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

Most mountain trails are still buried in deep snowdrifts, but the trails near Coldwater Lake melt out early because of their treeless, southern facing slopes.  Today, my family hiked to the Loowit viewpoint from the Hummocks trailhead via the Boundary Trail #1.  Its a great get-in-shape for the summer hike, and we've done it twice in the last few weeks.  The entire hike, up and back, is about 8 1/2 miles with 1500 feet of elevation gain.  It was spitting snowflakes, but the Hummocks parking lot was snow free, as was the trail until the creek crossing 20 minutes from the top, where snow lasted a few hundred yards.  Often, on sunny spring days, many hikers head to the Lakes Trail along Coldwater or the 2 1/2 mile Hummocks Trail loop, but usually the Boundary Trail has little traffic.  It is a climb afterall.  The trail is in good shape, with only a few bushes leaning into the tread, along with the one spot of snow.   To get to the Boundary trail, travel SR 504 to the Hummocks Trailhead parking lot just past the outlet to Coldwater Lake.  First, starting at the information sign boards, follow the Hummocks trail for 1/2 mile to the junction with the Boundary trail.  Follow the boundary trail left (east) until it intersects with SR 504 at the Loowit Viewpoint.  Currently the highway is gated until May.  When the snow melts, the Boundary Trail can be followed all the way to Council Lake by Mount Adams. 

Besides great exercise, the trail often provides unique wildlife watching.  The migrating birds are starting to arrive, and we heard a few western meadowlarks and warblers.  The mountain bluebirds are also returning.  Nearly every pond that we hiked past on the Hummocks Trail had a pair of buffleheads swimming side by side.  Once on the ridge, we spotted a few elk in the valley below.  On the return trip we noticed, just below the snow patches, two mountain goats.  Goats have been making a spectacular comeback at Mount St. Helens, and in the summer they can be seen in the Mount Margaret backcountry, on the volcano itself, and in the cliffs by Castle Lake.  They drop lower in the winter, and one even showed up just outside of the town of Toutle!  This is the first I've seen them on Johnston Ridge.  Goats in lower right of photo.

 

Goats on Johnston Ridge
 


 
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 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

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. 


 

 

 
Google

User Profile
Toutle Trekker

 
Archives
 
Visitors

You have 11732 hits.