The Mountain

Mount St. Helen's is a peak that should be on every life list. And because it is an active volcano, it is best not to put it off for too long.


4PERMITS FOR APRIL - OCTOBER 31 SEASON

Check the PERMIT SYSTEM for permitted climb dates.

Get a Mt. St. Helens Climbing Permit
All climbers must register and obtain a climbing permit.

Weather and Avalanche, Climbers should be prepared for extreme weather and rapidly changing climbing and weather conditions. Please update yourself with the latest avalanche and weather forecasts. Check Here for Weather and Avalanche conditions

Mt St Helen's Hike

The hike is hard, but requires no technical climbing skills. The trailhead is known as the Climbers’ Bivouac. The first 2.1 miles climbs 1000 feet through forests and open meadows to the Loowit Trail, which circuits the mountain. This section of trail is described in detail in WTA’s Hiking Guide as Ptarmigan Trail.

Continuing much past the Loowit Trail requires a climber’s permit (details below). This is where the trail ascends to Monitor Ridge, and the way gets more difficult from here. The next 2500 vertical feet is through boulder fields – and not any ordinary boulder fields. These rocks are dusted with an ash pumice than tends to shred the skin. You’d be wise to bring garden gloves for this section! It can also be windy, so bring layers and a jacket as well.

The last section of trail climbs about 1000 vertical feet through ash and small rocks to the crater rim. It’s described by many as “two steps forward and one step back.” Gaiters and long pants are a good choice here. And to get your mind off of the slow slog, be sure to take in the views! You are going upward and before you know it you will be standing on the summit.

The scene at the top is almost surreal – the huge crater with a dome growing rapidly in size each year and the state’s newest glacier forming a horseshoe around it. And the incredible views to Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Rainier floating above the blue-green undulating hills surrounding them. Be sure to stay well-back from the rim while taking photos; this is a cornice and could easily break under your feet.

After enjoying the top, it is time to head down. Trekking poles are a big help for the knees. Depending upon the time of year, it is also possible to glissade down part of the mountain (but be cautious).


Climbing Mount St. Helens - Important information is available from the Mount St. Helens Institute

Mount St. Helens is a popular climb for both beginning and experienced mountaineers. Although people are able to climb Mount St. Helens year-round, late spring through early fall is the most popular season.

Climbers must have a permit. It is recommended that reservations be made well in advance. Reservations can be made online through the Mount St. Helens Institute

From April 1 through May 14, a permit is required.

From May 15 through October 31, a permit is required. Only 100 permits are issued per day.

From November 1 through March 31, a permit is required but there is no charge.

Climbers Bivouac can be accessed by taking State Route 503 from Interstate 5 at Woodland.

Most climbers use the Monitor Ridge route from Climbers Bivouac. This route gains 4,500 feet in five miles to the crater rim at 8,365 feet elevation. Although strenuous, this non-technical climb is suitable for people in good physical condition who are comfortable scrambling over steep, rugged terrain. Most climbers complete the round trip in seven to twelve hours.

All climbers are recommended to carry:

  • Climbing Helmet or Hard Hat - Protect your head in the event of volcanic ballistics or rock fall.
  • Dust Mask (N95 type) - Cover your mouth and nose in the event of ash fall or blowing dust. Dust Masks (N95 type) should be available from any large hardware store.
  • Goggles or Sunglasses with Side Shields, Sunscreen - The Sun reflecting off of snow and ash is intense. Avoid contact lenses, as blowing ash and dust can be a problem. And don't forget a hat.
  • Climbing Boots - Sturdy, comfortable hiking boots (lug soled, waterproof, with angle protection ¾ shank) and gaiters (waterproof to keep rain, snow, ice, ash and pumice out of boots).
  • Map, Compass, Route Markers - Use them to know where you are and where you are going. Be sure to tell someone at home of your plans.
  • First Aid Kit - You may need to come to your own rescue, or help someone else. Be prepared!
  • Knife - Handy for all kinds of purposes, especially the type with extra tools.
  • Extra Food and Water - Bring at least two quarts of water per person. No water is available at Climbers Bivouac or on the climbing route. Carry plenty of food (high energy food recommended) to snack on all day. Reduce packaging to eliminate trash.
  • Extra Clothing - A beautiful sunny morning can turn into a cold rainy afternoon. Plan ahead! Layered clothing including full rain gear, gloves and hat.
  • Layering allows you to adjust your clothing to different exertion levels and weather.
  • Emergency signal device · Emergency Shelter - Yes, you planned to be out on one very long day. Be prepared just in case that longer day turns into something much longer.
  • Head lamp or Flashlight, extra batteries, and bulb - A necessity when the day is short and the trail is long.
  • Be sure to tell a friend or relative where you are going and check in with them you return. Having someone that will notify authorities if you don't return can help get you the assistance you need when you need it most.
  • Trekking poles (recommended), Waterproof matches, lighter or candles

Ape Caves

Mount St. Helens Ape Cave Lava Tube is a popular attraction in the Mount St. Helens National Monument and the longest lava tube in the continental United States at over two miles in length.

The Ape Caves are located on the south side of Mount St. Helens and accessed through Woodland - go up highway 503 past Cougar. Driving time from I-5 and highway 504 where all the Mount St. Helens Visitor Centers are to the Ape Cave is just over an hour. The Ape Caves are open year-round though the parking lot gets snowed in during the winter.

