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Mount St. Helens Hikes

Mount St. Helens National Monument is a destination that has something for everyone - short hikes and excellent visitor centers for families, moderate hikes with grand views for day hikers, and extremely difficult terrain and true solitude for backcountry enthusiasts.

Thirty years ago, who would have dreamed that Mount St. Helens would boast more than 200 miles of trails, allowing access to a fascinating landscape marked by gorgeous summer wildflowers, young forests, new lakes, huge mounds of ash and rock and a growing volcanic crater rimmed by the state's newest glacier?

Mount St Helens
Mount St. Helen's from the Boundary Trail near Harry's Ridge. Photo by Susan Saul.

Mount St. Helens National Monument is a destination that has something for everyone - short hikes and excellent visitor centers for families, moderate hikes with grand views for day hikers, and extremely difficult terrain and true solitude for backcountry enthusiasts.

There are three different access points for the Monument, and each provide visitors with a distinctly different experience. All have excellent hiking opportunities. If you've visited Mount St. Helens before, you might like to try a different perspective on the mountain this summer. We have featured ten great hikes below.

But first a note about hiking at Mount St. Helens:

  • Permits - Interagency or Northwest Forest Pass okay: Mount St. Helens, managed by the USFS, charges on a per-person fee basis. Entry to the Coldwater or Johnson Ridge sites are $8 per person for those 16 and older (free for kids). They will honor Interagency Annual and Senior passes for named pass-holders, and a Northwest Forest Pass will gain entry for one person. More details.
  • Be prepared for the elements! With little tree-cover, hikers are exposed to the sun, the rain, and especially, the wind. Bring a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and layers to adjust to the changing conditions.
  • Carry lots of water. There is also little water along many of the trails, so it is important to bring plenty of it with you.
  • Leave your pups at home. Due to the sensitive ecosystem, there are special rules in the blast zone area that ask hikers to stay on the trail, leave their dogs at home and obtain permits for backpacking or climbing the mountain.

Now on to the hikes!

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From the West

The west side of the Mount St. Helens National Monument was transformed by the 1980 eruption. Old growth forest gave way in an instant to the explosion and subsequent lahar and mudflow. A new lake was formed. Today, this area is one of the most popular entrances to the Monument, and it's easy to see why. Almost every mile of trail offers excellent views into the mouth of the crater and profuse wildflowers line the pumice plains and ridges.

Hummocks Trail

Hummocks Trail
Witness the remarkable changes to the North Fork Toutle River on the Hummocks trail. Photo by emikek.

Round Trip: 2.3 miles
Elevation Change: 300'
Season: Late June - November
Day Hike
Good for kids

About the Hike:
Thirty years ago this was an old growth forest. Not anymore! While life has certainly returned to this valley, the landscape is now defined by towering mounds of ash, rock and mud.

This is a great trail to gain an appreciation of the devastating effects of the eruption of Mount St. Helens and to marvel at the vitality of nature's return. The loop trail takes you by small ponds, the North Fork Toutle River and hummock mounds up to 500 feet high.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Harry's Ridge

Harry's Ridge - Boundary Trail
Indian paintbrush line the Boundary Trail on the way to Harry's Ridge. Photo by Susan Saul.

Round trip: 8 miles
Elevation Change: 1400'
Season: Late June - November
Day Hike
Backcountry Access

About the Hike:
This is a classic Mount St. Helens hike, leaving from the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The hillsides are alive with wildflowers at mid-summer, and the view from the end of Harry's Ridge has you looking straight into the mouth of the crater. You have a direct view of Loowit Falls and of an emerging glacier. Plus, incredible views of Spirit Lake, Mount Adams and even Mount Hood on a clear day.

The hike follows the Boundary Trail for 3.3 miles before heading up to Harry's Ridge. The trail narrows with steep drop-offs at 1.5 miles, and it can be a bit harrowing if snow is still present. If it's clear, head forward and enjoy the views!

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Lakes Trail

Coldwater Lake - Lakes Trail
Coldwater Lake, as seen from the Lakes Trail. Photo by Susan Saul.

Round trip: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 500'
Season: Late June - November
Day Hike
Backcountry Access

About the Hike:

Believe it or not, Coldwater Lake didn't even exist before the 1980 eruption. The ancient forest that once towered here was blown away and dammed up Coldwater Creek. Now, a large and beautiful lake tempts visitors with fabulous hiking on both sides.

The hike is best begun from the boat launch. The trail dips up and down, usually staying about 300 feet above the lake, but dropping to its shores at about one mile. This is a great trail from which to view wildflowers and wildlife, especially elk. Hikers can complete a 9.5 mile loop around the lake, hooking up with the South Coldwater Trail. This option, however, requires a 1.5 mile car shuttle or road walk at the end. This is also one of the main access points to the Mount Margaret Backcounty.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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From the East

Trails accessed from the northeast offer a variety of habitat. Some areas were beyond reach of the blast and today enjoy the cool shade of ancient forest. Closer to Windy Ridge the topography changes considerably - ghostly Spirit Lake with silver logs still floating in its waters, old trees all blown down in the same direction, lots and lots of wind. This is the edge of the blast zone.

Meta Lake

Meta Lake
The barrier-free trail leads to pretty Meta Lake. Photo by Jim Ebacher.

Round trip: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 50'
Season: Late May- November
Day Hike
Good for Families
Barrier Free

About the Hike:

The trail to Meta Lake is short, sweet and paved - offering a barrier-free hike that is accessible to both wheelchairs and strollers.

