Hiking the Sheep Canyon Trail on a Live Volcano!

Mt. St. Helens

Back in the aughts in mid-summer, I did a fantastic hike on an active volcano that was venting steam into the atmosphere.

Mt. St. Helens

The loop trail was on the west side of Mt. St. Helens. Starting at Blue Lake, I hiked by Butte Camp Dome to the Loowit Trail, then five miles on the Loowit Trail (about 20% of the way around Mt. St. Helens), down to the South Fork of the Toutle River, and back to the trailhead.

Long look down to the South Fork Toutle River

Mt. St. Helens venting

The hike was 13 1/2 miles long with about 2,800 feet of cumulative elevation gain.

There was a sign on the Loowit Trail indicating that the area above the round-the-volcano trail (roughly the entire volcano above 5,000 feet) was closed due to volcanic activity. I took the warning to heart.  

It was a gorgeous day with plenty of sunshine. The wildflowers were out in force, especially the beargrass, purple heather and phlox. The impacts of the last big eruption in 1980 were very evident, including standing dead trees and the deep canyon gorges caused by the volcanic mud flows. Although, it’s amazing how much vegetation has returned over the last quarter of a century.

Look long to Coldwater Peak

Monkeyflower and Avalanche Lily

Dead snags from the big eruption

Sheep Canyon Creek

Loowit Trail

Small lake in Sheep Canyon

Snow fields were in every canyon above 4,500 feet. They act like miniature glaciers, but usually disappear by the end of summer. And yes, the volcano remains active and was venting steam off and on the entire day.

My footprints on a steep snowfield

Loowit Trail

And last but not least, I spotted a hoary marmot, a family member of groundhogs.

Hoary Marmot

Categories: Washington Cascades HikesTags: , ,


  1. Thank you for sharing that great memory John.

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