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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Rip & Go: Loowit Trail - Mt. St. Helens National Monument, WA

Tackle a challenging, rocky route in the shadow of America's most famous volcano.

by: Adrienne Saia Isaac

Lupin-filled view of the Summit Crater (Tomas Kaspar)
Lupin-filled view of the Summit Crater (Tomas Kaspar)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Do It
Circumnavigate 8,365-foot Mt. St. Helens on the 28.6-mile Loowit Trail, and you'll scramble over old lava flows, witness recovering flora, and peek into the infamous crater. The rewards are not free: Tough detours around trail damage from 2006 storms increase difficulty, making the circuit best for fit and experienced backpackers. From June Lake trailhead (1), hike 1.3 miles to the Loowit Trail junction (2). Turn right to commence a counterclockwise route ranging from 3,400 to 4,800 feet. In the next 4.7 miles, you'll cross the Muddy River and traverse Ape Canyon. Stay left at the Abraham Trail junction and set up camp near Pumice Butte (3), east of the trail at mile six.

Get moving early on day two to cross a 14-mile no-camping area to a tent site on the south fork of the Toutle River. The restricted area encompasses the 1980 blast zone that scientists still research. You'll cross the Plains of Abraham (4), a 2.1-mile moonlike expanse. Filter water just beyond–it's the last source for 10 miles. At mile 7.3, keep left and switchback up to 4,900-foot Windy Pass (5). See Spirit Lake and Mt. Rainier to the north. From here, it's 1.9 miles to a side trip option to Loowit Falls (6). (Turn left to hike .7 mile to its 150-foot, latte-colored cascade.) Past this junction, the trail is poorly marked and obstacle-packed, leading seven miles to the Toutle River (7). It runs fast and deep; head downstream to scout a shallower ford. Turn right on the Toutle Trail to hike .2 mile to your second camp (8). Scree-filled gullies lie ahead on day three, opening to verdant, lupine-packed meadows (9) with views of Mt. Hood 60 miles southeast. Go straight at a four-way junction with the Ptarmigan Trail (10). From here, it's 4.3 miles to close the loop and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Trip Planner

Driving From Portland, take I-5 for 29 miles north to WA 503. Head east 34.4 miles through Cougar to a left on FR 83. It's seven miles to the trailhead.

Gear Up Find last-minute items at Ace Hardware in Woodland (1325 Lewis River Rd.; 360-225-6526).

Conditions Get current trail reports at or call (360) 449-7800.

Map NWIA Trail Guide to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument ($5,


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Reader Rating: -


Oct 07, 2012

Exactly what I wanted to know. St Helens is on the list for backpacking trips next summer, but the Nat Geo map bought at REI doesn't show camp spots of any kind, so I didn't know if camping was allowed...

Nov 17, 2009

re: ape canyon and its' residents.
yes, they most definitely exist. i have heard one scream and it will chill the blood in your veins. but they are mostly harmless. go to the bfro website ( and read a few of the sighting reports. very interesting stuff.


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