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

HELP TRAIL ACCESS PLEASE

The online mapping company OnX Maps is looking for landlocked trails and public access "Hotspots". Please help put the gated and held-for-ransom trails at Mount St. Helens National Monument on their radar.  There are several official, United States Forest Service trails that are locked behind Weyerhaeuser pay-to-enter gates.  These are some of the oldest, most historic, trails in the entire Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and they access some of the most spectacular parts of the National Monument.

Green River Trail 213   

T11NR5E sect. 31  Lat: 46degree23'16.62"N Long:122degree13'36.61"W

Even before Mount St. Helens erupted, advocates were working on a National Monument that would protect the spectacular old growth forests, waterfalls, rushing streams, and unique habitats of the Green River Valley.  When the volcano erupted, a combinations of luck and geography sheltered this valley of the giants from the killing blast.  Today, trails open to horses, mountain bikes, and hikers loop through the deep timber and rugged landscape passing lakes and streams along the way. While the far (east) end is accessible from Forest Service roads, the western (Toutle side) of the trail is locked behind Weyerhaeuser gates.  The historic route to the Green River Trail was from Toutle on trails, and later via the 2500 logging road, which was shared by the public and private landowners along it. When the USFS was planning for the Monument they relied on the traditional, open-gate policy of timber companies that was common at the time to supply access, but assured the public that the government would aquire rights to these roads if the situation changed.  Well it sure has changed! Now only a limited number of paying customers can drive to those Monument trailheads. We need to put the Green River Trail on a priority list for an easement.

Landers Trail 217

This trail which connects with Green River Trail, is also locked behind gates.  It accesses Deadman's and Vanson Lakes, as well as the old Vanson Lookout site, and on toward Goat Mountain, Goat Creek Falls, or even farther.  Here's the location: T11NR5E Section 22  Lat 46degree24'54.83"N, Long: 122degree 10'27.45"W

How to Help: From this website add the location of these two trailheads.  The category most appropriate is "easement to improve access".  Lets finally re-gain access to these key historic trails!

https://www.onxmaps.com/landlocked-state-lands/report-a-land-access-opportunity


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

The region has several different opportunities for visitors to enjoy our great rivers and lakes, with boat launches that range from hard to find primitive coves to full-service launches with ample parking.

Lets start with full service:

Cowlitz River: Al Helenberg Boat launch in Castle Rock. restrooms, shower, life jacket loaner, ample parking and day use fee.  Access to Cowlitz River, which is primo for steelhead and salmon.  Sometimes in high water its a bit fast for small craft.  Directions: From either end of the City of Castle Rock at flashing red light, turn (instead of going straight), cross the Cowlitz River bridge and travel straight to the 4-way stop at Four-Corners, then take right and follow signs.  If you get to the high school, you've gone too far.

Kerr Road: WDFW developed boat launch for Silver Lake.  Nasty pit-toilet, ample parking with picnic area.  Discover Pass required. From Castle Rock follow 504 about 8 miles, look for small brown recreation-type sign at Kerr Road.  Follow to end.

Coldwater Lake: non-motorized only.  No fee. Nice restroom, area and trails nearby. Floating launch with small beach and limited shore area. Follow 504 to milepost 45.

Toledo:  Cowlitz River access with tight but developed boat launch near 505 bridge over Cowlitz River. From SR504 take SR505 to Toledo, or travel North on I-5 to Toledo exits then through town. Launch is near bridge.

Primitive launches: areas where you can launch without any facilities.

Cowlitz River:  Cook-Ferry Road/Camelot- From Four-Corners 4-way stop described earlier turn left, follow Westside Highway to Camelot or Cook Ferry Roads.  Routes lead to sandbars across from "The Rock" and are popular with plunking and some launching. There is also a very primitive sand road behind the BMX bike track that leads to the shore of the Cowlitz.

Toutle River: WDFW volunteers maintain a four-acre area adjacent to Tower Road bridge for launching small craft and accessing the mainstem Toutle River.  Some whitewater folks float from the 504 bridge just outside Toutle to the Tower bridge.  Tower Road loops into the Spirit Lake Highway (504) at both ends.  Another place for primitive take out/launch is the end of Basie Road, which intersects with Tower Road.  The Tower bridge is closer when accessed from the Castle Rock end.  Turn near the gas station by the KOA campground.

Silver Lake: Kayaks can launch from Canal Road culverts (see earlier posts) and a small niche near the east end of the boardwalk at Seaquest State Park.

South Toutle River: Harry Gardner Park and 4100 Road.  Both offer access to South Toutle River for small, packable boats.  

Bridges: Legally, where a public road crosses a navigible river on a bridge, the river may be access from the road right-of-way, although it may not be easy!  

Private launches and Boat Rentals:  Several businesses at rent boats and/or provide moorage and launching.

