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Natural Bridges Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The first natural bridge (bobcat)
The second natural bridge (bobcat)
Section of collapsed lava tube, Natural Bridges (bobcat)
The extent of the Big Trench (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Natural Bridges Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Natural Bridges
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out or loop
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 80 feet
  • High Point: 3,085 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

Near the Guler Ice Cave, a collapsed lava tube almost a mile in length is another relic of lava flows 12,000 – 18,000 years ago that issued from the crater now occupied by Lake Wapiki in Indian Heaven. There are two Natural Bridges, i.e. narrow sections of the lava tube ceiling that did not collapse. Lava tube collapses are not usually the result of thousands of years of weathering and erosion; rather, they occurred during the formation of the tube itself as molten lava passed through, leaving a cavern, and the solidifying "ceiling" fell under its own weight. You can walk over both of the bridges and continue exploring the rim of this natural structure. There is a lot of vine maple in the area, so it is a particularly attractive destination in the fall. If you're interested in exploring any of the cave sections, bring a hard hat, warm clothing, good headlamp, and thick-soled boots.

From the Natural Bridges Trailhead, pass the sign telling about McClellan’s Trail: George B. McClellan passed through here on his trans-Washington Territory survey mission in 1852. McClellan late became Commander of the Army of the Potomac and General-in-chief of the Union Army during the Civil War. Another interpretive sign illustrates Indian legends about the bridges: in one of them, a Klickitat woman named 'Mouse' followed her cheating husband and his new lover up here and killed them both; the woman then hid herself deep in the lava tube and apparently become immortal, for she resides there to this day.

In 40 yards, the trail reaches the collapsed lava tube (the "Big Trench") that is much choked with vine maple. Walk along the north side of the tube past the first of the Natural Bridges. The second bridge is not much farther on and has trees growing on its south side. Keep walking along the rim, heading generally west, to another collapse which is not quite a bridge, just a cave overhang. The tube curves around to the right and ends at a section about 40 feet deep.

Return to the cave overhang, cross it and first walk to your right to try and make out a cave opening on the south side of the trench. This cave, about 40 yards long, is known as the 'cougar den', and can be accessed if you scramble down. Continuing east on the shady south side of the lave tube, pass both Natural Bridges. A collapsed section of the tube continues for about 50 yards beyond the first bridge. This section ends with a covered part of the tube, essentially a 70-yard-long cave with a roof about 12 - 20 feet high. The floor here is a mass of jumbled boulders, and you will need a good headlamp and strong boots to proceed.

Continuing east along the rim of the tube is easiest on the north side although the trail here is fairly faint. You'll be walking under a forest cover of mountain hemlock, silver fir and noble fir with a huckleberry and bear-grass understory. It's about 450 yards to the end of the tube. You'll pass the deepest section of the trench, about 70 feet or so, and come to the end of the collapse. The final 50 yards on the east end is mostly covered, with a couple of narrower caves, and only one short collapsed portion. When you reach the 41 spur road, you've come to the end of the complex.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $1 toll each way at the Hood River Bridge
  • Interpretive signs

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Willard, WA #398
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Wilderness, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Trapper Creek Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Ranger District
  • 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 destination

  • Washington's South Cascades' Volcanic Landscapes by Marge and Ted Mueller
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington & the Cascades by Joan Burton
  • Best Short Hikes in Washington's South Cascades & Olympics by E.M. Sterling & Ira Spring

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.