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Mount St. Helens NVM, WA: Coldwater Lake

This 11-mile loop trail circles the new lake created by the 1980 eruption. Start along the northern lakeshore where summer wildflowers abound, then climb to the south ridge traverse for big views and to witness the effects of nature's fury—and recovery.

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Dammed by debris flow during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Coldwater Creek filled the canyon creating 4-mile long Coldwater Lake. Now, a network of trails in the area allows you to explore the lakeshore and ridges above for a closeup view of the catastrophic results of the eruption, and what nature has been doing to recover over the last 30 years.

The trail begins at the northern parking lot and boat ramp. Begin by walking easy trail above the lakeshore, with views up the canyon to Minnie Peak and Cataract Gorge. In summertime, wildflowers carpet these slopes in a variety of colors. Along the way, several benches offer breaks with pleasant lake views. Note the signs instructing hikers not to stray off the trail–hefty fines are handed out to violators.

Progressing up canyon, you’ll pass through several small, densely wooded areas, with trickling creeks and cascades passing over the trail. After three miles, come to an open avalanche slope and follow posts and cairns across the rocks. At the head of the lake, look for large, marshy ponds and beaver dams. At 4.4 miles, fork right onto Coldwater Trail #230, and descend to the bridge crossing over Cataract Gorge and Coldwater Creek. On the opposite side, the trail then climbs steadily for almost two miles to another junction with the South Coldwater Trail #230A. Turn right again and begin an easy traverse across the top of the ridge, westward, amid slopes of grasses and wildflowers, and the tombstone-like stumps of trees blasted down by the eruption.

After another mile, views start to open up of Coldwater Lake below and one point with a grand view of Mount St. Helens yawning crater over Johnston Ridge. Just before starting the final descent, pass the remains of several logging trucks and tractors–mangled, rusty, and half-buried in the ridgetop. Make a quick descent through young forest to the road and a parking area; here, turn right and follow the road back to your starting point at the Coldwater Lake parking lot. Along the way, pass bridges over Coldwater Creek, and note the views of Mount St. Helens behind.

Mapped by Eli Boschetto Bosco Mountain Photo


Trail Facts

  • Distance: 17.9


230A Jct-R

Location: 46.305369, -122.211432

Trail junction; turn right on South Coldwater Trail #230A.


Location: 46.292233, -122.266308

The Coldwater Lake trailhead begins at the northern parking area with the boat ramp.


Location: 46.297784, -122.25896

Wooden bench with nice views.


Location: 46.297931, -122.258215

Wooden bench with nice views.


Location: 46.299816, -122.256428

Wooden bench.


Location: 46.301077, -122.252258

Lake access for fishing and swimming.


Location: 46.30129, -122.251859

Wooden bench with nice views.


Location: 46.301905, -122.249795

Small creek crossing.


Location: 46.304193, -122.244618

Small creek crossing.


Location: 46.306078, -122.240894

Small creek crossing.


Location: 46.308099, -122.237913

Small cascade crossing.


Location: 46.316449, -122.22342

Begin traverse of avalanche area; follow posts and taped markers.


Location: 46.318525, -122.213166

Small creek crossing.


Location: 46.318584, -122.211535

Short side trail for lake access.


Location: 46.319024, -122.204067

Small creek crossing.


Location: 46.317939, -122.201659

Trail junction; turn right on Coldwater Trail #230, descending toward creek.


Location: 46.317545, -122.202017

Cross bridge over Coldwater Creek.


Location: 46.311867, -122.20616

First big view across Coldwater Lake.


Location: 46.303408, -122.217469

Big views of Coldwater Lake.


Location: 46.294715, -122.233397

View south of Johnston Ridge and Mount St. Helens.


Location: 46.293443, -122.239308

Blast ruins; find rusty, half-buried remains of a logging tractor and crane.


Location: 46.285537, -122.253115

Parking and trailhead for South Coldwater trail; exit to road, turn right and follow road to Coldwater Lake parking.


Location: 46.284575, -122.26164

Bridge over South Coldwater Creek.


Location: 46.287326, -122.27045

Road turnoff and parking for Hummocks Trail.


Location: 46.288196, -122.271668

Bridge over Coldwater Creek; views of Mount St. Helens.


Location: 46.289468, -122.27247

Turn right into Coldwater Lake parking area; return to starting point.

Coldwater Lake

Location: 46.292096, -122.265859

View across Coldwater Lake toward Minnie Peak, from trailhead.


Location: 46.297581, -122.258692

Summer wildflowers adorn the trail and lakeside.

Cataract Gorge

Location: 46.311189, -122.228951

Coldwater Lake is fed by Coldwater Creek, emptying out of Cataract Gorge.

Summer Color

Location: 46.318748, -122.210584

A profusion of summer wildflowers decorate the slopes along the northern side of Coldwater Lake.

Coldwater Creek

Location: 46.317355, -122.201915

Flowing through Cataract Gorge, Coldwater Creek feeds Coldwater Lake.


Location: 46.301999, -122.219296

The slopes above Coldwater Lake are adorned with the stunted remains of trees blasted down in the 1980 eruption.

Mount St. Helens

Location: 46.294438, -122.234015

From an open viewpoint, look over Johnston Ridge, straight into Mount St. Helens crater.


Location: 46.293697, -122.238564

Witness the half-buried remains of logging equipment destroyed by the 1980 eruption.

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