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Butte Camp Dome Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. St. Helens from Sheep Canyon (bobcat)
Mountain ash, Toutle Trail (bobcat)
Peak 4562 from the Toutle Trail (bobcat)
Hiking back up Coldspring Gully, Loowit Trail (bobcat)
Lava ridge on the Loowit Trail (bobcat)
The loop via the Toutle, Sheep Canyon, Loowit, and Butte Camp Trails (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Blue Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Butte Camp
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 14.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3630 feet
  • High Point: 5,080 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

One of the best loop options on the south side of Mount Saint Helens takes you past a serene little lake, through majestic old growth, and then an incised canyon with a 100-foot waterfall. The loop then takes you up through montane old growth to the Loowit Trail, where you can experience the forces still active on the mountain via some tricky and constantly changing gully crossings. The grassy parklands above Butte Camp Dome, with their attendant views, invite an extended stay, while Butte Camp itself is nestled on a lush bench watered by an ever-flowing spring. Close the loop by taking the Toutle Trail to return across lahars old and new. If you're not up for the distance, a somewhat shorter excursion that takes you into some of the same area is the Sheep Canyon Loop Hike.

Hike up the trail that parallels the washed out FR 8123. Lodgepole pines dominate this debris slide area. Reach the Toutle-Blue Lake Trailhead Trail Junction and go left on the Toutle Trail #238. Cross the active part of the Blue Lake Mudflow and pass the Toutle-Fossil Trail Junction, keeping right here. Get a view up to Mount Saint Helens through the dead forest. The trail ascends parallel to Coldspring Creek, entering living forest briefly before emerging at the debris slide again. Cross Coldspring Creek on a log crossing which changes every year (An alternative is to keep hiking up to Blue Lake before crossing the creek and scrambling up the steep bank to meet the main trail). Traverse up the slope above the creek among large Douglas-firs with noble fir and silver fir in the mix. A couple of spur trails lead down the slope, the first to cross the creek and the second to the shore of Blue Lake.

Keep left at this second junction if you’re not going to Blue Lake, and wind around in lush shady woods with massive noble firs. Slowly gain elevation and traverse a vine maple slope before emerging on a steep, more open slope above the creek valley. Enter dense younger forest in a former clearcut and come to a small meadow and the Toutle-Blue Horse Trail Junction at Huckleberry Saddle. Keep left at the junction and pass a few more small meadows before the trail drops down the side of a gully in a carpet of vanilla leaf. You can see the campsites below across Sheep Canyon Creek and get a view straight ahead to the blasted ridge of Peak 4562. Switchback at a trail mileage sign and reach the Toutle-Sheep Canyon Trail Junction, which has a sign on the tree behind you.

If you’re going to Sheep Canyon Falls, keep left on the Toutle Trail, and take the next left at the unsigned Toutle-Sheep Canyon Falls Trail Junction. Hike down through scrubby forest on this abandoned leg of the Sheep Canyon Trail and make a right to a viewpoint of the narrow but beautiful Sheep Canyon Falls.

Return to the Toutle-Sheep Canyon Trail Junction, and hike up the creek about 50 yards, crossing it on a footbridge. Continue left on the Sheep Canyon Trail #240. The route passes close to the edge of the canyon, which is screened here by a wall of Sitka spruce. The trail veers right to the center of the broad ridge and continues rising in old growth slope forest with a smattering of huge noble firs. Reach the canyon rim again, and get a splendid view up the southern slopes of Mount Saint Helens. The trail tread gets a little rockier, and the trees become more stunted as you ascend and then traverse right among mountain hemlock and subalpine fir, crossing a couple of small gullies. Soon reach the Loowit-Sheep Canyon Trail Junction and go right.

Here hike among bear-grass, lodgepole pine, and rocky outcrops getting views north to Peak 4562 and Spud Mountain beyond. As you approach a deep gully, the trail veers sharply right and down the slope on a one-mile detour where the Loowit Trail was washed out a couple of decades ago. Eventually, the reroute trail switchbacks left and then continues to descend along the edge of the steep-sided gully among baby lodgepole pines. Goat Mountain looms below. Drop steeply into the gully and make the North Coldspring Gully Crossing (Usually the gully will be dry) before finding the scramble route out of it – the alignment of this crossing will change every year. Head all the way back up through the lodgepole pines to reach a second eroded gully. Hike up the slope here before dropping down the rubbly slope: the crossing here is slightly less challenging. Goat Marsh Lake becomes visible in the terrain far below. The trail now takes you along grassy slopes and tongues of lava in a parkland of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir. Butte Camp Dome looms ahead. Look up the slopes of the mountain for the white specks that are mountain goats. Mount Hood appears on the horizon as you encounter a third gully, this one a simpler exercise than the last two. Continue through grassy parklands and descend through a jumble of lava above Butte Camp Dome. The nearest summit of the Butte Camp pair is the highest, so about here is where you want to begin your cross-country scramble if you're in for bagging a little-visited prominence. From the Loowit Trail, you’ll see a seismic monitor on an outcropping above. Cross two more small gullies and rise gradually to the Loowit-Butte Camp Trail Junction.

Make a right here and drop down a lava ridge into subalpine forest. Reach an open viewpoint looking towards Cinnamon Peak, Mount Mitchell, the Swift Reservoir, and Mount Hood. Enter old growth slope forest, and hike down a slope of noble firs. The trail switchbacks three times before meeting an alder thicket. Now walk along Butte Camp Creek, which soon crosses and recrosses the trail on this flat bench: Butte Camp itself is off in the trees to your right. Wind down from the bench through the lodgepole, and cross a collapsed lava tube. Descend to cross another small gully, and pass through a huckleberry/alder thicket to reach the Toutle-Butte Camp Trail Junction.

Make a right here and ascend gradually in moss-carpeted woods. Undulate long the slope and descend into shady old-growth forest, crossing two creeks that run all year. Rise along the base of a slope and then veer left into a dense young conifer forest on an old lahar. The trail now drops gradually among lodgepole pines to the Toutle-Blue Horse Trail South Junction. A little farther, reach the Toutle-Blue Lake Trailhead Trail Junction, and go left back down to the parking area.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • none

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount St. Helens, WA #364 (partial)
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount St. Helens NW, WA #364S (partial)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument & Administrative Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount St. Helens - Mt. Adams

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: Mount St. Helens by Craig Romano & Aaron Theisen
  • A FalconGuide to Mount St. Helens by Fred Barstad
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson and Alan L. Bauer
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.