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

Spring is in full bloom in downtown Castle Rock with bulbs and flowering trees putting on a grand display.  I spent a few hours walking around town the other day, and with the mountains still locked in snow, it is a great time for a lowland stroll.  I started at the north Riverfront Trailhead at Castle Rock, which can be reached from exit 49 by turning toward downtown, past the Welcome Center.  At the trailhead, I hit the path along the river (left) toward the bike park and "The Rock".  The Cowlitz was running a bit high with snowmelt, and a few anglers were plying the waters for steelhead.  The high dike the trail follows gives a rooftop perspective of the town.  I passed under the bridge and toward the bike skills park, where families with BMX bikes were practicing.  Instead of following the pavement here, I stayed to the right on a gravel path/road.  This "scenic route" wasn't the most beautiful, with a bank of briars on one side and glimpses of the river on the other.  (Perhaps not the best route to take on a dark or quiet time, but there were lots of people around).  The road swings around, past the wastewater treatment plant, and provides access to the banks of the Cowlitz.  On one of the first nice days of spring, a half-dozen vehicles were parked along the river here.  I reconnected with the paved main trail, and followed it to the base of Castle Rock.  Veering again onto the gravel, up I went.

Now in the summer I hike trails that are this steep for MILES, but it's early in the year and I was puffing just to get to the top, which is only about 150 feet of elevation gain.  There is a pleasant picnic spot at the top with peek-a-boo views of the river and town.  Dropping back down, I had a choice of continuing on to Lion's Pride Park at the south entrance of Castle Rock town, or returning to my car.  I walked sidewalks past the elementary school and past the bakery (I didn't stop this time) and made a circle of about 3 miles. 

A nice spring jaunt, but if you want something more strenuous, Cowlitz Valley Runners sponsors a run to the top and back.  This year's "I Topped the Rock" color run 5K run is scheduled for May 19 and starts at Lion's Pride Park (south entrance).  I hope to be there...watching my kids run!


 
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. 


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

It is HOT out there, so where can visitors go to cool off and take a swim around here? 

Coldwater Lake: Yes, you can swim here and it is popular with non-gas powered boats and kayaks.  For swimming, the Forest Service has the shore access very limited, but you may walk the shore below the high water mark from either the boat launch or the "Discovery Area"  along the outlet.  Do not use the boardwalks or boat launch to access the lake for swimming.  There is an additional water access with a restroom one mile up the Lakes Trail.  The lake is very close (jumping distance) from the trail in an additional location along hike.  The best official water access spot is near the end of the lake, at three miles.  Here there is a nice beach with good swimming or fishing access.

Silver Lake:  Great for boating and kayaking but not so great anymore for swimming and waterskiing.  These days the warm weather and shallow, nutrient rich water means nasty, and sometimes dangerous, algal blooms.  ***August 2018 Update: Water is dangerous due to toxic algae. Warnings posted**  Access points; Kerr Road boat launch, Canal Road culvert accessed via Sightly Road.

Toutle River: The Toutle is a system of several rivers, the North, South and Mainstem Toutle.  Because Harry Gardner County Park sits at the forks, it provides public access to all three segments. Across from Drews Grocery, take South Toutle Road three miles to the bridge over the S. Toutle.  Public land extends from the bridge downstream to the junction with the North Toutle, and beyond.  Cowlitz County also owns land on the North Fork here, that enters the South Fork from the east.  These rivers are prone to wander, and the swimming and fishing holes change yealry (along with the ownership of the bottom).

South Toutle: The bulk of the South Toutle River can be accessed via Weyerhaeuser logging road 4100, which is open to the public and parallels the river for miles before it is gated for permit holders only.  Follow South Toutle Rd, past Harry Park about 1 1/2 miles, to a very wide gravel road on the right.  Take that road and follow it along the river.  Most side roads are gated (except a few heading uphill).  Most pullouts have angler trails that head to fishing and swimming holes.

Mainstem Toutle: Tower Road crosses the mainstem Toutle River at a WDFW access area.  Sometimes experienced boaters float "Hollywood Gorge" between the Spirit Lake Hwy Bridge and Tower Road Bridge.  During high water the Gorge is quite dangerous with class V rapids.  With the murky water hiding submerged logs, people have died tubing or floating the Gorge even in summer. Beware.

North Toutle:  Toward Kid Valley the North Fork Toutle can be accessed via the 1900 logging road below Kid Valley Campground.  Park near the bridge below 19 Mile House.  The North Toutle can be muddy at times, and watch out for unseen hazards.  Further up river, across from the Buried A-frame, the river can be access as well.  The public owns land at the fish collection facility, which drops to the left just before the next bridge (if you get to Sediment Dam Road you've gone to far).  The North Fork can also be waded here to get to the Green River Fish Hatchery. 

Green River: On this same 1900 road follow the ungated logging roads up, down, and around to the Green River Fish Hatchery.  Fishing rules here get complex, and it gets pretty crazy when the salmon are running, but on a hot July or August day, the river is accessible for wading and swimming.  Be sure to check out the viewing area and the downstream end of the hatchery.  Salmon congregate here.

A note about navigability and ownership of shorelands.  In the state of Washington, the public owns the beds and shores of navigible waters.  The courts have decided that if a river was used, or could be used, to float shake and shingle bolts in the past, it is "navigible".  All of these rivers were used for moving shake bolts in the late 1800's and early 1900's, so if push came to shove, courts would probably consider them navigible.  Unfortunately, timber companies have been selling off and parcelling out our rivers over the last decade.  Newcomers may not realize that the public has access to the river below the high water mark.  Additionally our rivers move dramatically, and the bed of a river as it sat at statehood in 1889, could be where the public ownership still lies, sometimes high and dry.  Its a confusing mess, but the areas I have mentioned have public lands, stable channels, or a long tradition of public use. 


 

 

 
Google

User Profile
Toutle Trekker

 
Archives
 
Visitors

You have 18317 hits.