HIKE DESCRIPTION: Lava Canyon near Mount St. Helens is a three-layer hike, each layer a little more challenging than the previous, that kids might think feels like something out of an adventure movie.
Hiking all three section of the canyon requires climbing a ladder and the option to cross a shaky suspension bridge. A sign at the trailhead marks the sections like a ski map. Green for “easiest,” blue for “more difficult,” and black for “most difficult.”
The easy section is a paved ADA path that leads 0.4 miles to an overlook, but it gets more challenging when the pavement ends. The second section includes the suspension bridge. It can be an intense experience for those not comfortable with heights, but the bridge can be skipped if it’s not your thing.
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Below the bridge, the trail drops more dramatically and sometimes leaves hikers exposed. Eventually, the trail arrives at a ladder where hikers must descend 30 feet if they wish to continue. A bit farther down the canyon, a 0.2-mile spur trail visits (via another ladder) the Ship viewpoint. It offers a good view back up the canyon. Turn around here for an uphill return to the car.
DIRECTIONS: Take Exit 21 from Interstate 5 in Woodland and follow state Route 503 through Cougar until the road become Forest Road 90. Continue to Forest Road 83 and turn left. Follow this road to its terminus at the trailhead.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 5 (1 easiest, 5 hardest).
MILES ROUND TRIP: 4.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,100 feet.
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR: April-November.
MAP: Green Trails 332S: Mount St. Helens.
PASS: Northwest Forest Pass.
ALSO: Monument scientist and spokesman Peter Frenzen says most visitors don’t venture to the trail’s lower section. The canyon was scoured by the 1980 eruption. Dogs are permitted on the upper portions of the trail. There are no geocaches on the trail.