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

Did you know a big-time Hollywood movie was filmed in the Toutle Valley?  In 1937 "God's Country and the Woman", a logging-adventure-love story, was filmed in several locations in Cowlitz County.  I've seen the movie a few times on classic television, and I made a VHS copy of it once.  It's really cool to see the places we locals are all familiar with on the big screen, especially the shots of Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens from before the eruption.   Another famous scene is of the rocky Toutle River Gorge, dubbed "Hollywood Gorge" after the film.  Spoiler alert! They created an artificial log jam, blasted it wide open, and ran a train engine into the river all for the movie.  My father grew up on the banks of the river here, and as a child, I fished the very near where the action occurred all those years ago.

Today, it is more difficult to see Hollywood Gorge. Much of the land and the main access road to the heart of the Gorge is now posted, but the river remains public.  Experienced kayakers and boaters (and I emphasize experienced!) float the Toutle through the Gorge for high adventure during high water. Most whitewater enthusiasts put in at the main Toutle bridge just past Drew's Grocery and float to the takeout on Tower Road.  The rapids can be class 4 with high, muddy and log filled waters adding to the adventure and danger.  Over the years, commercial rafting company's have offered trips.  If you are into this type of thing here's a site with the details: https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/2253/

There are also some YouTube videos posted for a "virtual" run down the Toutle.

If you want a view of the gorge from dry land, here are a few places to see it.  The first bridge across the Toutle was called Coal Banks Bridge, and it crossed at a narrow, rocky point about a half-mile downstream of the current bridge on Hwy 504.  The Coal Banks Bridge was replaced by a new bridge about 1970.  When the eruption wiped out the new bridge, the Army Corps of Engineers resurrected the old Coal Banks location and put in a Bailey bridge.  After the eruption kids like me road the school bus across that narrow Army Baily bridge for a few years.  (National Geographic magazine photographers even rode with us once.)  High in a school bus on the Bailey bridge, you could really get a good view of the roiling water at the heart of the Gorge.  I know I wouldn't be going down there in a kayak or raft!

The Bailey bridge was removed when a new post-eruption bridge was built, but the route remains.  Park at either end of the old Coal Banks Road gates and walk the old pavement to where the bridge used to cross the river.  (Because a state law that prevents counties from giving up road access to waters, these routes are open to the public.)  The route on the east side of the new bridge is shorter. This location gives you an idea of the wildness of Hollywood Gorge.  Driving along Tower Road, which loops between Castle Rock and Toutle, also provides pull-offs and glimpses of the canyon and Gorge in several places.  The WDFW manages the take-out location where Tower Rd. crosses the River.  Pull off here to walk down to the water. 


 

 

 
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