Hiking & Climbing

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.


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.

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

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