Of all the hikes I’ve done, and there have been many, the most unique without a doubt is climbing Mt St Helens. Most people only see this view from the observatories, which shows the open crater.
But if you take the Woodland Exit off I-5 and travel well beyond the town of Cougar, you come to the trail to the summit. This hike requires a permit that can be purchased here. The permit controls the number of people on the mountain on any given day, which minimizes hiker impact on the environment.
This is a VERY tough trail and should only be done by experienced hikers. I would not recommend kids under twelve or any pets at all. The first 2 miles is a very well groomed trail, but afterwards, most of the hike looks like this.
The route is well marked by 4 X 4 posts along the way, but the "trail" is rocky and very primitive. There is no rock climbing required, but there will be times you will use your hands to help yourself through some boulders. There is not much to see on the way up, as this side of the trail resembles a giant dirt pile. However, when you reach the top and can look into the crater it is all worth it!
Inside you will see the lava dome, and the newest glacier (the white stuff right next to the dome) in the United States. If you are VERY lucky, you will see something like this.
Specific things to bring on this hike:
- As much water as you can carry. It gets HOT in the summer and there is no water available. I would figure out what you think you need and add a quart just in case.
- Old hiking boots. If you look at the crater picture, you will see the ash and pumice are murder on boots!
- Gaiters. You will sink into the pumice near the top, without gaiters the sharp rocks will fill your boots.
- Dust mask from hardware store in case it is windy and blowing ash on top.
- Even in the summer a windbreaker is good as it can get cold up there.
- A permit to climb. You will be fined without one and sent down.
- A camera, you do not want to miss this!
The views from the top are amazing!
Bring gaiters and a dust mask