The last time we rode Mt St Helens was in 2009. We’ve always wanted to go back but its JUST inconvenient enough to make us avoid it. A window came up and we decided to head there for a few days. Lance joined us from Montana.
Mt. St. Helen’s is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, this seems to be the poor cousin of American forests. In 2023 the Iron Creek Campground we stayed at in 2009 was closed due to a fire earlier in the year, a major forest service road 25 connecting the North and South sides was closed due to a landslide that hadn’t been fixed. This is why a normally hour drive became two along the I5 to get around to the North side. As well there was another landslide that closed a popular tourist site on the west side of Mt. St. Helens monument. Maybe this is why the trails are so mint…
Our plan was to ride Ape Canyon on the South side of Mt St Helen’s then drive all the way around to ride the North Side to ride Goat Mt and Strawberry Ridge. These trails have been cleared by local mountain bikers for the Trans Cascadia Race. The trails here are epic.
As we were meeting Lance who was driving from Montana we opted to camp in Cougar on Hwy 503 – the Lewis River Rd, at the Cougar RV Park and Campground. This was a nice convenient location. Also of note Cell Service is very limited in the Gifford Pinchot Forest, poor cousin, so WIFI or cell service is only possible along the main corridor. You can also boondock easily off the road (Smith Creek – FR8322) by the Lahar Lookout before the Ape Canyon Trailhead. I downloaded the Mount Saint Helens Ranger District Map into Avenza which was a great resource for this area.
We rode Ape Canyon as an Out and Back since riding down Ape Canyon trail is pretty fun. You can also do a loop with Smith Creek trail. Check Trailforks or Northwest Trail Alliance for status to ensure the blowdown has been cleared. This is one of the biggest issues with the trails, blowdown. Thank mountain bikers for clearing them up!
We then met Ben who joined us from Portland to ride Strawberry ridge, Trail220. We did the shorter version accessing the trailhead off FR25 to FR2516. If you want a longer ride you can go up FR99 to the Strawberry Ridge TH. You can also access Strawberry Ridge from where we camped near Ryan Lake if you’re into more epicness.
FR25 and 26 are narrow, windy and paved.
After this ride we drove to the Green River Horse Camp to ride Goat Mt. This is a great campsite, no water or services. Goat Mt Loop is epic. Don’t be intimidated by the first climb going Counter Clockwise. It took us just over an hour to do the climb. The rest of the trail is amazing. The final climb back along Green River Trail is a mobuis trail that didn’t seem to climb 200m.
After Goat Mt. we drove to Mt. Ranier National Forest to finish our trip shuttling Palisades Trail. As this trail was built as a hike by the Boy Scouts in 1978 the final section reminds you its a hiking trail… The upper section is fast and flowy with great views of Mt. Ranier.
Overview Map of Mt St Helens
Cougar Campground. Nice enough.
Lahar Viewpoint. Smith Creek rd is near here.
Ape Canyon. Cool thing about this ride is you start on a buff maintained trail that hadn’t been impacted by either major eruption so the forest is amazing. This contrasts with the devastation of the Plains of Abraham.
Ape Canyon Parking lot.
Such a nice climb!
Forest and view of devastation
Plains of Abraham with Mt St Helen’s looming ever above
Oh look another Volcano! Mt. Adams.
The descent is worthy.
Ape Canyon Trailforks Link. 4:30hrs, 25km, 1070m