Home  •   Field Guide  •   Forums  •    Unread Posts  •   Maps  •   Find a Hike!
| Page | Discussion | View source | History | Print Friendly and PDF

Ape Canyon Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Paintbrush and lupine near Ape Creek (bobcat)
The Muddy River Lahar from the trail (bobcat)
Old-growth ridge forest on the Ape Canyon Trail (bobcat)
The narrow chasm above Ape Canyon (bobcat)
Looking down Ape Canyon from the waterfall viewpoint (bobcat)
Route of the Ape Canyon Trail (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Ape Canyon TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Ape Canyon Viewpoint
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 11.0 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 2,485 feet
  • High Point: 4,315 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-summer through Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes: connects to Loowit Trail
  • Crowded: Yes; trail is popular with both hikers and mountain bikers



One of the most scenic hikes on the south side of Mount Saint Helens, this route follows a ridge above the rubbly course of the Muddy River, offering numerous views to the north and east. You'll be passing through impressive groves of old-growth montane forest before you reach the sere landscape of the Plains of Abraham. The deep slot of Ape Canyon and wildflower displays in the summer are the main attractions here, as well as close views up the open slopes of Mount Saint Helens itself. Keep your eyes out for the goats that hang out on Pumice Butte. Note also that the route is popular with mountain bikers, who are permitted on the Ape Canyon Trail and the Plains of Abraham section of the Loowit Trail.

The dusty Ape Canyon Trail #234 heads into a forest of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, western hemlock, and silver fir. Soon, however, the path passes through an old clearcut regenerating with Sitka alder and assorted conifers. A spur leads left to a view up the Muddy River Lahar and the southeast face of Mount Saint Helens. This is the first of many such viewpoints as you gradually ascend this ridge, sometimes dipping into lush draws and then rising again.

After about 1 ½ miles, the trail enters cool, shady old growth forest dominated by Douglas-fir, western hemlock, noble fir, and silver fir. On a hot day, the temperature difference between the old growth and the brushy clearings is noticeable. The trail makes four switchbacks, swinging between the west and east slopes of the ridge. After a rising traverse, the path switchbacks again to the east side and heads up a brushy alley of Sitka alder and vine maple. Then, you drop over to the west slope and get another view of the Muddy Fork and the slopes of Mount Saint Helens all the way to the Worm Flows. The trail enters a wonderful old growth noble fir grove rising out of a vanilla leaf carpet and heads up the ridge again. On the right, you will pass one of the most massive silver firs you will ever see. A view just past here extends to Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, Indian Heaven, and the Smith Creek drainage far below. After switchbacking, the trail reaches the west slope of the ridge for a full frontal view of the lahar and mountain. Then, heading over to the east side, you will see Pumice Butte and the waterfall that splashes over a rim into Ape Creek’s slot canyon, thoroughly cleansed of vegetation by lahars from the 1980 eruption. The trail passes through another alder thicket and emerges into the 1980 blast zone.

A spectacular viewpoint looks out over a sheer-sided notch that carries snowmelt into Ape Canyon. To the left, a spur trail leads to views over the Muddy River Lahar and south to Mount Hood. Seismic equipment mounted here monitors the moods of the mountain. Soon, you reach the Ape Canyon-Loowit Trail Junction and turn right. In the early morning or evening hours, watch for mountain goats and hoary marmots in this area.

The rubbly path drops and crosses several gullies before rising to the south edge of the pumice flatland known as the Plains of Abraham. Pyroclastic “bombs” dot the surface. You will pass two large cairns and descend along the lush course of Ape Creek. This area is blooming with lupine, paintbrush, and arnica into mid-summer. There are two viewpoints south and north of Ape Creek where it tumbles down a lip into the canyon. Mount Adams and Mount Hood are both visible, as is the entire ridge of Indian Heaven. The spot is framed by a grassy knoll strewn with the skeletons of blasted trees to the left and the sere slopes of Pumice Butte to the right.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Restrooms, picnic area at nearby Lava Canyon Trailhead
  • Share trails with mountain bikers


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount St. Helens, WA #364
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA #332S
  • 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
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail Map
  • Adventure Maps: 44 Trails Area plus the best of the G.P.N.F.
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount St. Helens - Mt. Adams

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: Mount St. Helens by Craig Romano & Aaron Theisen
  • 95 Virtual Hikes of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument by Northwest Hiker
  • Pacific Northwest National Parks & Monuments: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • A FalconGuide to Mount St. Helens by Fred Barstad
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson and Alan L. Bauer
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Best Outdoor Adventures Near Portland, Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Mountain Biking: Portland by Scott Rapp
  • Mountain Biking Oregon: Northwest and Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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.