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Harrys Ridge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to Mt. Adams over Spirit Lake, Harrys Ridge (bobcat)
Lupine and paintbrush, Boundary Trail (bobcat)
Coldwater Peak and The Dome from Boundary Trail (bobcat)
Pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum), Harrys Ridge (bobcat)
Mt. St. Helens from Harrys Viewpoint, Harrys Ridge (bobcat)
The Boundary Trail to Harrys Ridge (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Johnston Ridge Observatory TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Harrys Ridge Viewpoint
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 8.5 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1830 feet
  • High Point: 4,752 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes

Contents

Description

Johnston Ridge and the upper Toutle River valley took the brunt of the May 18th, 1980, eruption of Mount Saint Helens, and if you want to appreciate a significant part of the effects of the greatest landslide in recorded history, then the hike to Harrys Ridge will not disappoint. You’ll begin at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and the hike will take you along the eastern crest of the ridge and up to a viewpoint that will give a commanding view across the Pumice Plain to the breach, down to completely displaced Spirit Lake, east to Mount Adams, and north to Coldwater Peak, The Dome, and Mount Margaret. Along the way, you’ll see a memorial to those who died, read interpretive signs about the cataclysm, experience the steep drop-offs at the Devils Elbow Viewpoint, and cross the Spillover, where the landslide flowed over the ridge itself. Johnston Ridge is named after David A. Johnston, the USGS volcanologist who was killed while monitoring the blast, and Harrys Ridge honors Harry R. Truman, the cantankerous 83-year-old owner of the Mt. St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake who refused to evacuate the blast zone and was buried, with his lodge and 16 cats, under tons of pyroclastic debris.

Take the paved path to the observatory to get your wristband (Everyone needs to check in here and pay the fee or present a Northwest Forest Pass). You can tour the exhibits if you like and then come out to gaze at the breach on the north side of Mount Saint Helens. Between you and the mountain is a debris plain, drained by the Toutle, that is essentially a 150-foot thick layer of pyroclastic material from the middle of the mountain and part of the largest recorded landslide in human history. A memorial wall here names the 57 souls who lost their lives in the blast.

Walk to your left to pick up the paved Eruption Trail, whose interpretive signs detail the cataclysm and some of the aftermath. The trail switchbacks up three times and then winds up this small knoll past explanatory signs. You will see the grasses, willows and alders that are revegetating the landscape almost 40 years later. Wildflowers include paintbrush, lupine, penstemon, fireweed, and pearly everlasting. Reach the top of the rise and check out a compass that details the surrounding peaks. Then the trail drops in two switchbacks and reaches the Boundary-Eruption Trail Junction.

You are now officially entering the Mt. Margaret Backcountry, where you will need to get a permit to camp in a designated site. Head down the ridge, continuing to get great views across the Pumice Plain to the Sasquatch Steps that lead to the breach on Mount Saint Helens. Posts along the trail aid route finding when there is still deep snow. You’ll also get views across the head of the Coldwater Creek valley to Coldwater Peak; look also for the Saint Helens Lake Arch on the rocky ridge running south from the peak. Pass through a thicket of alder and note the mats of little dwarf lupine, a nitrogen-fixing plant that was one of the first to recolonize the devastated area. Drop past a kiosk with a map of the area and switchback down. The trail then undulates up the ridge among huckleberry bushes that turn red in late summer. Pass a clump of undergreen willow and make a gradually descending then rising traverse along the steep side of a ridge that juts out to the south (Take care here - one slip and you can enjoy a long slide down: early in the season this stretch may not have been maintained and can be treacherous). You’ll reach the Devils Elbow Viewpoint, from which you can get a full-on view of the breach. Also visible are the south shore of Spirit Lake, Mount Adams, and some small ponds in the Pumice Plain. To the west, the Johnston Ridge Observatory can be seen above the devastated Toutle River valley.

The trail rises and then drops gently among alders, willows, and young noble firs to the Boundary-Truman Trail Junction. Keep left here and hike up a white alder/undergreen willow draw among mounds of pyroclastic debris in an area known as the Spillover, where the landslide from the May 18th, 1980, blast cascaded over Johnston Ridge. There are great views to Coldwater Peak from here before you drop into a depression and then make a traverse up the west slope of Harrys Ridge. Cross a footbridge that spans two erosion gullies and, at Harrys Saddle, come to the Boundary-Harrys Ridge Trail Junction.

Go right and switchback to get a great view of The Dome, which sits above Saint Helens Lake (not visible from here). Also look down to Bear Cove on Spirit Lake and the debris mounds along Bear Creek. Next, get a clear vista east across the spine of Indian Heaven to Mount Adams. Keep hiking along the crest of the ridge and begin to get better views of Spirit Lake. The trail wends through clumps of huckleberries and reaches the volcano monitoring equipment at the top of the ridge. Here, you get another all-encompassing view to Mount Saint Helens and more of Spirit Lake. The Harrys Ridge Trail continues another 0.2 miles down the north crest of the ridge, but the views don’t change, so the summit is a good turnaround point.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $8 day use fee required. Pay inside the Johnston Ridge Observatory. A Northwest Forest Pass is good for one adult.
  • No dogs allowed.
  • Stay on the trail or you can get fined.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Spirit Lake, WA #332
  • 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 - Mount Adams

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hiking: Mount St. Helens by Craig Romano & Aaron Theisen
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer
  • 95 Virtual Hikes of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument by Northwest Hiker
  • Hiking Washington’s History by Judy Bentley

More Links


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.