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Hike of the month

Lava Canyon Trail at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument explores a mudflow-scoured canyon with views of a waterfall plunging over an ancient lava flow.

By the numbers: Two short trails cover about 1.4 miles. If you choose to extend the hike to the lower level of the canyon (a difficult hike with 1,600 feet elevation gain), it’s seven miles round trip.

Facilities: Ample parking with kiosk maps and vault toilet. No drinking water.

The trails: There are three trails: easy, moderate and difficult. The interpretive trail is paved and considered “easy,” leading to a platform with views of the canyon and waterfalls.

Once you go beyond that, it becomes the Suspension Loop Trail, a moderate hike as the trail transitions to a dirt path to a suspension bridge, the main attraction. The view of the canyon and waterfall from the 125-foot cable suspension bridge is spectacular, a must-do.

If you wish to extend the hike to the lower level of the Lava Canyon, the trail becomes difficult, for experienced hikers only. At the suspension bridge, hike down. This path is rocky and steep, and when it’s raining, the rocks are slippery, the trail muddy. There’s a 30-foot ladder to climb down, which can be unnerving for the inexperienced. The trail then intersects Ship Trail 184B to a waterfall viewpoint atop a lava formation (called “the Ship”). The trail ends at the intersection with Smith Creek Trailhead.

Restrictions: Northwest Forest Pass required for parking. The hike is not recommended for dogs due to the slippery rocks and the height of the suspension bridge. Though the “easy” trail is paved, rangers do not consider it accessible for wheelchairs due to the steep grade. Open dawn to dusk.

Safety issues: The trail appears to be easy with all the stairs, handrails and boardwalk, but there have been accidents, including a few fatalities in years past. The main trails are suitable for children, but make sure they stay on trails. Heed warning signs; don’t get too close to the waterfall or the edge of the rocks.

Directions: From Interstate 5 at Woodland, Cowlitz County, take Highway 503 east, past the town of Cougar, until the road becomes Forest Road 90. At a well-marked junction, turn left onto Forest Road 83 and continue for 11 miles to the Lava Canyon trailhead.

More information: Monument headquarters, 360 449-7800, or

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or