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. 

 

 

 


 
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/


 

 

 
Google

User Profile
Toutle Trekker

 
Archives
 
Visitors

You have 5621 hits.