Welcome to the Toutle Valley!

I'm starting this blog to help visitors find the many things to do around Mount St. Helens and the Toutle Valley.  Our area is surrounded by adventure, high and low, but it's sometimes genuinely hard to find information about these special places.  Before our volcano erupted, the Spirit Lake Hwy followed the Toutle River all the way to Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens with easy-to-find adventure around every bend.  The route was lined with campgrounds, river access, logging roads, trails open to all,  and vast areas to explore. 

Today its different--With all the passes, permits, and rules, it's a tangle of red tape to just understand where you can go for a walk.  Don't dispair!  I know all the secrets... and I might even be asking for your help to make the area more accessible. 

Consider this blog your "insider's guide" to the Toutle Valley.  

Posted By Toutle Trekker

Last time I mentioned that the Hummocks Trail, which is a 2-mile loop, and the closed highway to Johnston Ridge can be good places to cross-country ski or snow shoe.  The Lakes Trail, which may be dicey for skiing because of steep drop offs into the lake, can provide a nice winter snowshoe route when the snow is deep, or a boot hike with minimal snow.  Often, in March or April, the Lakes Trail has little or no snow, and early season hikers are discovering that the Coldwater Lake area is a good place to start the hiking season.  Other Forest Service trails include the lower Boundary Trail where it intersects with the Hummocks Trail, and a snowshoe hike up the highway a mile to the South Coldwater Trail that leads uphill to great views and miles of trekking. 

For a shorter trip, try the nature trail just below the Forest Learning Center playground.  This hike drops through the noble fir trees, crosses a wet area on a boardwalk, and drops to a logging road.  Round trip is about two miles.  It can be done with snowshoes right now.

The 3100 logging road provides another area to get off the highway.  About a half-mile past Hoffstadt Bridge is an intersection of logging roads.  On the south side, the 3100 rd drops to state wildlife land in the valley floor.  In winter, parts of the wildlife area are closed to entry to protect wintering elk, but the 3100 access road can used as a winter trail. 

Posted By Toutle Trekker

The Spirit Lake Highway leads from Interstate 5 at Castle Rock and travels 51 miles to an elevation of over 4000 feet at Johnston Ridge, but has no "official" snowpark.  That's the bad news--but it is also the good news.  No bonafide snowpark means no hassle with an expensive Washington Sno*Park pass.  When the snow level is low, as it is right now, we have several areas that provide free snow parking. One place where many people come to sled and play in the snow is the runaway truck ramp just past the Forest Learning Center.  The Department of Transportation is now plowing the shoulder to provide a parking area.  There is a push at the local level to create a real snowplay area somewhere near here, but nothing official yet.  People use the ramp for sledding, but expect crowds on weekends. Its located near mp 34.

Skiing the Hummocks Trail

The truck ramp isn't very useful if you really want to ski, fat-tire bike, or snow shoe.  Elk Rock has historically been a great place for winter adventure, but, sadly, it falls under Weyerhaeuser's permit system, despite Elk Rock's history as a site of community significance and heritage. With deep snow, the highway right-of-way can also be a place to snowshoe or cross country ski.  With a big dump of snow, sometimes the plows do not go past the truck ramp or Elk Rock.  When this happens the entire highway cooridor becomes a long trail for snow adventure, with even snowmobile use legal per state law!   

If the plows have been running (as is the case today) drive to the "road closed" gate at the Hummocks Trailhead about mile post 45.  From here there are several options for snow adventure, including crosscountry skiing or snowshoeing along the Hummocks Trail (photo) or heading up the closed highway seven miles toward Johnston Ridge.  My family skied up the highway two days ago, and we noted a fat tire bike and a snow shoer had been there recently.  The tricky part to skiing here is that the snow pack is inconsistent, and the wind can turn things icy.  The conditions were great going up and a bit sticky coming down.

Snowshoers (and brave skiers) have more options, with all the Forest Service trails open to them, with a caveat that a person stays on the trail.  I have lobbied the Forest Service to allow snowshoers and skiiers to use old service roads near the highway as winter snow trails, but so far, nothing has been done.  With my urging, they did remove the "no trespassing" signs that prevented winter use on the closed portion of the Spirit Lake Highway--it took two years!  Maybe if the Monument heard from a few more people they could be motivated to open existing roads to snowshoers or skiiers.  (Hint, hint)  It wouldn't take much to add several great snowshoe routes here following service roads and roads used during the construction.

With a GPS you might even discover that the state Department of Natural Resources has over 300 acres along the highway that can be accessed off trail. 

Have fun while the snow lasts!




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Toutle Trekker


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