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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

kayaking on Silver lake
Sometimes we tend to overlook great places that are right out the back door.  It always surprises me to hear people who live in Cowlitz County but have never been "up the highway" to Johnston Ridge.  People come from all over the world to see Mount St. Helens, but sometimes locals don't. 

I was that way with kayaking Silver Lake, and what fun I've been missing.  It was just a quick trip in a borrowed kayak, but the evening was quiet, the water smooth, and the views and sunset-- stunning.

Here where I went.  Take Sightly Road to Canal Road, which swings right.  Canal Road drops to single lane with no center lane stripe and heads toward the lake along Hemlock Creek.  In the past canals and ponds were dug here for drainage, thus the name.  There is a tight parking spot just past the culverts on the right.  This is also the "launch".  I put in here and followed the main channel west toward the main lake.  The vegetation, mostly spirea, willows, and ash trees, holds many signs of wetland life.  Birds and beavers are abundant.  Just when you think you've run out of room to paddle, you notice that some of the brances have been snipped, creating a narrow tunnel in the brush.  Yes, this is the way.  Push and pull along,  under and through to the other side where the water opens up again, and the lake proper is in sight. Side channels lead to other areas to explore.  As darkness neared, I turned around before hitting the main lake, but the return views of Mount St. Helens were spectacular. 


 

 

 
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