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Merrill lake loop hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Footbridge and large Douglas-fir, Merrill Lake (bobcat)
Near the loop junction, Merrill Lake (bobcat)
Looking through the alders, Merrill Lake (bobcat)
The nature trail at Merrill Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Merrill Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: South end of the loop
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 145 feet
  • High Point: 1,640 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



One of the larger lakes around Mount Saint Helens, Merrill Lake was created, just like most of the natural lakes in the Mount Saint Helens area, by activity emanating from the mountain, in this case a lava flow dam. Most of the hillside forest around the lake is privately owned, but the Washington Department of Natural Resources has a campground and boat launch here; an interpretive trail with colorful interpretive signs has recently been constructed to showcase a remnant stand of old growth Douglas-fir on the lake’s eastern shore. The lake is also part of a Natural Resource Conservation Area: in 2015, additional land was purchased by the state to expand the protected area at the lake. Note that a Discover Pass is required to park here.

The trail leads off from the boat launch area next to a disabled parking sign. Cross a footbridge over a creek, and come face-to-bark with two massive Douglas-firs. A trail leads left from here up the creek to a massive stump. The main trail passes the junction for the loop behind the two big trees. Keep right along the alder-shaded lakeshore and cross a footbridge. Here, a fisherman’s trail, which is often underwater, leads right. Keep left as the trail heads along the steep slope, and enter a grove of huge Douglas-firs. Western hemlock and vine maple are understory trees here. Cross another footbridge and switchback up to turn north.

The high section of the loop makes a traverse below the Kalama River Road. Pass above a spouting pipe and undulate along the slope in a woodland of western hemlock, Douglas-fir, vine maple, and sword fern. Cross a footbridge over a burbling creek, and reach a trail junction at a huge Douglas-fir. Going right leads you up to the entrance gate, which is where you would begin the hike if the gate is closed. Go left and drop down through a carpet of oxalis, candy flower, and sword fern to reach the two behemoths you encountered at the beginning of the loop.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Discover Pass required
  • Dogs on leash
  • Campground closed from mid-November to mid-May


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • 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

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.