You’ll link wildflower fields, pumice-covered plains, and boulder-size lava bombs in Mount St. Helens National Monument on this 11.3-mile dayhike. The trail begins from the small turnout just west of the Lava Canyon parking area and climbs northwest along the mile-wide lahar—a river of mud, rock, and volcanic debris—that flowed down the southeast face of St. Helens.
After a steady ascent through maple and alder, the forest transitions to hemlock and old-growth fir. Look through intermittent gaps in the trees to see the towering east rim of Mount St. Helens. (In late spring and summer, the shady trail is ablaze with a menagerie of wildflowers: penstemon, lupine, paintbrush, bunchberry, queen’s cup, and anemone.)
Near mile 2.5, the trail crests a ridgetop, revealing views in every direction: Ape Canyon far below, Mount Adams towering to the east, and Mount Rainier looming over Pumice Butte to the north. Less than two miles later, leave the cover of forest behind and enter the blast zone at the head of Ape Canyon, a pinched gorge with 100-foot-high walls. At mile 4.4, the trail ends at a junction with the Loowit Trail. Turn right and continue on Loowit Trail, traversing the stark Plains of Abraham, to a natural spring that creates a lush, wildflower-filled meadow.
Continue half a mile farther through a section of pumice desert to an area littered with giant lava bombs (volcanic boulders blasted from the volcano). Turn around and follow the same route back to the trailhead. (Optional: To add mileage, continue another 5 miles to the Windy Ridge viewpoint.)
Note: This trail is a popular mountain biking route. Be aware of oncoming bikers.
-Mapped by Eli Boschetto, Bosco Mountain Photo
Click to PRINT AND GO
MAPS USGS quads: Smith Creek Butte and Mt. Saint Helens ($8 each, store.usgs.gov).
GUIDEBOOK Mt. St. Helens: A Guide to Exploring the Great Outdoors, by Fred Barstad ($16, falcon.com)
PERMITS Northwest Forest Pass required ($5 per day; fs.fed.us/gpnf/04passes/)
CONDITIONS For closures, snow levels, and trail work, check fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/current-conditions/trails.shtml. For current weather, check fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/currentconditions/weather.shtml.
CONTACT 42218 N.E. Yale Bridge Rd., Amboy, WA 98601, (360) 449-7800, fs.fed.us/gpnf/mshnvm/
DAYKHIKING GEAR LIST
Synthetic shorts or pants
Wool hiking socks
Hiking shoes or boots
Sunscreen (SPF 15+)
Midweight synthetic or fleece long-sleeve top
Wool or fleece hat
Waterproof/breathable jacket and pants
Map, compass, GPS unit
Water containers and water treatment
Extra food and snacks
Extra pair of socks (optional)
TP and trowel
1010 Atlantic Ave.
9700 NE Highway 99
1303 NW Lovejoy St.
16842 Lewis River Rd.
426 SE Grand Ave.
LUCKY LABRADOR BREW PUB
915 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
611 Goerig St.
- Distance: 18.2
Location: 46.1654, -122.092267
The trailhead is located in a small parking area just before the turnaround at Lava Canyon.
Location: 46.165551, -122.093897
View the mile-wide lahar (a mudflow of volcanic fragments) that covers down the southeast flank of Mount St. Helens.
Location: 46.167795, -122.09939
A short spur leads to a lookout over the lahar and a spectacular view of Mount St. Helens.
Location: 46.190583, -122.12145
Near mile 3.5, you'll start to see views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier.
Location: 46.192217, -122.124217
A small campsite with fire ring is located just above the trail on the left (west).
Location: 46.19235, -122.12765
Look for spectacular views of Ape Canyon, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier.
Location: 46.195369, -122.132993
Stand at the edge of the 100-foot slot at the head of Ape Canyon for tremendous views.
Location: 46.195681, -122.134902
Turn right at the junction with the Loowit Trail. It's 0.8 mile to the natural spring.
Location: 46.20025, -122.13755
Connect the large pyramids of rocks that mark the path through the Plains of Abraham.
Location: 46.20033, -122.134452
Pass a miniature oasis filled with wildflowers at the brink of a towering cliff in the stark pumice plains.
Location: 46.20535, -122.136983
Giant lava bombs are scattered around the area; they look similar to the the erratics left by passing glaciers.
Location: 46.206062, -122.137177
A river of rocks at the 5.6-mile point marks the hike's turnaround point. To add mileage, continue on to Windy Ridge.
Location: 46.200359, -122.13413
A natural spring creates a miniature oasis in the barren Plains of Abraham. In summer look for large patches of lupine and paintbrush. © Eli Boschetto
Ape Canyon Trailhead
Location: 46.165387, -122.09188
Descend into second-growth maple and alder forest, en route to bigger, higher views. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.165625, -122.095613
The mile-wide mud and rock lahar that wiped out forest on the southeast side of Mount St. Helens. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.171866, -122.097931
After 1.2 miles, the forest transitions to hemlock and fir old-growth. © Eli Boschetto
Mt. Hood View
Location: 46.17726, -122.104197
From this ridge, look south for views of Oregon's Mt. Hood. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.182623, -122.109346
Get peeks of the rim of Mount St. Helens. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.189814, -122.120848
Higher on the ridge, views start to open to the east showcasing the 12,276-foot Mt. Adams. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.19118, -122.122736
To the north, spot views of the top of 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier beyond Pumice Butte. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.191789, -122.123165
A small campsite with fire ring just off the trail. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.192903, -122.128229
The colorful blast-scoured walls at the head of Ape Canyon. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.193735, -122.130547
Higher up, the trail begins to open to grander views of Mount St. Helens. © Eli Boschetto
At the Brink
Location: 46.195191, -122.132649
View from the edge of the 100-foot rock wall slot into Ape Canyon. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.19528, -122.13398
The slot that funneled the 1980 mudflows down into Ape Canyon. Mt. Adams in the background. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.195666, -122.134559
Turn right (north) at this junction to explore the Plains of Abraham. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.198874, -122.1384
Hike over a small ridge to the natural spring and the espansive Plains of Abraham. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.200315, -122.13722
Large cairns mark the path through the Plains of Abraham. Mt. Adams in the distance. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.200775, -122.134323
Another precipice view down into Ape Canyon. Mt. Adams in the distance. © Eli Boschetto
Location: 46.205423, -122.136641
Blasted from the mountain during the 1980 eruption, large lava bombs litter the area. © Eli Boschetto