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

The swallows and their feathered friends are starting to arrive in the lowlands of the Toutle Valley.   Each morning it seems I hear a new migrant that has completed the long journey from the tropics.  With snow still hanging on in the mountains, it's a good time to talk about "birding" opportunities in the Valley.  With Silver Lake, Seaquest State Park, and the varied habitat near Johnston Ridge, the Toutle Valley is a great area for both beginning and advanced birders.  Today I will talk about the birding and wildlife viewing opportunities around Silver Lake.

Where to go:

Seaquest State Park:  Silver Lake has great opportunities to find wetland species.  Start at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, where a boardwalk trail follows the edge of the lake on an old railroad grade.  Several miles of looping trails across the highway in Seaquest State Park provide classic older forest habitat. 

Hall Road WDFW units:  There are also some hidden parcels of state wildlife land toward the east end of the lake.  About 1/4 mile east of Hall Road, watch for a small, grassy parking area on the left (north).  With your Discover Pass or WDFW vehicle pass, park here and follow elk trails to the edge of the cattail marshes.  Rubber boots are helpful.  This quiet edge is a birding gem, with waterfowl and brushy habitats for wood warblers and forest dwellers. 

Canal Road: The WDFW Canal Road unit is perhaps the best birding and wildife viewing spot on the lake.  Across from Drew's Grocery, turn right (south) onto Sightly Road.  Watch for swallows, and kestrels on the powerlines, and waterfowl in the flooded fields along the road.  For the last several springs, four or five pairs of wood ducks have been stopping in the flooded fields on their way to nesting areas.  At the sharp corner (1 1/2 miles) veer right onto Canal Road, past more flooded fields, and go straight at the first junction, where the road narrows.  The Wildlife Area is the wetlands on both sides of the road.  Explore up to a gate and parking area on a small rise.  Besides birds, don't be surprised to spot elk, blacktailed deer, beavers or otters, and wild horses.  Fishing access is also available, and there are areas where small boats can reach Silver Lake. No passes required here or Canal Road.

Canal Rd

The flooded farmer's fields along Moore Road are also good places to spot waterfowl from the road. 

Silver Lake Dam: This spot is for the brave and adventurous and a GPS is helpful to stay on public land. More WDFW land is accessible from Hansen Road, across from the Toutle Highschool softball fields.  Follow Hansen Road approxiamately a half mile until it swings left, just before crossing the Outlet Creek.  A gated gravel road leads through private land on an easement, to the Silver Lake Flood Control dam and more WDFW land.  The high school track team sometimes keeps the trail/road open for running. 

This link identifies the Department of Wildlife land parcels at Silver Lake: Canal and Hall Road Units.  Follow the links to "detailed land ownership map"

https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/county/Cowlitz/


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

With winter making a late stand, there is one more area to enjoy the snow in the Toutle Valley, and I've saved the best for last.   

Bad news first.  If you don't dig a bit, you may never even know this land existed.  It has no trails, campgrounds, picnic sites, or official snowparks. There are no brown and white recreation signs.  The DNR website is silent.  In fact, it has no recreation investments at all, except a single "Discover Pass required" sign.  

Now the good news.  The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) owns 35,000 acres between the North and South Toutle Rivers.  The Toutle State Forest is open to most forms of outdoor recreation, including camping, horseback riding, bicycles, ATV's and snowmobiles. The views are spectacular, with five volcanoes and three huge lakes, surrounding you.  There are miles of logging roads to explore, and back-routes into the Mount St. Helens Monument and its trails (more on that when the snow melts). 
Toutle State Forest snowshoe trek

Weyerhaeuser, which has this 35,000 acres "landlocked", does usually allow free motorized access on a 'public access corridor' to the state forest. 

Directions: From the Toutle on SR 504, turn south onto South Toutle Road, which is just across from Drew's Grocery (the only store in town).  Follow S. Toutle Road over the river, past Harry Gardner County park, about three miles to a large gravel road the merges to the right.  Take this road and stay right. (If you go under two bridges you have gone too far.)   The gravel road is the 4100 logging road, but it may not be marked.   Follow the 4100 road a few miles paralleling the S. Toutle River.  Soon afer crossing a small creek,  there will be a large open area on the right which is often used to store culvert and other forestry supplies.  This is the old 12-mile logging camp that was destroyed by the eruption.  On the left, across from the storage area, a gravel road goes up hill (4200 rd).  Take the 4200 road and follow it gradually uphill to the DNR forest.  After seven miles, if you watch carefully, you may notice the Discover Pass sign which is the only mark that you have entered public land (the timber also gets larger, too). 

Depending on snow level, let the exploration begin.  The area is becoming more popular, especially with light 4x4's on weekends, so expect some company.  The photo shows a nice snowshoe route to the top of Signal Peak. 

The best map is the Mount St. Helens quadrangle map published by the DNR are available from the website for state printing:   https://prtonline.myprintdesk.net/DSF/storefront.aspx.   You can also check out public land on the Washington State Department of Wildlife's GoHunt web mapping tool, which has DNR roads. http://apps.wdfw.wa.gov/gohunt/

 


 
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!


 

 

 
Google

User Profile
Toutle Trekker

 
Archives
 
Visitors

You have 589 hits.