- Location: Mount St. Helens
- Start: Lava Canyon Trailhead
- Distance: 6 miles
- Duration: 3 hours 20 minutes (breaks not included)
- Elevation gain: 1500 feet
- Type: Out-and-back
- Map: Green Trails Map 332S: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
- References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Oregon Hikers
Following the long series of hikes that summer, Mack and I eased back into our regular Fall schedules for 2014. Although we weren’t out hiking every weekend, we still fit in a couple more to round out the year. The first of these was Lava Canyon.
According to Paul Gerald, Lava Canyon dates back to an eruption of Mount St. Helens 3500 years ago. This eruption filled the canyon with volcanic rock, which Muddy River carved a path through. However, mudflows ended up covering the entire canyon and the forest grew back over the years. Then, when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, the forest and rock were cleared out, and Lava Canyon became visible again!
This is a beautiful hike filled with incredible natural history. The volcanic rock that forms the canyon is complemented by the icy blue water that flows through it, as well as the various waterfalls you’ll pass as you parallel the river. In addition, you have the added excitement of crossing on a 125 foot long suspension bridge and climbing down a 30 foot metal ladder. A little ways past the ladder, you can take a side trail on the right that leads to the top of a rock formation known as The Ship. It’s worth it to make this short side trip if you’d like a fantastic view of the canyon (and a nice lunch spot).
Although the hike is relatively moderate, it’s important to take note of the numerous DANGER signs you’ll run across. People have fallen into the canyon. In fact, while we were hiking, we ran into a group that was waiting for a rescue crew because one of their friends had slipped and slid down into the river and gone over one of the waterfalls! (Note: We found out later she survived and sustained no serious injuries)