. Early season a handful of these may be more challenging but this late in August we skipped over most of them, Dani did take off her boots once! Pushing a couple different herds of Elk as we neared the Toutle kept our moral high as the day came to an end. Once down to the beginning of the river we traversed the ravine with the provided rope. Dani decided to go down first and have me lower her pack down to her and I put the rope in my hip-belt and lowered down slowly. Ran into two other groups coming from June Lake who camped down off the Toutle heading clockwise talking about their prior day. Sounds like we are in for a tough next 24 hours considering the forecast the NOAA website said we were expecting thunderstorms that night.

Noticed the ceiling drop around 8:30 p.m. the sky also changed significantly to make me put my rainfly on and move our gear to the farthest most point to our tent. Shut our phones off and lightening started around 9 on the Northeast side then slowly circled around the mountain over us (on the ridge above the Toutle right off the Loowit trail.) Rain started and I counted some strikes of lightening and thunder around 1 second of separation and thunder I've never encountered before.

Slept around midnight.

Snoozed until 7, then after breakfast and filling up all 5 liters of water a person at the Toutle I packed up my wet rainfly and tackled what would be our most challenging part of our circumnavigation of the Loowit trail.

Ravines and reroutes with a brushy yet huckleberry filled hike up to Butte Camp Dome intersection. I still wonder if taking the Sheep Canyon trail would of been beneficial considering all the obstacles we encountered. The trail sign after that says it's 2 1/2 miles to Climbers Bivouac, this whole section I am unfamiliar with and it blows us away on how exhausted we are once we reach the intersection with the Ptarmigan trail. Another few miles until June Lake going past the Winter climbing route which is poorly marked and I could see how it could be easy to walk right past the Loowit trail.

Reach June Lake which has lots of people and kids, eat a ton of food and take care of our tired feet with a full night rest, we received a small amount of dew and precipitation overnight. Light mist in the A.M. we were up bright and early on Sunday to finish our lightest and last day of our circumnavigation.

Slept a lot, woke up refreshed after a delicious cup of coffee from my barista girlfriend and we were off on the longest hike of our weekend.

Great day, ran into all the other groups hiking around the mountain. Thoroughly enjoyed this section over Muddy River and Ape Canyon through the Plains of Abraham which I've heard about from my friends and co-workers while in the Washington State Conservation Corps.

"This looks like West Texas, but more green." -Dani

Immediately I thought of one of my best friends whose family are from West Texas. This 13 mile stretch we completed our last day was fantastic and the most enjoyable to me mostly because I was the most unfamiliar with this section and the elevation gain/loss one of the most manageable during our hike around Mount Saint Helens.

Arrived back to Windy Ridge via the Plains of Abraham trail at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.

Special thanks to those who have worked so hard and dedicated their lives to maintaining the trail system around one of the most Historic Mountains in the world.
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Loowit Trail — Aug 03, 2013 — rnnrgrl
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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We started our circumnavigation at the June Lake Trailhead and even at 7am on a Saturday the lot was...
We started our circumnavigation at the June Lake Trailhead and even at 7am on a Saturday the lot was full. We passed June Lake, some tents, and started our clockwise loop. This section is one of the roughest which is why we decided to tackle if first. The route goes between cairns and marker poles across a lava flow, and a trail is only distinguishable off and on.

The section after the lava flows is scenic, runnable and flush with wildflowers. Then we started a steep descent to the Toutle River. This part of the trail was overgrown and seemed to be the least maintained. We filled up our water in the river and used a rope that was attached on the opposite side to help with our climb out of the deep gorge.

The trail then climbs 1000’ or so through pumice and ash until it tops off in a meadow. At the end of the meadow we could see down into the blast zone we were about to cross. This section is rolling hills over the plains and Spirit Lake comes into view. There were a few more creek crossings.

The trail was easy enough to follow though sometimes coming out of the gullies you have to look for where to pick it up again. There were signs at each intersection however.

We climbed Windy Pass and looked back on the plains and Spirit Lake for the last time. There was a nice spring where we filled water again and the clouds cleared so we could see the whole mountain. We encountered a few mountain bikers in this section.

The last 5 mile section had numerous big gullies to cross. They were not only difficult going up, but also going down in the loose rock with tired legs. Eventually the lava flows came back into sight and the trail rolls up and down through them until it finally drops below and into the trees, where the shade was welcome after so much exposure.

After another mile or so we were back at June Lake, which has a nice waterfall and serves as a good place for a dip to cool off before heading down to the car. This loop took the 7 of us an average of around 9 hours (some faster, some slower) which included plenty of time for pictures, water fill-ups, and enjoying the scenery.
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Wildflowers on the Plains of Abraham Scott.JPG
Wildflowers on the Plain of Abraham. Photo by Scott (tall guy).
WTA worked here!
2010, 2011, 2013
Location
Loowit (#216)
South Cascades -- Mt. St. Helens
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Statistics
Roundtrip 28.0 miles
Elevation Gain 6000 ft
Highest Point 4800 ft
Features
Rivers
Waterfalls
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Ridges/passes
Established campsites
User info
Dogs not allowed
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
100 Hikes in the South Cascades and Olympics, Spring/Manning
Mount St. Helens NVM Trail Guide: http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/trails/documents/Mount_St_Helens_Trail_Guide.pdf
Green Trails Mount St. Helens #364 and #364S
Schematic Trail Map: http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/trails/locations/msh-0216-loowit.shtml

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Red MarkerLoowit Trail
46.2496975 -122.1363446
  • Signature Trail 2010
  • BCRT 2010
  • BCRT 2013
  • BCRT 2012
  • BCRT 2014
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