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Southwest Loowit Loop

South Cascades

Location

South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens
View map below

Length

12.7 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 2400 ft.
Highest Point: 5000 ft.

Rating

4.33 out of 5

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
 
 

Venture through dusty lahars, cool forest, and the high country on the shoulder of Mount St. Helens on this 12-mile loop. Do it in a day, or plan to camp along the way—this hike is both beautiful and a bit of a challenge; you’ll need a little scrambling experience to be comfortable hiking the whole thing.

From the Toutle trailhead off of Forest Road 8123, look for the trailhead kiosk near the now washed-out parking lot. The trail heads off just behind the kiosk, and bends west, meandering through a wide lahar (outflow from St. Helens’ 1980 explosion and a subsequent flood). All around you is a ghost forest of dead trees and gray ash and rock, but a small creek, Coldspring Creek, flows through this valley bottom, and fireweed blooms nearby.

Follow signs for the Toutle Trail on a westerly course to a crossing of Coldspring Creek about a mile from the trailhead. The crossing is done on downed logs across the creek; trekking poles here will help. Once across, the trail abruptly enters forest, transitioning from the gray of the lahar to deep greens and browns of old- and second-growth forest.

Hike through the forest, made up primarily of grand fir and hemlock above, and carpeted with oxalis and ferns below your feet, for 1.7 miles. Early on in this stretch is an overlook offering a small peek at Blue Lake – more green than blue, actually. You'll not access Blue Lake on this hike, but you'll have access to other water, should you need to refill.

Huckleberries and blueberries line the path you hike, which is a gradual incline to 4000 feet, where you find a junction with the Blue Horse Trail off to your right. Continue past this junction, now descending 0.6 miles to a switchback and a junction. At the junction, bear right, heading for a large campsite. If you’re planning on camping while doing this loop, this is your first option to set up your tent. It’s a large site with room for about eight to ten tents, depending on the size of your group. Creek access is available for water, as well.

Cross a wooden footbridge over a creek, and continue up a small incline. A sign posted on your left indicates the Loowit Trail is 1.75 miles away. That’s your next trail junction.

Ascend continuously from the campsite through forest with occasional views into the eerily silent Sheep Canyon. As you approach the junction, views of the southwest shoulder of St. Helens improve, until you arrive at a ‘T’ junction. Here a sign indicates that the Butte Camp trail is 3 miles away.

Turn right and get ready – the most challenging sections of this hike are on the Loowit Trail. You’ll clamber in and out of four lahars of varying depths and difficulties to negotiate. The trail in and out of these is sketchy at best, with cairns marking entrances and exits, loose footing, and sometimes no tread at all. But you have about 0.8 of a mile of hillside traversing on nice tread before your first one. Enjoy views of treed hillsides south, as well as Butte Camp Dome and Goat Mountain to the southwest.

The trail begins a sharp descent -- about 400 feet -- after 0.4 miles, paralleling the first lahar you’ll be crossing before arriving at its edge. Descend on the loose rock and scree into the bottom, and look for the cairn on the other side marking the trail. Following these cairns is the best way to navigate through the lahars along this section of trail.

When you’re not dipping in and out of these deep canyons, the Loowit Trail is beautifully kept, easy to follow, and offers a gorgeous panorama of the forests south of St. Helens. As you near the Butte Camp trail, Mount Hood appears to the southeast. Be sure to glance up the shoulder of St. Helens now and then – the changing aspects offer a different vantage every half mile or so.

When you arrive at Butte Camp Junction, note a discrepancy in signage. The sign at the junction with Sheep Canyon said it was 3 miles to this point, but now the sign pointing back towards Sheep Canyon says it’s 4 miles away. The recommended Green Trails map for this hike puts the mileage on the Loowit Trail at 3.2 miles, so the total distance for this hike accounts for this section as 3.2 miles.

From Butte Camp junction, follow the trail downhill (southwest) through open, fragrant forest, with more views of Mount Hood, tall pines, fireweed, and an overlook of the forest below. Shortly after the overlook, the trail re-enters forest, and within a mile of the junction for the Butte Camp trail, arrive at Butte Camp itself. This is another great spot to spend the night if you’re doing the loop as a multi-day.

Past Butte Camp, it’s another 1.75 miles to the junction with the Toutle Trail. Leave the blueberry-lined Butte Camp trail and turn right onto the Toutle Trail. This wide path takes you through cool forest and across several creeks. These are a bit shallow, but you may be able to get some water from pools upstream if you need it. Just don’t forget to filter!

Leave the forest after about 0.75 miles of hiking and finish this section in sandy terrain similar to that at the beginning of the hike. In fact, you are quite close to the end of your loop. Arrive at a 4-way junction after 2 miles of hiking. To finish your loop, hike 0.2 miles straight on to the Toutle Trailhead.

 

Southwest Loowit Loop

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 46.1691, -122.2601 Open map in new window

Trailhead

South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens

Toutle (#238), Sheep Canyon (#240), Loowit (#216), Butte Camp (#238A)

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Green Trails Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument No. 332S

Getting There

From Cougar, drive east on Highway 503/Forest Road 90 to one mile beyond the Swift Dam. Turn left (north) onto Forest Road 83. Continue 3 miles on this road and then turn left onto Forest Road 81. Proceed to the junction with Forest Road 8123. Turn right (north) and drive to the trailhead at the end of the road. Note that the parking lot is washed out, so you will need to park along the road and walk to the trailhead (about 200 feet). No facilities at the trailhead.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
 

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Southwest Loowit Loop

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