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

It's May Day, which means that the entire 6560-acre Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area and its units are OPEN to public non-motorized access.  The Mudflow portion (2700 acres) has been closed to entry since December 1 to protect wintering elk.  For those unfamiliar with the history of the Wildlife Area, most of the Toutle River valley floor between the Sediment Retention Structure (aka SRS or Dam) and the Mount St. Helens Monument boundary has been acquired by the state.  Some of this land was donated for elk winter range back in the early 1990's, and some was acquired as part of the SRS project.  Currently the land is managed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for recreation and habitat, with elk winter range as a priority.  Visitors traveling toward Mount St. Helens on SR 504 can stop at pull-offs such as the Forest Learning Center and scan the valley floor for elk.  In winter, when the population is on an upswing, many hundreds of elk can be seen scattered along the gray "hummocks", and in summer and fall, all aspects of an elk's lifecycle from birth of calves to the eerie mating calls (bugles) can be heard and observed.

The original Spirit Lake Highway is buried under those hummocks, which are actually chunks of Mount St. Helens.  On May 18, 1980, the north slope of the volcano collapsed and roared through Spirit Lake and down the N. Toutle River, creating the largest landslide in recorded history.  The highway was buried over 100 feet deep.  Mudflows created from melted snow and glacier seeped to the top of the landslide and coursed down the river past Toutle, Castle Rock, Longview and on to the Columbia.  Afterward the North Toutle had no set channel, and it has been wandering back and forth across the valley ever since. 

The sediment dam was built in 1989 to hold back as much of this loose material as possible, to prevent flooding and continuous dredging in the lower valley and Columbia shipping channels.  Unfortunatly, the North Toutle, with its salmon and steelhead runs, was sacrificed.  With each raise of the dam, fresh new habitat or new river channels, are inundated with more sediment, setting the recovery process back.

You can see much of this wandering river from the Spirit Lake Highway, and visitors can hike, bicycle ride, or horseback ride along the old roads on the wildlife area.  Its a fun place to explore, with abundant wildlife, hidden homesteads, and numerous ponds and wetlands.  The 3100 logging road down to the valley floor, and the roads on the bottom are very popular with horseback riders and mountain bikers.  These links provide additional information about each unit, and a new management plan (that promises to prioritize access) is in the works.

Mudflow Unit Map:https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/mount_saint_helens/Mudflow

Hoffsatdt Unit Map:https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/mount_saint_helens/Hoffstadt%20/

Although the SRS project required the land behind the sediment dam to be used for habitat and recreation, there are no open roads or "public use" easements to this state land.  The lack of access means that Weyerhaeuser controls public access here, and they can (and do) charge you to walk across their land to reach the Wildlife Area. In one place Weyerhaeuser's 150-foot wide strip blocks access to nearly 7,000 acres of public land!  To legally access the Wildlife Area from the Highway, follow the 3100 logging road several miles to the valley floor. 

Because the wildlife area is "landlocked" the WDFW is currently applying for a grant to purchase some of the land wedged between the highway and the Wildlife Area.  If successful, this public land would no longer be controlled by private interests, and could be accessed by the public and become eligible for recreation improvements such as trails, camping areas, and restrooms.  Some of the land could even become a winter recreation area. 

 

 

 


 

 

 
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