Get Outside...Hike Cowlitz County
Washington Trails Association selected eight hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that provide spectacular views of Mount St. Helens. Trail reviews are provided.
Badger Peak Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest 10-mile round-trip; elevation gain 1,600 feet with a high point of 5,664 feet. The best spot in the Dark Divide roadless area for dramatic views of Mount St. Helens and the blast zone.
From I-5 north, take exit 21 to Cougar. Drive through Cougar along the north side of Swift Reservoir. At the end of the reservoir, continue straight onto Road 25. Be sure that you DON'T take Road 90. Stay on FR-25 for 17.1 miles until you see the sign for Mosquito Meadows turnoff. Take a sharp right onto a gravel road (FR 28) and drive 2.3 miles. The Mosquito Meadows trailhead is on the right side of the road.
A couple parking spots are available on the side of the road but if you're looking for a campsite, continue 1.2 miles down FR 28. A great campsite with tent spaces, parking, water, even a fire pit is located off to the right.
Note that Day Hiking: South Cascades says to continue past this trailhead and follow FR 2816 but the road is impassable further on.
High Rock Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest 3-mile round-trip; elevation gain 1,400 feet with a high point of 5,658 feet. A steady climb to a lookout with views of Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens.
From Elbe, about 40 miles south of Tacoma along State Route 7, follow SR-706 east for 10.1 miles. When you pass Ashford, it is approximately two more miles to your next turn, a right onto Kernahan Road.
Follow the road 1.4 miles. Here it curves to the left, and becomes Skate Creek Road, which you follow for 3.3 miles. Turn onto FR-84, a smooth dirt road. Note that the sign for FR-84 is not visible when approaching the trailhead this way. After turning onto FR-84, continue on for 6.5 miles. Stay right when it forks. You are now on Road 8440. 2.6 miles along 8440, the road levels off and gets broad enough to park a dozen or more vehicles. This is Towhead Gap. Park here, at elevation 4320 feet. No pass is required. High Rock and the cabin are visible from the east side of the parking area.
It is possible to drive up to Towhead Gap from the other side, using Road 85, but take caution! Road 85 is considerably worse than Road 84; a couple of the potholes on Road 85 large enough to cause trip-ending damage, even to a high-clearance vehicle.
Strawberry Mountain Lookout Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest .75-mile round-trip; 500 feet elevation gain with a high point of 5,464 feet. Drive most of the way to view the volcano from this awesome lookout sight.
Tongue Mountain Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest 3.5 mile-round-trip; elevation gain 1,300 feet with a high point of 4,750 feet. Hike through groves of pine trees to a lookout where Adams, Rainier, and St. Helens are all magnificent on the horizon.
From Randle, drive 1 mile south on Forest Road 25 and then turn left (east) onto FR 23. Continue south on FR 23 for 9 miles, then turn right onto FR 28. Continue 1 mile and turn left onto FR 29. Four miles down FR 29, turn left onto FR 2904, and in another 4 miles look for the trailhead on the left (north) side of the road-opposite the Juniper Ridge Trail -at about 3600 feet elevation.
Sunrise Peak Trail to Jumbo's Shoulder
Gifford Pinchot National Forest 7-mile round-trip; elevation gain 2,000 feet with a high point of 5,500 feet. This steep trail takes you through fall-foliage meadows to a view of the volcano.
From Randle, turn south onto FR 131. At the first major fork, take the left-hand branch, which is FR 23. Proceed along paved FR 23 for a little more than 23 miles to a junction with FR 2324. Turn onto gravel FR 2324 and proceed 5 miles, then turn left on spur road 063.
Go another quarter-mile up this steep, rough spur road to the small trailhead parking lot. The official name of the trail is the Sunrise Trail #262. The hiker-only route up to the peak is #262A.
Juniper Ridge Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest 8 miles round trip; elevation gain 2,000 feet; high point 5,611 feet. A classic hike with dramatic views of volcanoes and the Cispus River below.
From Randle, travel south on Highway 131 (Forest Roads 23 and 25). After a mile, veer left onto Forest Road 23 and proceed for for 8.1 miles to the junction of Forest Road 28. Continue on Forest Road 28 for 1 mile and turn left on Forest Road 29. Follow Forest Road 29 for 4.1 miles and turn left on Forest Road 2904. Follow Forest Road 2904 for 4.2 miles and arrive at the trail on the right at Lambert Saddle.
Hamilton Butte Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest 1.5 mile-round-trip; 900 feet elevation gain with a high point of 5,772 feet. This area was buried in pumice when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. A great short hike.
From Randle, drive 1 mile south on Forest Road 25 and turn left (east) onto FR 23 (Cispus Road). Continue to a junction with FR 22. Turn left onto FR 22, drive 4.1 miles, and turn right onto FR 2208. Continue 2.6 miles and turn right onto FR 78. Follow FR 78 2.5 miles to FR 7807. Bear left and continue on FR 7807 for 3 miles to Spur Road 7807-29. Drive to the trailhead at the end of the road.
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.
Check the PERMIT SYSTEM for permitted climb dates.
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
Climbing to the crater rim is an opportunity to see not only amazing views in every direction, but to see geology raw, unformed and in its making.
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