Lava Canyon Trail #184

Area Status: Closed
This area is Closed

In this landscape much more stark than the forest below, spectacular views await all visitors. There are three sections of the Lava Canyon Trail distinguished by increasing difficulty. The upper trail is accessible and paved to a waterfall viewpoint. This portion is the easiest and leads you past a series of interpretive signs, which describe the formation of the canyon. 

Below the waterfall viewpoint the trail becomes more difficult; it is no longer paved and skirts high cliffs. This segment forms a loop, crossing the canyon on a 125-foot cable suspension bridge. The bridge provides spectacular views of the canyon below but may be unnerving to some hikers. The trail returns on the south side of the canyon, crossing a steel bridge upstream of the waterfalls and rejoins the paved trail. 

The lower trail is most difficult as it descends steeply into the canyon. If you are uncomfortable with heights, this segment is not for you. Beginning at the suspension bridge, the trail crosses an exposed cliff face followed by a water crossing with a cable grab-line. A 30-foot metal ladder descends a vertical cliff providing access to the canyons deepest recesses and roaring waterfalls. The trail soon intersects Ship Trail 184B which climbs 0.2 mile to a viewpoint atop the Ship, a lava formation that overlooks a long series of waterfalls in the lower canyon. A few tenths of a mile further, the canyon begins to broaden and flatten as it approaches a large alluvial fan spreading into the Smith Creek valley. Here the Lava Canyon Trail ends where it intersects Smith Creek Trail 225. A car shuttle to the lower trailhead permits a one-way downhill hike.

ALERT!: Stay on trail at all times. Water access is not available at this site and several fatalities have occurred at this location from off-trail travel.

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At a Glance

Current Conditions: 03/23/2015: Closed for the winter season
Fees $5/vehicle/day
Best Season: Summer and Fall
Busiest Season: Summer
Restrictions: Travel is allowed on approved trails only. Off-trail travel is prohibited. Research permits are required for off-trail travel. 
Closest Towns: Cougar, WA
Water: No
Restroom: No
Passes: Recreation Pass is required at the Ape Canyon Trail Head.
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center: Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument Headquarters and Visitor Centers   See also:  Loowit Trail #216

General Information


From Cougar WA take Lewis River Road east for 2.8 miles. The road then changes to Forest Road 90. Continue on Forest Road 90 for 16 miles and stay to the left on Forest Road 25, pass the Pine Creek Information Center. Drive Forest Road 25 for 25 miles to the junction of Forest Road 99. Turn left onto Forest Road 99 towards Windy Ridge. Drive approximately 16.4 miles to Windy Ridge Interpretive Site.


The parking area and viewing platforms are flat, paved, and barrier-free. Toilets are also reletively easy to access.


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