Trail #184 Lava Canyon

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Views of a rushing ribbon of pools and waterfalls await you on the Lava Canyon Trail. Three sections of the trail, one ADA accessible, provides opportunities for all. Although it may be tempting to leave the trail and explore, going off-trail is dangerous and fatalities have occurred. Please stay on the trail at all times.

  • Section 1: First 1/3 mile is paved and ADA accessible. Stroll down some switchbacks and past lovely views of the Muddy River (which isn’t). Stop to read interpretive signs explaining the canyon’s geological past.
  • Section 2: Pavement ends. To the right, cross a steel bridge, gaze down on the rushing Muddy River and explore the river’s east side or continue straight on the main trail for another .4 miles to the suspension bridge. Normally, you can cross the suspension bridge to make a 1.4 mile loop, but due to the bridge’s closure, currently not possible.
  • Section 3: On the main trail, past the suspension bridge, the trail becomes more difficult, descending steeply into the canyon. This section is not recommended for people uncomfortable with heights. 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 canyon broadens out as it approaches the Smith Creek Valley. The trail ends at Smith Creek Trail #225.

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At a Glance

Current Conditions: 07/31/2020: Due to closure of the Lava Canyon Suspension Bridge, the 1.4 mile upper loop is not possible. The first small bridge remains open for crossing the river. You may still walk down both sides of the river to the suspension bridge, you just can't cross it. Lower section past the suspension bridge open.  
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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Day Hiking

The upper trail is barrier-free 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.

Nature Viewing

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Outdoor Learning

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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'