To the marsh and back

My sister has been telling me about a hike to Goat Marsh, up in the Mt. St. Helens Monument area, but she said that there was one spot that was too hard for me, a steep ascent up a wash-out that she said she had to crawl up. However, a month or so ago, she took my brother and sister-in-law, and they discovered a way around the wash-out. So, last Sunday, on a cold but sunny day, my sister and I went to Goat Marsh.

Here is the first body of water of Goat Marsh Lake. In the foreground are frozen ice crystals and on this cold day the marsh was frozen, although I’m not sure you can tell from this picture. If you take the trail around the lake, you end up with a view of Mt. St. Helens, I’m told. There is a second, larger body of water, but we didn’t get that far.

With the long cut, this is an easy hike that ends up at the marsh, a protected scientific area. We went during elk season, and the national forest was full of elk hunters (and mushroom hunters), but we felt safe in this area and only ran into one other party. We could hear guns off in the distance.

Goat Marsh Trail

Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument near Cougar, Washington

Distance: 2.4 miles in and out

Difficulty: easy

Panting stops: 1 or 2

Elevation changes: 275 feet

Parking at a barely noticeable slot for two cars, we headed up a continuation of the Kalama Ski Trail. The trail at this point is an easy downhill, fairly wide and not rough. However, note that this first part is downhill all the way, so that means, of course, that the end of the hike is uphill, but at a relatively easy slope.

I’m guessing about a quarter mile down the trail, the Kalama Ski Trail goes off to the left while the Goat Marsh trail goes straight. The ski trail is subtle, though, so you have to pay attention. Take that trail to avoid having to climb up the steep wash-out (and it really is steep and high—we went and looked at it). Just a short way down that trail, there is a sign that points back sharply to the right to Goat Marsh or to the left to continue the Kalama Ski Trail. Go right.

The trail goes easily along through forest of lodgepole pine and some old growth mostly of noble fir until you get to a little crease of a wash-out. I think this might be a continuation of the big wash-out farther up. It is a steep descent but only of a couple of feet and then steep back up, so easy enough to get over. It just is a place to be aware of your footing. It was at that point that I realized the ground was frozen solid. We were there on a cold day, with temperatures in the 30’s in October. This area is probably muddy at other times.

After you get across this cut and walk a bit further on, you intersect with the Goat Marsh trail, and if you go back along it, you see a very deep slope that’s the steep climb that you avoided. Turn back up the trail, which continues through the forest to the wooden fence indicating the Goat Marsh scientific study area. In the Goat Marsh be sure to stay on the trail (well, we went off just to go up to the edge of the marsh—I suppose technically we weren’t supposed to do that). However, I saw no signs that my dog wasn’t allowed or even that he had to be on a leash. Since he always stays on the trail, we let him off leash.

Until you get to the first lake, the trail goes through a beautiful forest area, and then it opens up with a view of the mountains across the marsh. None of it is difficult. Because I dropped my dog’s leash in the marsh area and had to turn around and go back to it, we didn’t end up going farther, but my sister told me that trail just comes to an end after you go through a bit more difficult areas, whereas another hiking page says there’s another lake further on. We had intended to walk around the marsh for a view of Mt. St. Helens, but we decided to turn back because my sister was cold.

How to get there

From Battle Ground or farther south

Take WA-503 north toward Cougar. About 3/4-1 mile after you pass Yale Park on the right, take National Forest Road 81 on the left. Follow NR 81/8100 back quite a while past Lake Merwin and into the Gifford Pinchot Forest and then into the Mt. St. Helens Monument. When you get to the intersection of 8100 and 8123, where there is a sign pointing you toward Blue Lake Trailhead to the left, take 8123 to the left. This is a rough road. There is a small pull-out on the left side of the road, so keep your eyes out. This is the Goat Marsh trailhead.

From Woodland or farther north

Take I-5 south to the Woodland exit for WA-503. Take WA-503 toward Cougar. About 3/4-1 mile after you pass Yale Park on the right, take National Forest Road 81 on the left. Follow NR 81/8100 back quite a while past Lake Merwin and into the Gifford Pinchot Forest and then into the Mt. St. Helens Monument. When you get to the intersection of 8100 and 8123, where there is a sign pointing you toward Blue Lake Trailhead to the left, take 8123 to the left. This is a rough road. There is a small pull-out on the left side of the road, so keep your eyes out. This is the Goat Marsh trailhead.

Parking and facilities

The pull-out for two cars at the trailhead is the only facility. The gate to the 8100 road is closed in the winter, so be sure not to go too late. Dogs seem to be allowed. Horses are allowed on the Kalama Ski Trail but not in the Goat Marsh, nor are any vehicles. Only hikers are allowed there.

A lunar landscape

Here was our view of Mt. St. Helens from the middle of the lava fields. You can just barely see my sister off to the left. I thought I had her, but she moved.

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

Difficulty: middling

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.

Here is a look at the lava fields looking toward Cinnamon Peak. The color of the lava is actually more black than gray, but this is the only photo I took that reflects that.

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

From Vancouver

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 Seattle

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.

 

On the shoulders of Mt. St. Helens

A little pool with sandy beaches in the river that runs beside this trail for a while. The kids caught small frogs and let them go. This pool was beside the path on the left toward the beginning of the hike.

Our wanderings took us to a different area of the Mt. St. Helens Monument this week, at least it was different for me. We took a short hike on part of the Blue Lake Horse Trail and then took the Toutle Trail toward McClure Lake. When we came back, we took a side jaunt on the Toutle Trail going the other direction along the Kalama River toward Kalama Horse Camp. Our day included varied terrains: forest walks with beautiful views of the river (more creek-like in this area) and Mt. St. Helens followed by a sandy walk along the river. The terrain varied from forest duff to rougher stony areas to mud and sand, but we were in among some old growth forest of huge firs and western pine.

