Trail #184 Lava Canyon

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

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. The trail begins from Lava Canyon Interpretive Trailhead.

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 SUPENSION BRIDGE IS CLOSED FOR DUE TO CABLE DAMAGE. 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: 06/03/2020: Trail open but unreachable by vehicle. Forest Road 83 remains gated just past Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Road needs maintenance before opening.
Fees $5/vehicle/day or valid Recreation Pass required at Lava Canyon Trailhead and Interpretive Site. See Mount St. Helens Map for fee and payment sites.
Restrictions: Please stay on the trail at all times. Fatalities have occurred when people leave the trail.
Closest Towns: Cougar, WA
Water: No
Restroom: Vault Toilets
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center:

General Information


From Woodland, WA take State Route 503/Forest Road 90 east to the well-signed junction with Forest Road 83. Take a left on Forest Road 83 and follow for 12 miles to Lava Canyon Trailhead/Intepretive Site at the end of the road.


The lower trail and parking area are accessible.



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Areas & Activities


  Area/Length : 
Accessible, interpretive trail: 0.4 milesSuspension Bridge loop: 0.6 milesLower Canyon: 1.8 miles

  Elevation : 
1600' - 2800'