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

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. 
 


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

Spring is a great time to hike the Coldwater Lake area.  With much of the deep backcountry of the Cascades still burried under piles of snow, the trails near Coldwater melt out early and provide great places for early season hiking.  This Mother's Day was the perfect time to hike the "Coldwater loop", which isn't a true loop trail, but a short section of hiking the shoulder of Hwy 504 makes a loop connecting several trails. 

We parked at the Hummocks Trailhead because the South Coldwater Trailhead is still locked behind the gate (until May 16).  Because the forecast called for heat, we started out early, and climbed the hill first.  We walked the 3/4 of a mile up the closed highway to the S. Coldwater Trail (trail 230A) then started up the hill.  I have climbed this many times, in all weather, but today the new shade the alders are providing made it a pleasant uphill climb.  After an uphill mile, you will reach the logging equipment which was destroyed in the eruption.  (The loggers who were working here were distant relatives of mine, and survived only because the mountain erupted on a Sunday.)  Past the equipment the shade becomes scarcer as the trail follows old logging roads with some gradual up and down, past an upturned logging "shovel", and to a junction.  Trailside snow for cold and refreshing slushies will only last another day or so.  At the junction with trail 230, the left fork "down" heads to the lake, and the right fork "up" heads toward Coldwater Peak and the Mt. Margaret backcountry, still with plenty of snow.  In two miles down hill, losing most of the elevation you have gained, you reach a lovely bridge across Coldwater Creek and soon after, a junction with Trail 211 (Lakes Trail).  The trail needs some fresh brushing out in places, but overall it is not too bad for blowdown.  We headed west (left) toward the Coldwater Lake access area about 1/2 mile down the trail.  It was heating up so wading in the cold lake was refreshing.  The fish were biting best for "Mom" and she caught one whopper.  (The regulations for Coldwater require single barbless hooks and no bait).  Only one fish over 18 inches can be kept.  The trophy anglers like the restrictions and have nexed any proposals to loosen them.

The lake access at the far end of Coldwater is by far the nicest place on the shore, with a wide sandy area and deep water near enough to cast to.  A few years ago the Forest Service was considering adding some boat-in or hike-in campsites, but like many improvement projects at Mount St. Helens, the idea was sidelined. 

After an extended lunch & fishin' stop, we hiked the 4 1/2 miles back to the boat launch, and from there a half mile on the road to the Hummocks Trail.   There is another official lake access area closer to the boat launch, but it is not very appealing.  The whole loop is about 12 miles, with 1500 feet elevation gain.

Like I mentioned, the Coldwater Lake area is getting popular with early season hikers, and quite a few folks were out enjoying the trail and lake.  Kayakers and electric motor boats are also a fun way to explore Coldwater, and in the summer there has been a kayak tour group operating there. 

New for 2020:  Leashed pets are now allowed on the Coldwater Lake and South Coldwater Trail.


 

 

 
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