Ape Canyon Trail #234

2 reviews #2 hike out of 99 in
6.0 mi
2 hrs 45 min
1,575 ft
Elev Gain


This scenic hike on the south side of Mount Saint Helens follows a ridge above the Muddy River, offering picturesque views to the north and east. The trail passes through impressive groves of old-growth montane forest before reaching the Plains of Abraham, known for the deep slot of Ape Canyon and summer wildflower displays. Visitors can also enjoy close views of the open slopes of Mount Saint Helens and keep an eye out for the goats that frequent Pumice Butte. Note that the route is popular with mountain bikers.

The Ape Canyon Trail #234 begins in a forest of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, western hemlock, and silver fir. After passing through an old clearcut area, hikers can take a spur trail for a view of the Muddy River Lahar and the southeast face of Mount Saint Helens. The trail gradually ascends the ridge, dipping into lush draws and rising again, providing multiple viewpoints along the way.

About 1 ½ miles into the hike, the trail enters a cool, shady old-growth forest dominated by Douglas-fir, western hemlock, noble fir, and silver fir. The trail makes several switchbacks between the west and east slopes of the ridge, offering changing perspectives. Hikers will encounter an impressive old growth noble fir grove and have views extending to Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Indian Heaven, and the Smith Creek drainage.

The trail continues through an alder thicket and emerges into the 1980 blast zone, offering a spectacular viewpoint overlooking a notch that carries snowmelt into Ape Canyon. There is a spur trail leading to views of the Muddy River Lahar and Mount Hood. Hikers then reach the Ape Canyon-Loowit Trail Junction and turn right, descending and crossing gullies before reaching the pumice flatland known as the Plains of Abraham. The area is vibrant with lupine, paintbrush, and arnica, and there are viewpoints overlooking Ape Creek and the surrounding landscape, including Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Indian Heaven.

The hike provides a scenic and diverse experience, with opportunities to enjoy views, explore old-growth forests, and witness the effects of the 1980 eruption on the landscape.

Getting Started

Drive I-5 north from Portland and take Exit 21 for Highway 503, Woodland and Cougar.

After exiting, turn right on Highway 503E in Woodland, and proceed 0.8 miles to a roundabout.

Bear right here on the Lower Lewis River Road for Cougar, and drive 22.5 miles to the junction with the 503 Spur, where you keep straight for Cougar.

Drive another 12.0 miles, passing through Cougar and over the Lewis River Levee (After 8.6 miles, the road becomes FR 90).

Make a left onto FR 83 for Ape Cave, Climbers Bivouac, and Lava Canyon.

Drive 11.3 miles, passing the turnoffs for Ape Cave, Climbers Bivouac, and June Lake, before turning left into the small, paved parking area at the Ape Canyon Trailhead.

The trailhead is 0.2 miles before the larger Lava Canyon Trailhead. At that trailhead, there are restrooms, picnic tables, and the Lava Canyon Loop Hike.

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