Silver Lake Resort: Along SR 504 at milepost 7, this resort has launching, moorage and rental services for everything from a paddleboard to a motorboat.  (360)274-6141

Silver Cove Resort: 351 Hall Road. Boat and Kayak rentals on Silver Lake to public (360)967-2057

Streeter's Resort; 120 Lake Road, Silver Lake, Wa.   Bumper boat rentals at Silver Lake (360)967-2318

Coldwater Lake: Summer kayak rentals (on hold during COVID)

Rapid Rides, North Toutle River.  (360)463-3830 tube ad kayak rentals

 

 


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

Toutle River bolt drive (Cowlitz Co. Historical Museum photo)Cowlitz Co. Museum Photo

While sitting here on virus lockdown, I’ve had some time to research the history of the Toutle River.  Sometimes the past is key to the present, and nowhere is this truer than in river access.  In Washington, the state owns the beds and shores of “navigable” rivers.  In the cases where a river has moved, or the state has sold the bed,  navigable rivers are still subject to a public easement for river based activities like boating and fishing, even where they flow over private land.  This principle is called the “Public Trust Doctrine” and basically it says, the public always has certain rights to waterways, even if the title is privately held. 

OK, I’m no lawyer, and some of this is a bit grey-area, but if you want to learn more, check out online “The Public Trust Doctrine and the Coastal Management Zone in Washington” by the state Department of Ecology. 

The key question then becomes, “What makes a river navigable?”  There are state and federal standards, but the basic rule is that if a river is used, or capable of being used, for useful commerce in its natural condition, then it is a navigable river.  The courts decide navigability, and the history of how a river was used at statehood is the deciding factor. 

Digging through online newspapers, history books, and numerous Cowlitz Historic Quarterlies, I’ve compiled evidence that the Toutle River was our original highway of commerce.  Even locals might be surprised to learn that the region’s first industry wasn’t logging timber for lumber, but was cutting cedar shingle bolts for roofing.  By 1883 Castle Rock had its first cedar mill on the banks of the Cowlitz River, and the bolts to supply it, were floated in from the Toutle River.  For nearly forty years, the industry was the cornerstone of settlement and development in the Toutle valley.  Homesteaders relied on the sale of shingle bolts for nearly all of their hard cash.  Laborers lived from one cedar drive to the next.  Censuses of the time have listed occupations such as “riverman” and “river driving laborer”.  In the 1890’s, when floods flushed bolts out to sea, the economy of Toutle nearly collapsed. 

My great-grandfather had a blot camp in Kid Valley across from where 19 Mile House is today.  He lived on-site and employed several workers.  Great-grandma was the cook.  They cut the cedar into lengths of about 56 inches, and would create a chute of logs to slide the bolts down to the river bank.  Each bolt was branded with the owners mark, and with the higher water, the lengths of cedar were floated downstream in annual “bolt drives”.  Men walked along the shore, prodding the bolts along and breaking up jams.  Because drives could take weeks, a cook boat and blanket boat followed with supplies.  I’ve found references to bolt drives from Spirit Lake down the entire North Toutle River, from Soda Springs on Green River, and far up the South Toutle.  One famous photo shows 5000 cords (a stack 4’ x 4’x 8’) of bolts in a jam on the South Toutle River!  Smaller creeks were also used to move bolts, sometimes with the aid of “splash” dams, which would release water to flush the bolts downstream. To a lesser extent, logs, ties, and specialized 7-foot bolts also took the trip.

By 1930 much of the cedar along the rivers and streams had been cut, and soon logging trains and roads replaced the rivers for getting the wood out.  But the history of these forgotten cedar drives could be the gift of the past to the present.  Someday a judge or court could affirm that the Toutle River is “navigable” based on this robust history of commerce, ensuring that we can float or fish forever.  But that determination has not been made yet. 

What does all this mean for today?  Can you float by: YES, absolutely.  Can you walk along the shore?  Most probably.   Always stay below the high water mark, do not cross private uplands, and for good measure carry a fishing pole and a fishing license, since "fishing" is listed as a right  alongside navigation.

See it: The Castle Rock Riverfront Trail passes the location of cedar mills on the Cowlitz River, with an interpretive board about that history.  From Exit 49, turn toward downtown Castle Rock, cross the railroad bridge, and take the next right into the trailhead parking lot.  The mill site is "downstream" 1/4 mile.


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

Fall is a great time to visit Cowlitz County's newest "old" park.  Harry Gardner Park has a great story of what a small community's "can-do" spirit can accomplish.  This park at the junction of the North and South Toutle Rivers was completely destroyed by the mudflows from Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.  For years, the park was abandoned--all structures rotting half buried in the mudflow, while a new forest of invasive Scotch broom took over the land.  Partiers with bonfires and glass bottles left messes and attracted nuisance elements. 

