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Fossil Trail Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Coldspring Creek at the Blue Lake mudflow (bobcat)
Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla) carpet, Fossil Trail (bobcat)
Large western hemlock, Fossil Trail (bobcat)
False bugbane (Trauvetteria carolinensis), Fossil Trail (bobcat)
The route of the loop shown in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Kalama Horse Camp TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Blue Lake
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 12.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2000 feet
  • High point: 3,600 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



A network of horse and ski trails radiating out of the Kalama Horse Camp also offer access to hikers earlier and later in the season than the slopes of Mount Saint Helens itself. This loop involves three of those trails, the Fossil Trail, the Blue Horse Trail, and the Kalama Ski Trail, as well as the road bed of closed FR 8123. While the Blue Horse and Kalama Ski Trails take you over gently-sloped lahars, the Fossil Trail is a remote excursion to logged and unlogged forest on the back side of Goat Mountain. Here grow some of the world's biggest noble firs, ably complemented by large hemlocks, silver firs, and Douglas-firs. The Fossil Trail has seen a revival of late and was fully logged/brushed out in 2019 by Washington Trails Association and Backcountry Horsemen Washington.

Three trails depart from the Kalama Horse Camp Trailhead. The Fossil Trail is the one on the left: the sign says 5.5 miles to Road 8123. Set off in hemlock, silver fir, Douglas-fir, salal, and huckleberry woods with the rushing sound of the Kalama River down to the right. The trail splits. Take the lower trail (left leads back to the campground). At a junction, keep right and head straight out to FR 8100.

The trail resumes across the road. At a junction, keep left across flat of volcanic ash carpeted with moss, pinemat manzanita, and reindeer lichen, and also sprouting Douglas-fir and western hemlock. The trail ascends an old road bed. Switchback up and then traverse; swing right and head up some more, eventually leaving the road bed. There’s an opening that offers a view over the surrounding foothills. Keep traversing up. Some cedars are in the mix, and the Douglas-firs and hemlocks are larger. There’s another opening in a previously logged area, and you then make five switchbacks in secondary forest. The trail levels in secondary silver fir, Douglas-fir, and hemlock woods and crosses a gully. Keep level as you traverse the west side of Goat Mountain. Large noble firs appear and you cross another gully. There is a lot of vine maple, vanilla leaf and Sitka sedge in this area. Now gradually descend past some larger silver firs. Switchback down past a large noble fir, and then switchback once more in a lush, open area cleared by fallen giants. Here, Sitka alder, vine maple and false hellebore predominate. Switchback three more times in lush woods past some huge hemlocks and noble firs. The tread keeps descending. Pass above a large cedar, and hit an old road bed which is overhung by Sitka alder. Cold Spring Creek, which runs off Mount Saint Helens and through Blue Lake and Goat Marsh Lake, runs under the road bed in a culvert. Enter an old-growth hemlock forest and then the trail heads down to cross a tributary creek on a new footbridge. Keep on the road bed under alders, but off to the sides, there is more old growth. However, soon you’re in secondary forest of Douglas-fir and silver fir. The road switchbacks sharply to the right at a junction under drooping alders, and you head gradually upward. There are views to the right of more old growth Douglas-fir and hemlock. The road swings right and still heads up. It crosses a creek and then drops a little. Cross a washed out section and head up to the Fossil Trail-FR 8123 Junction.

This section of FR 8123 has been closed off since the winter of 1996-97. Go right and cross a slide over the road. A creek flows through a culvert. Head up and then traverse, looking across for a view of Goat Marsh Lake and Goat Mountain. The road drops in secondary forest of Douglas-fir and hemlock. Come to the area of the Fall 2006 Blue Lake mud flow. Cross the first channel of Cold Spring Creek, but the next one is wider. You may have to find some slippery rocks upstream and walk back down towards the road area and former trailhead (all buried now); a makeshift footbridge may also span this creek. Pick trail that leads up to the left to to the Toutle-Fossil Trail Junction. Go left here to head up the debris field, recross Coldspring Creek, and visit shallow Blue Lake before returning to the junction. Go left and cross a stream opposite an orange diamond on a lodgepole pine. Head straight into the lodgepole forest from here on ashy ground, passing the Toutle-Blue Lake Trailhead Trail Junction and the trail that comes in from the Blue Lake Trailhead. Some western white pines and noble firs also grow in this sparse forest. Butte Camp Dome appears up ahead. Come to the four-way Toutle-Blue Horse Trail South Junction.

Go right on the Blue Horse Trail #237. Descend in lodgepole forest, with some western white pine and hemlock. Soon reach the Blue Horse-Kalama Ski Trail Junction and go right. Heading down, you will see lupine blooming everywhere in the summer. The sandy track descends as lodgepoles decline and Douglas-fir and hemlock increase. The huckleberries are ripe here in late summer. Pass a large campsite on the right and cross FR 8123 to resume the trail at the Goat Marsh Lake Trailhead on a wide track heading down an old road bed. Before a washed out gully just east of the Goat Marsh Lake-Kalama Ski Trail Junction (You need to cross this if you want to go to Goat Marsh Lake), you can head left on a horse detour through the woods. Cross the creek and head up to join the trail. Here go left past some large Douglas-firs and nobles. Mosquitoes proliferate here in summer. The trail levels and then rises slightly. Then, it drops into hemlock woods and makes a detour left around a washed out section. Come out at a large gravel parking area, the Kalama Ski Trailhead, and walk to your left to cross FR 8123.

Pick up the trail just below and head into Douglas-fir/hemlock forest on ashy ground. The trail crosses FR 8122 and continues, the sign saying two miles to the horse camp. The trail is quite sandy as the horse traffic has broken through the thin duff layer. Keep right at a junction where the trail braids and come to the Toutle-Kalama Ski Trail East Junction, where you go right. The Kalama River flows down to the left. The trail descends to a lodgepole pine flat and becomes very wide. In places, it reaches the edge of the bluff for glimpses of the river below. Cross a creek and come to the Toutle-Kalama Ski Trail Middle Junction. Keep left on the Toutle Trail and soon reach the Toutle-Kalama Ski Trail West Junction and then the Toutle-Cinnamon Trail West Junction. Drop to cross a cedar-lined creek, and head up the bank and come to the Kalama Horse Camp.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required at trailhead
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, information kiosk


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • 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

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.

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