MOUNT ST. HELENS — The popular Ape Cave recreation area in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument now has a view of the iconic mountain.
The Volcano View Trail is the first new trail built in the national monument in nearly two decades.
Since last year, trail volunteers have been building the milelong trail, which takes hikers up to a viewpoint from the Ape Cave headquarters/visitor center, on the south side of the mountain.
A wheelchair-accessible platform was scheduled to be completed by this weekend, but the trail is open now.
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Monument officials expect the new trail will alleviate the long lines to the Ape Cave — with 60,000 visitors annually — since hikers now have another trail to explore if the main attraction is overcrowded.
A one-mile trail isn’t a destination hike, but combined with other trails nearby it should make for an attractive family-friendly day trip.
All there is to see
All those complaints from young and first-time hikers: The trail is too long. It’s too hot. It’s boring hiking in the woods. If your kids checked all the above, the Ape Cave is for you.
Ape Cave, billed as the longest lava tube in the continental United States, makes this area the second-most-visited in the national monument, after Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Ape Cave’s lower level is only a half-mile long, no scrambling required. And kids get to hike in an underworld playground with a flashlight or lantern. And no matter if the outside temperature is 90 degrees or 30 degrees, it’s always 42 degrees inside the lava tube.
Nearby is the Trail of Two Forests, an old-growth forest next to a barren area that was engulfed by the lava flow from an eruption 2,000 years ago. The lava swept through and burned the trees in its path, leaving huge holes in the ground. Children can sink into these holes and tunnels, where giant firs and cedars once stood. It’s part of the quarter-mile, boardwalk interpretive trail.
Now children also have the Volcano View Trail. The clear-cutting in the 1970s afforded Ape Cave visitors peek-a-boo views of Mount St. Helens at one time, before those evergreen trees grew.
The plan to create a trail with a volcano view has been delayed over the years first due to budget constraints, then by bad weather and staff furloughs last fall from the federal government shutdown.
But this year, park rangers and volunteers from the Washington Trails Association (WTA), have had enough good weather days to convert an old logging road, carving a path to curve around stumps, boulders and hemlocks to make it look and feel more like a nature trail.
The hike is easy on children during hot days because it’s 10 to 15 degrees cooler when hiking under its canopy of trees from trailhead to viewpoint, said park ranger Bill Uyesugi.
The trailhead is off the main parking lot of Ape Cave. Novice hikers likely won’t notice it’s an old logging road since trees have grown over sections of the trail.
In the future, an additional peek-a-boo view of Mount St. Helens near the trailhead might be added if the park decides to prune and cut some trees. (That was the original plan but put on hold due to budget cuts.)
The trail is a slight but gradual incline. It flattens out on a small plateau by old- growth stumps that have western hemlocks sprouting out of them. “We purposely bent the trail to go by these stumps because one day, those Western Hemlocks can grow into something big and magnificent,” said Ryan Ojerio, who managed the trail building project for WTA.
The trail then meanders along a side of a hill onto some moss-covered boulders, an open area that can be used as a picnic or rest area if your children need a break.
From there, it’s just a few minutes’ hike up to get a south view of Mount St. Helens.
In addition to planning for a wheelchair-accessible lookout spot, park rangers have added a small parking lot that’s about 100 feet away from the viewpoint for visitors who don’t want to hike.