Despite being in the blast zone, this area is defined by a young forest. These trees survived the eruption by being under a thick blanket of snow on that fateful May day thirty years ago. The quiet lake is a fun destination for kids, especially in mid-summer when children can look for tadpoles and trout in its clear waters.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Norway Pass - Mount Margaret

Norway Pass
Stunning views of Mount St. Helens abound on the way to Norway Pass and Mt. Margaret. Photo: Opus

Round trip:
4.4 mi. to Norway Pass; 11 miles to Mt. Margaret
Elevation Gain: 300' to Norway Pass; 2300' to Mt. Margaret
Season: Late May- November (late June for Mt. Margaret)
Day Hike
Backpack

About the Hike:
On a sunny, windless fall day, there may not be a better trail in the Monument - so say many hikers at Mount St. Helens. From the get-go, the short hike to Norway Pass is spectacular - witness the matchbook-blown forest, the incredible views to Rainier, Adams and Hood, and finally Mount St. Helens herself with ghostly Spirit Lake in the foreground. All of this while traipsing through beautiful wildflower fields along a windy ridge.

The views from Norway Pass are great and are even better if you push an extra mile up to to Bear Pass or 3.2 miles to Mount Margaret. The area north of Bear Pass is a popular backpacking region. Camping is limited and permits are required. To ensure your spot, these should be obtained in advance. Details are here. No matter how far you hike, bring plenty of water and outerwear to protect you from the wind.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Loowit Trail

Loowit - shirtless hiker
Lots of cool, barren landscapes throughout the Loowit Trail. We recommend a shirt, though! Photo by Scott.

Round trip: 28 miles
Elevation Gain: 4100'
Season: Mid-July - October
Day Hike Windy Ridge
Backpack (3 days)

About the Hike:
Looking for an adventure? The 28-mile Loowit Trail circumnavigates Mount St. Helens, offering up lots of adventure in an other-worldly landscape.

This trail is not for  casual hikers. Water is sparse, requiring some long days of hiking, shade is almost entirely lacking and erosion on trail makes for some harrowing detours. But those willing and able to brave the elements will appreciate the stark beauty of the mountain and the diversity of life returning to it.

The good news for hikers is that WTA will be fielding several backcountry work parties on the Loowit this summer, and we hope to restore the most damaged sections of trail. To sign up for one of these Backcountry Response Teams, go here. Would-be hikers should first check with Monument staff before attempting the trail and will also need to obtain backcountry permits for camping.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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From the South

The south side of Mount St. Helens was left almost untouched by the events of May 18, 1980, but has been sculpted by other lava flows over the centuries. Hikers here will get a completely different experience than other visitors - caves, canyons, forests and the access point for anyone climbing to the crater rim.

Ape Caves

ape cave sq
Descending the ladder into the Ape Cave. Photo by Janice Van Cleave.

Round trip: 2.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 200'
Season: May - November
Day Hike
Good for older kids

About the Hike:
Not every hike is above ground in Mt. St. Helens. Ape Caves, named for the outdoor club that explored the caves in the 1950s, leads hikers down into the subterranean lava tubes formed in the thick lava beds. The trail doesn’t connect the two tubes, so you’ll have to choose which one to explore. The lower is the easier of the two, but the upper tube is larger, and both require some care and preparation. Make sure to bring powerful flashlights with well-charged batteries as well as jackets for the consistently chilly caves (temperatures remain 42 degrees in the caves no matter what’s going on outside!)

A pleasant, flat 1.3-mile trail through the old forest links the two lava tubes and leads from the trailhead to these underworld entrances. This trail leads through wonderful old forests. About 1 mile out, the trail passes a small crack in the ground. This "skylight" allows hikers to peer into the caves and allows cave explorers to see a bit of sunlight. The trail ends at the upper cave entrance.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Lava Canyon

Lava Canyon
Muddy River in Lava Canyon. Photo from Flickr by 'deep past.'

Round trip: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1600'
Season: May - November
Day Hike
First .5 mile is barrier-free

About the Hike:
If you’re seeking a thrilling hike, look no further than Lava Canyon. Starting on a paved interpretive trail, the hike crosses a springy suspension bridge before plunging into the Lava Canyon Gorge. Once it reaches the bottom of the gorge (a descent which includes climbing down a 30-foot ladder), the trail winds along a steep and narrow trail, passing “The Ship” spur trail, which leads to scenic views of nearby waterfalls. On top of being an exhilarating trip, the trail offers a unique perspective on the power of volcanic eruptions: the gorge was filled by sediment until it was scoured clean by lahar flows during the 1980 eruption.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Butte Camp

Butte Camp
Butte Camp makes a great dayhike or an easy backpack. Photo by Susan Saul.

Round trip: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 700'
Season: May - November
Day Hike
Backpack
Good for Families

About the Hike:

For those looking for an easy outing or short overnight, Butte Camp offers impressive bang for your buck. In only 2.5 miles, the trail passes through stately native forests and dramatic lava beds and fields of wildflowers with grand views of Mount St. Helens. Use Butte Camp as a turnaround point, or make camp and explore the Loowit Trail, which is just another mile up Butte Camp Dome. Permits are not needed here!

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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Climbing Mount St. Helens

Mount St Helens summit
The unparalleled view from the rim of Mount St. Helens. Photo by Jennifer S.

Round trip: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 4500'
Season: May - November
Day Hike
Permit Required

About the Hike:
Make no mistake. Climbing to the summit of Mount St. Helens is exhausting business. But the happy news for non-climbers is that you can reach the top without technical skills, making this singular experience within reach of hearty hikers willing to endure several miles of boulder fields and ash climbing.

It's amazing and awe-inspiring to stand on the rim of this not-so-quiet volcano and watch geology in the making. The crater is growing each year, and so is the glacier around it. Where else can you see such a sight?

Permits are required to climb to the summit and are available online from the Mount St. Helens Institute after April 1. Plan early if you want to climb the volcano during the peak season or on weekends.

Read more about this trail in WTA's online Hiking Guide.

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