When the Forest Service granted the Toutle Valley some economic development funds for a community action plan, one goal stood out loud and clear--We want our parks back!  After the plan was created, the citizens didn't wait or the government to act.  A group of volunteers spontaneously formed, and over time cleaned up the park.  Pulling the county along, the park was put back into official status, and with sweat equity, county funding,  and another grant, the park has been rebuilt and is open to campers, anglers, hikers, and families looking for playgrounds, sand and water.  The park area expanded significantly with a donation/sale from a local family who owned nearby land also impacted by the mudflow.  The state Department of Wildlife owns adjacent land here, too, creating the largest chunk of public land (124 acres) set aside for recreation and habitat this side of the sediment dam.  Anglers can try their luck on three rivers: the South Toutle, mainstem Toutle and the North Toutle, all from one access.  Be aware that each stretch of river has different rules.  I keep the regulations handy.

The mudflows at Harry Gardner Park area great places to view wildlife and to study wildlife tracks.  Beaver "trails" where these busy rodents have dragged brances toward the rivers crisscross the area.  You will also see the value of manmade fish recovery structures, where people have placed artificial logjams and have planted seedlings in an effort to stabilize a wandering river.  The work completed in the last few years seems to be holding, and new riparian vegetation is taking hold.

Directions: From Toutle, take South Toutle Road, across from Drew's Grocery, and  follow for 1 1/2 miles, across South Toutle Bridge, to the park enterance at Fiest Road.

Facilities: Tent and RV camping with partial hookups; restrooms; covered picnic area; playgrounds and swings; fishing access; wildlife viewing; bird watching; swimming;

Reservations available at Cowlitz County website.  www.co.cowlitz.wa.us/1277/Harry-Gardner-Park

Adjacent Gardner Wildlife Area Information:

https://wdfw.wa.gov/places-to-go/wildlife-areas/gardner-wildlife-area-unit

 


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

A little gem of hidden land with two rivers, old growth trees, a huge snag, and an amazing history lies just off the Spirit Lake Highway across from the Fish Collection Facility.  If you take an afternoon to explore, you can stand on the banks and watch the emerald waters of the Green River combine with the (usually) murky North Toutle. 

 Big Trees

In summer both rivers are clear, cool and inviting, and in the fall salmon migrate past to the hatchery.   The "trail" here is a series of old roads, with the potential for some off-trail bushwacking.  Travel east on 504, past Kid Valley and the buried A-frame.  Follow the highway below the cliffs and cross the next bridge over the North Toutle.  Immediately after the bridge, park by the green gate on the left that is marked "road closed".  This old road follows a finger of ancient mudflow down toward the juncture of the Green and Toutle Rivers with side roads that are easy to follow except for a few windfalls.   Explore these old roads through a remnant of old growth timber dotted with views of the fish collection facility on the left, and the Green River Fish Hatchery on the right.  The easiest way to drop down to the May 18 mudflow and the rivers is to follow an old road to the right, toward the hatchery.  When I walked here, I kept on top of the ridge until I ran out of old road, then kept working my way to the end of the finger ridge.  With steep mudflow drop-offs on both sides, I found an elk trail down to the flat.  Once you hit the bottom, let exploration begin, with old roads, angler trails, and game trails all headed to the river junctions and a popular fishing hole.  Looking up at the steep grey walls from the bottom, it is easy to visualize how the ridge was created as the rivers gouged into the ancient mudflow.  (This is the same 2000 year old mudflow that created Silver Lake, and underlies the flatter areas around Toutle.)

The area across Green River and atop the rocky cliffs in front of you was once a community called Lithow.  The earliest route to Mount St. Helens and the Spirit Lake, along with the Green River mines, passed through here.  The wagon road worked its way past homesteads winding from Toledo.  It generally followed the route of the 1800 and 1900 logging roads near Hatchet Mountain, then dropped down to cross the Green River near here.  The road had to swithchback up the steep finger ridge of ancient mudflow, then drop again to follow the North Toutle up the valley to the Mountain.  One homesite remains, along with the Green River hatchery.    When the road was punched in from Castle Rock, and especially after the new Coal Banks bridge (circa 1927) outside Toutle was built, the route from Toledo was abandoned.   

The May 18, 1980 mudflow filled all the lowlands here with sand, rock, and debris.  Later, the hatchery was cleaned up and restarted.  The hatchery buildings are some of the few remaining structures that were inundated with mudflow and are still in use today.   The finger ridge of remnant old growth was preserved as a mitigation area for the construction of the new highway.  Recently, the land has been transferred to the Department of Wildlife.   The WDFW has an "official" river access just across the North Toutle adjacent to the Fish Collection Facility.  Expect some activity there soon as the state and federal government rebuild and improve the Facility.  On your return trip, look for the access road to the WDFW on the other side of the bridge, heading west on 504, its the first road to the right.  An angler's trail leads to the river directly across from where you just visited. 
 


 


 
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