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Coldwater Peak from South Coldwater Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking up at Coldwater Peak
Destroyed logging donkey on Coldwater Ridge
First view of Mount Saint Helens, from the crest of Coldwater saddle
View from the junction of Boundary and Coldwater Trails
The route of the hike to Coldwater Peak (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: South Coldwater TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Coldwater Peak
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 14.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3420 feet
  • High point: 5,727 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Usually snow free from late June through September
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes (in designated place, with permit)
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The trails along the northwest side of the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument have some of the most wide-open views that you'll see anywhere. This trail is a long but gently graded and uncrowded approach to Coldwater Peak, which has commanding views and beautiful flowers in late June and early July.

You start off through young alder woods from the South Coldwater trailhead. This is Trail 230A on Monument maps. The first few miles of trail stay along the north side of South Coldwater Ridge, so you'll have views of Coldwater Lake and Mount Minnie, but Mount Saint Helens is hidden.

At about 2.3 miles you will come across the first remains of old logging equipment (the crumpled mast from a logging donkey, and a little later, the "donkey" itself). The slope from here on is wide open with a few areas of brush that have begun to grow in, and stumps of large trees surrounding the old road that forms the trail route. Continue following the road as it passes a designated campsite and descends to its junction with the Coldwater-South Coldwater Trail Junction. One last flipped-over logging tractor by the trail will let you know that you are almost at the junction, which is 3.3 miles from the trailhead.

To continue toward Coldwater Peak, bear right at the junction and follow Trail #230 as it passes legitimate camping area on a bench (no water) and heads around the north side of a prominent rock knob. In this section, the trail takes on a much more narrow, scenic, and primitive character as it edges into the Coldwater Creek watershed. About three-quarters of a mile from the junction you'll reach a narrow and dramatic viewpoint of the Coldwater Valley. Continue following the trail up and you will shortly reach your first and very dramatic view of Mount Saint Helens. The WTA website calls this point "Coldwater Saddle".

From this point onward, the views are continuous, varied, and dramatic. From the viewpoint, head left and follow the sometimes narrow and eroded trail as it contours around the blast zone. Mount Saint Helens is a constant presence to the south, while the ridges of the Mount Margaret backcountry, and other Cascade Peaks such as Mount Adams start coming in to view to the north and east.

After a short descent from a saddle on the south shoulder of Coldwater Peak, you'll reach the signed Boundary-Coldwater Trail Junction, about 5.7 miles from the trailhead. From this spot there are great views overlooking St. Helens Lake and the dramatic east face of Coldwater Peak. The trail junction is at an elevation of 5000 feet, and snow can linger in this section even when the rest of the trail has melted out.

To continue on to Coldwater Peak, turn left at the Boundary Trail junction and follow the Boundary Trail north for a very scenic half mile to the Boundary-Coldwater Peak Trail Junction. The last spur (Trail #1G) switchbacks steeply up for 0.7 miles, and gains about 700 feet as it climbs to the summit of Coldwater Peak at 5727 feet elevation. Views in all directions are outstanding.

Most of this route is along ridge dry ridgetops, do not expect to find any water sources along the way once the seasonal snow has melted.


There’s a hike and bike option for Coldwater Peak as well. This involves planting a bicycle at the Johnston Ridge Observatory Trailhead and then driving back to the South Coldwater Trailhead. Hike up the South Coldwater and then the Coldwater Trails, turn left when you get to the Boundary-Coldwater Trail Junction, and proceed to the top of Coldwater Peak. Loop back to the Observatory using the description for the Coldwater Peak Hike in reverse. Grab your bicycle and freewheel back to your vehicle at the South Coldwater Trailhead: 14 miles of hiking, 6 miles of two-wheeled coasting!


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Spirit Lake, WA #332 (partial)
  • 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
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount St. Helens - Mt. Adams

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • No dogs or stock permitted
  • Day use only
  • Each adult needs a Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Pass ($8). A Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) entitles you to one Monument pass.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking Mount St. Helens by Craig Romano & Aaron Theisen
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer

More Links


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.