We returned to the shoulders of Mt. St. Helens this week with a hike on 1900-year-old lava fields. This hike took us through the lava fields and into a lodgepole pine forest. The footing is tricky in parts, but it is overall a hike that is not difficult, at least as far as we went. The scenery is absolutely spectacular.
Be prepared for a steep but short hike up to the lava fields and a few areas of rough footing. Apparently the trail becomes more difficult as it goes on, but we only went down it about a mile, for a fairly easy two-mile hike.
Toutle Trail from Red Rocks Pass trailhead
Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument near Cougar, WA
Distance: the trail is about 7 miles in and out, but we went 2 miles
Panting stops: 5 or 6
Elevation changes: about 80 feet
I also couldn’t find this hike listed on any hiking websites, so my information is a little more sketchy than usual. Most people using this trailhead are going to either Red Rocks Pass, which is across the road from this hike, or to Butte Camp up on Mt. St. Helens.
We hiked up a short but steep incline from the trailhead (on the same side of the road as the parking) up onto the lava fields, where the path became more level. Although there are a few places on the lava fields where the footing is tricky, for the most part the path is easy, with just a few rocks in the middle of it. If you look at my photo at the top of this post, the trail is visible to the left of the photo.
Views from the lava fields of Mt. St. Helens, ahead, Cinnamon Peak behind, and the lava fields themselves are gorgeous. The little knob off the side of Mt. St. Helens is where Butte Camp is located, so you can see that would be a quite difficult hike and well above my abilities at this point.
After the lava fields, we entered a lodgepole pine forest, walking on a mild slope downward, so that coming back is a little more difficult. The trail forks to go to Butte Camp. That path is forward, indicated by a post, and the trail we took goes off to the left. The path through the forest is quite easy for that first mile, but we stopped just before a steepish canyon where it becomes more difficult.
How to get there
Take WA-503 north through Cougar, Washington. After passing through Cougar, the highway becomes Rd. 90. Keep driving on Rd. 90 until you are up next to the Swift Reservoir. Turn left on NF 83 at the sign for Ape Caves. Pass the entrance to the road to Ape Caves and follow the signs for Red Rocks Pass, turning left on NF 81. The trailhead is on your right a little less than three miles later.
From I-5, take the WA-503 exit from Woodland and go in the direction of Cougar. After passing through Cougar, the highway becomes Rd. 90. Keep driving on Rd. 90 until you are up next to the Swift Reservoir. Turn left on NF 83 at the sign for Ape Caves. Pass the entrance to the road to Ape Caves and follow the signs for Red Rocks Pass, turning left on NF 81. The trailhead is on your right a little less than three miles later.
Parking and Facilities
There is parking for about five or six cars next to the trailhead. There are no other facilities.