Driving Directions

From I-5 exit 21, travel north and east on State Route 503 (Lewis River Road). At 23 miles from the freeway, continue straight on Spur 503. At 31 miles, Spur 503 becomes Forest Road 90. Cross a bridge over a canal, then 2.6 miles later, turn left on FR 83. Travel 1.7 miles then turn left on FR 8303. Travel the final mile to the parking lot and Ape Headquarters Center. The parking lot has room for 50-60 vehicles, including bus and RV spots. There are vault toilets and garbage cans, but no drinking water. When it’s open, Ape Headquarters Center offers rental lanterns.

If the road is gated at the Trail of Two Forests junction (e.g. early in the season), you will have an additional half mile or so to walk, depending on how close you can park. A Sno-Park permit is required from December 1 through March 31, a Northwest Forest Parking Pass for the rest of the year.

June Lake

An easy and popular hike perfect for family picnicking, the lake isn’t much, but the setting is peaceful and geologically intriguing. Formed by an old mudflow, June Lake is fed by a 70-foot waterfall tumbling off basalt cliffs from an old lava flow.

The other forest, known formerly as the Lava Cast Forest, encompasses three-dimensional imprints of trees in the old lava beds called lava casts. The boardwalk trail loops through the two forests, and is kid- and wheelchair-friendly.

During eruptive activity some 1900 years ago, fluid lava flowed through a stand of trees, burning them but leaving impressions where they stood or lay. This lava was quite different from the sticky type of lava that forms the dome in the crater of St. Helens today.

When you visit the Trail of Two Forests, please stay on the trail -- the mosses and surrounding features of the forest are fragile.

WTA Pro Tip: One attraction along the boardwalk is a ladder descending eight feet into a lava-cast tree mold. Hikers can crawl through the tree mold, an activity especially popular with youngsters. Flashlights and old, warm clothes are good preparation for the fun.

Driving Directions

Drive east from I-5 on Highway 503 as it changes to Forest Road 90. Pass the town of Cougar, and just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam (about 35 miles from your turn off I-5), make a left onto FR 83. Proceed two miles and turn left onto FR 8303. The trailhead is on the left, a half mile away.


Lava Canyon

This trail begins with an amazing, ADA accessible, interpretive trail before proceeding down a steep rugged canyon to a one-of-a-kind swinging bridge.

There are three sections of the Lava Canyon Trail, each distinguished by increasing difficulty. From the parking lot the trail quickly descends into the canyon on a paved path with a gentle grade. The first section is perfect for everyone from youngsters new to hiking to those with stubborn knees. This section comes to an end at the waterfall viewpoint.

Below, the trail becomes more difficult as the route narrows and skirts along high cliffs. This segment forms a loop, which crosses over a 125-foot suspension bridge torn from the pages of a Hollywood movie script. On the bridge you will be treated to an amazing view of the canyon below and gushing water right under your feet. The sight can be unnerving, so watch your footing.

The trail eventually returns on the south side of the canyon, crossing a steel bridge upstream of the waterfalls and rejoins the paved trail. But before you get there you will need to drop farther into the canyon. If you are fearful of heights, this segment is not for you. After the bridge, the trail crosses an exposed face, followed by a water crossing, where a cable is present to assist hikers make the ford. A metal ladder then descends a vertical cliff providing access to the canyon’s thunderous waterfalls.

The trail soon intersects Ship Trail (the return route), which climbs to a viewpoint atop a lava formation that overlooks a long series of waterfalls in the lower canyon. A bit further, the canyon begins to broaden and flatten as it approaches a large alluvial fan spreading into the Smith Creek valley.

WTA Pro Tip: For more volcanic geology, check out the nearby Trail of Two Forests, the location where a series of lava tubes formed when a lava flow crawled through an old growth forest and cooled. When trees decayed, vertical columns were formed where the old-growth trees once stood.

Driving Directions

From I-5, take exit 21 and drive east on SR- 503 for 28 miles to Cougar. Continue east on FR-90 past the Swift Dam. Turn onto FR-83 and proceed 12 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road.

Trail of Two Forests

This trail loops through two forests that stand side by side, but are separated in age by 2000 years. One forest is old-growth Douglas-fir and western red-cedar and the other is a young forest that was originally engulfed by lava flows from an eruption of Mount St. Helens over two millennia ago.

The other forest, known formerly as the Lava Cast Forest, encompasses three-dimensional imprints of trees in the old lava beds called lava casts. The boardwalk trail loops through the two forests, and is kid- and wheelchair-friendly.

During eruptive activity some 1900 years ago, fluid lava flowed through a stand of trees, burning them but leaving impressions where they stood or lay. This lava was quite different from the sticky type of lava that forms the dome in the crater of St. Helens today.

When you visit the Trail of Two Forests, please stay on the trail -- the mosses and surrounding features of the forest are fragile.

The trail soon intersects Ship Trail (the return route), which climbs to a viewpoint atop a lava formation that overlooks a long series of waterfalls in the lower canyon. A bit further, the canyon begins to broaden and flatten as it approaches a large alluvial fan spreading into the Smith Creek valley.

WTA Pro Tip: One attraction along the boardwalk is a ladder descending eight feet into a lava-cast tree mold. Hikers can crawl through the tree mold, an activity especially popular with youngsters. Flashlights and old, warm clothes are good preparation for the fun.

Driving Directions

Drive east from I-5 on Highway 503 as it changes to Forest Road 90. Pass the town of Cougar, and just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam (about 35 miles from your turn off I-5), make a left onto FR 83. Proceed two miles and turn left onto FR 8303. The trailhead is on the left, a half mile away.

(360) 577-3137

1900 7th Avenue Longview, WA 98632

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