Blue Lake Horse Trail to the Toutle Trail

Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument

Distance: about 4 miles with our side trip, but you can take the Toutle Trail for miles if you want to

Difficulty: Easy to middling as far as we went

Panting stops: 1 or 2

Elevations changes: about 275 feet

Here’s the trail at the juncture that takes you toward Toutle Trail on the left. (You can see the sign at the bottom left.) Although the Horse Trail ahead looks more major than the trail to the left, not too far ahead it peters out. You can get some idea of the mountain ahead of us from this glimpse through the forest.

Because we couldn’t find this hike listed on any apps or web sites, my information for it is sketchier than usual. We started out, not at a trailhead, but at a two-car parking spot where the Blue Lake Horse Trail crosses over National Forest Road 81. At that point, the trail looks a little like a logging road. It is gravel and trends down at just a slight angle. Not too far up the trail on the right, we stopped for a few minutes at the little pool in the river that is deep enough to have a clear blue spot. We were in sight of the sign that points you toward the Toutle Trail and McClure Lake.

We hiked the Toutle Trail until we thought we had reached McClure Lake, which seems to be seasonal or occasional, and was not there on that summer August day, and then we continued a little above it. The trail is mostly flat for a while and is varied from forest duff to mud to rocky portions that are a little rough. At the area of the lake, it begins winding upward at a steeperangle. We decided to turn around once we saw that it was continuing to go up.

The trail follows the Kalama River, which at this point appears to be a pleasant creek, and we picked wild huckleberries, the kids played on a huge fallen tree that crossed the river, and someone at a little campsite further on had made a teetertotter. It was lovely country, and as we continued along we caught a great glimpse of Mt. St. Helens across the river.

On the way back, once we returned to the Blue Lake Horse Trail, the Toutle Trail continued off to the left on the other side of the river. We followed it a way toward the Kalama Horse Camp. This trail was flat and sandy. We decided we would return and take it all the way to the Horse Camp at some time.

How to get there

From Battle Ground or Vancouver

Take WA-503 north toward Cougar. About 3/4-1 mile after you pass Yale Park on the right, take National Forest Road 81 on the left. Follow NR 81/8100 back quite a while into the Gifford Pinchot Forest and then into the Mt. St. Helens Monument. When you get to the intersection of 81 and 8123, where there is a sign pointing you toward Blue Lake Trailhead to the left, take 81 to the right. Shortly after taking that turn, turn into a parking space on the right with two parking places. This is the juncture of Blue Lake Horse Trail and 81. To get to the Toutle Trail, just walk forward on the trail from there.

From Seattle

Take I-5 south to the Woodland exit for WA-503. Take WA-503 toward Cougar. About 3/4-1 mile after you pass Yale Park on the right, take National Forest Road 81 on the left. Follow NR 81/8100 back quite a while into the Gifford Pinchot Forest and then into the Mt. St. Helens Monument. When you get to the intersection of 81 and 8123, where there is a sign pointing you toward Blue Lake Trailhead to the left, take 81 to the right. Shortly after taking that turn, turn into a parking space on the right with two parking places. This is the juncture of Blue Lake Horse Trail and 81. To get to the Toutle Trail, just walk forward on the trail from there.

Parking and facilities

There is parking space for two cars along 81. There are no other facilities, although there are informal camping sites all along the trail.

 

Lovely views on the way to a hidden lake

Here is what June Lake Trail looks like when it is flattish.

On Labor Day, my sister and niece invited me to hike the June Lake Trail in the Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The trail was a challenge for me even though it is rated Easy on All Trails. This was because it is up all the way in, not a steep slope but up none the less, which is the hardest thing for me to do. If you make the effort, you’ll be rewarded by beautiful views on the way in, plus a lake with a waterfall.

June Lake Trail

Rating: Middling

Panting Stops: 3-5

Distance: 2.3 miles, out and back

Elevation changes: 462 feet

The first view of Mt. St. Helens from the trail. As you go higher, it looks a lot closer.

June Lake Trail is a wide dirt path through a fir and maple forest that runs along a swift-moving little creek for most of the way. There are no other paths going off it, just one fire road, so it is easy to stay on the right track. As you get higher in elevation, you can see great views of Mt. St. Helens, and when you arrive at June Lake, you are just below the granite portion of the mountain. Just before you arrive at the lake, you encounter a broad open area of ash and sand that has probably been used as a campground. You go through some bushes to get to the lake, and if you go in the first opening, you’ll hear the waterfall. There is no access to the waterfall, but if you walk along the open area a little further, you’ll come to another access with a great view of the waterfall.

The lake is shallow and full of downed trees, but the place is peaceful. Although most of the path is heavily forested, the area around the lake is open, so even if it is a cool day, you might want to bring your hat.

How to get there

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Cougar, Washington

From Vancouver or Seattle

Drive north on I-5 and take the Highway 503 exit at Woodland. Drive east on 503 for about 30 miles to Cougar. Continue on and about 13 miles past Cougar, you will reach National Forest Road 83. Turn left at NF-83 and drive about 7 miles. You will pass NF-8312 on your right and the Marble Mountain Sno-Park on your left. The June Lake Trailhead is the second left after the Sno-Park down a little road. The sign is worn off and another sign is behind a bush, so it is easy to pass up the trailhead. If you go farther than 1/2 mile or so past the Sno-Park, you have probably passed it.

Parking

There is a parking lot for about 20 cars at the trailhead.

At the end of June Lake, there is a nice view of the waterfall.