11 Reasons You Have to Hike the Mount St Helens Loowit Trail

With a whole entire weekend off and nice weather, why not hike around Mt St Helens?! The Loowit Trail circles Mount St. Helens in 30 miles. Easily powered through in a weekend! It drops into and climbs out of deep gullies eroded by the eruption and debris flows of St. Helens in 1980. The hike is challenging with sparse camps, little water and some sketchy sections of loose pumice. Since the eruption denuded the slopes of the mountain, you’re almost always in sun, so getting overheated and sunburned is a very real possibility.

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I love the smell of St Helens in the morning

Loowit Trail Fun Facts:

MILEAGE: 28 miles (plus a few depending on which trail you take in)

LOCATION: Around Mount Saint Helens, 50 miles north of Portland OR

WHAT DOES LOOWIT MEAN:Smoking Mountain” – Native Americans in the region experienced many of St Helens eruptions, thereby deeming the volcano “smoking” or “fire” mountain.  “Loowit” likely originates from other Native American names for the mountain – Puyallup tribes called the mountain “Loowitlatkla,” meaning “Lady of Fire,” the Klickitats called the mountain “Louwala-Clough,” and the Cowlitz tribes called it “Lavelatla,” which means “smoking mountain.”

ELEVATION GAIN AND LOSS: 6,000 feet

MOUNT SAINT HELENS: Erupted on May 18, 1980. It was 9,677 feet before and 8,363 feet after the eruption

 

Blast zone of St Helens, views from the Loowit Trail

Blast zone of St Helens, views from the Loowit Trail

11 Reasons You Have to Hike the Mount St Helens Loowit Trail

Yes, there are more reasons to hike the Loowit trail besides getting to say the word “Loowit” over and over again – and here they are!

1) No permits!

Unlike it’s cousin to the north – Mount Rainier – St Helens requires no permits! No lotteries. No waiting in lines at Ranger’s Stations. No fees. No sweating whether or not you got selected. Just drive, park, and hike!* Boom, done.

*However, no camping is allowed in the blast zone, so just plan accordingly.

It looks super cool, but it's an active scientific site, so no camping in the blast zone

It looks super cool, but it’s an active scientific site, so no camping in the blast zone

2) Elk

Elk are everywhere, and so are deer! They are awesome. Be sure to keep your distance, especially if you’re night hiking. When we hiked the trail last summer, we were snapping photos of the sunset when we heard rustling below us on the plains. Turns out it was a herd of elk. Startled by our noises and headlamps, one shrieked and another one charged up the hill towards us. We heard an elkish snort very close by. Yikes! We didn’t stick around long enough to know how close it was going to get…

Look closely, the tiny specks are a herd of elk

Look closely, the tiny specks are a herd of elk

3) Gully adventures

Gully on the east side

Gully on the west side – Jared for scale

When you’re not traversing plains or worm flows (lava deposits), you’re probably going to be descending into and climbing out of deep gullies. The gullies are evidence of huge water discharges, and likely lahars (debris and mudflows resulting from volcanic eruptions) that extend radially from the flanks of ye olde St Helens.

Gully on the east side

Gully on the east side

5) Sunrises and sunsets

Sunrise on the Loowit

Sunrise on the Loowit

When I was there in mid-September, pink, red, and orange permeated the skies mornings and evenings. A sight to behold…

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Pink tinged mountain sides, saturated by the waning sun

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Sunset casts a deep red light on all that it touches

4) Fern Gully

Is a magical land…

Surrounded by barren plains, dry hot earth, and harsh and jagged volcanic rock, you’ll be surprised when you hear the sound of flowing water. Follow your ears down the bank (off trail) just before the June Lake Trail intersection (clockwise). Down a steep and vegetated slope is a stream carrying clear beautiful water. Jackpot. Fill and drink to your hearts content. And stock up while you can as water sources beyond are lacking.

6) The Plains of Abraham

The Plains of Abraham, on the east side, are flattish section of trail unmarked by deep gullies. It is a beautiful respite from toiling gully hiking elsewhere around the mountain.

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The Plains with sick views of St Helens to boot

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A dry, arid heaven of sorts

 

7) Worm Flows

So, you wonder, “what the hell are worm flows anyway?”. I’m glad you asked!

Worm flows are the rocky, cooled lava flows along streams and creeks.

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Sure, they’re hell to navigate…but they look cool

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Wormy flows

8) The Toutle

The mother of all gullies. The steepest of the steep. The deepest of the deep. Other hikers will warn you. You may fear the Toutle. A healthy respect is necessary.

Climbing ropes hang down either side of the gully to aid hikers in their descent and ascent

Climbing ropes hang down either side of the gully to aid hikers in their descent and ascent

9) Lava

More than just worm flows, you can find lava deposits in other spots around the mountain. In the blast zone to the north, there are some sweet lava formations as well.

That big lump in the stream bed is a huge chunk of lava

That big lump in the stream bed is a huge chunk of beautifl lava

10) Blasted Trees

Evidence of the explosion, trees were literally flattened by the shock wave that emanated from the mountain in 1980. While it’s not awesome that thousands of trees perished, it is an awesome sight to behold.

Flattened trees north of St Helens (image courtesy of www.on-the-road.ch)

Flattened trees north of St Helens (image courtesy of www.on-the-road.ch)

11) St Helens

 

 

Because hiking around an active volcano is badass and beautiful

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St Helens during the 1980 eruption (image courtesy of oregonlive.com)

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St Helens today (image courtesy of backpacker.com)

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