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.