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Sheep Canyon Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View up Sheep Canyon from Crescent Ridge (bobcat)
Mt. St. Helens from Huckleberry Saddle (bobcat)
Explorer's gentian (Gentiana calycosa) Crescent Ridge (bobcat)
Mt. St. Helens from Crescent Ridge (bobcat)
Approximate route shown in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Blue Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Crescent Ridge Viewpoint
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 12.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2975 feet
  • High Point: 4,700 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No



One of the premier day-hiking loops on Mount Saint Helens, this hike was a much shorter excursion before the devastating rainstorms and floods of February 1996. Forest Road 8123 was washed out and suddenly the hike could only be accessed from Blue Lake. The latter has also had its problems, with frequent washouts on the access road, including the 2006 inundation which turned the road into a canyon. Nevertheless, the trail still offers access to alpine vistas, spectacular old growth - especially noble firs, and the edge of the 1980 blast zone at the South Fork Toutle River. Late summer and fall are the best times for this hike: Earlier in the summer, biting flies are a major issue.

Hike up the trail that parallels the washed out FR 8123. Lodgepole pines dominate this debris slide area. Reach the Toutle-Blue Lake Trailhead Trail Junction and go left on the Toutle Trail #238. Cross the active part of the Blue Lake Mudflow and pass the Toutle-Fossil Trail Junction, keeping right here. Get a view up to Mount Saint Helens through the dead forest. The trail ascends parallel to Coldspring Creek, entering living forest briefly before emerging at the debris slide again. Cross Coldspring Creek on a log crossing which changes every year (An alternative is to keep hiking up to Blue Lake before crossing the creek and scrambling up the steep bank to meet the main trail). Traverse up the slope above the creek among large Douglas-firs with noble fir and silver fir in the mix. A couple of spur trails lead down the slope, the first to cross the creek and the second to the shore of Blue Lake. The Toutle Trail heads up into deep woods with big noble firs and some Douglas-firs. The trail winds up in a huckleberry/bunchberry understory and passes in and out of a draw. Heading up, the path passes a large western red-cedar and then reaches an open slope with Sitka alder, vine maple, black huckleberry, and thimbleberry. The canyon of Coldspring Creek is below with old growth rising up the opposite slope. The shattered top of Mount Saint Helens is also visible. The trail enters woods with younger noble firs and then passes across a lush meadow. The path heads up through a small grove of silver firs and reaches a small meadow and the Toutle-Blue Horse Trail Junction. Continue straight from here ¾ mile to the Sheep Canyon Trail.

Pass through another small meadow of false hellebores. Then the way drops through silver fir/noble fir forest heading down the side of a creek valley. The path switchbacks at a trail sign and you can get views of the blast-affected ridge across the South Fork of the Toutle River.

At the Toutle-Sheep Canyon Trail Junction, go right on the Sheep Canyon Trail and cross the creek on a footbridge. A spur right leads up to a camp site. The trail heads up in silver fir/noble fir woods with some western white pine, crosses a creek, and Sheep Canyon appears on the left. Note some big trees in here, too. The trail winds up to the edge of the canyon and gives view up to the mountain. Rise in smaller trees with a lupine/huckleberry carpet. Lodgepole pines enter the mix. Cross a small draw and enter a parkland of subalpine fir, lodgepole pine and a few western white pines. Reach the Loowit-Sheep Canyon Trail Junction and go left.

Cross several small draws. The trail drops down the side of Sheep Canyon and crosses it. There are gullies here and the trail has some realignments every year. There are views up to the alpine meadows of Mount Saint Helens. The huckleberries and fleeceflower turn a brilliant red in the fall. The trail traverses up and out of the canyon into meadows blooming with paintbrush and gentian. Pass through an area of tree skeletons, remains of those scorched by the blast but which protected those below. The trail winds up through stands of 30-year-old subalpine fir with some noble fir and lodgepole pine. Reach the edge of Crescent Ridge and views down into the canyon of the South Fork Toutle. From a large rock, the Crescent Ridge Viewpoint, one can see the top of Mount Rainier, Coldwater Peak, and the Johnson Ridge and Coldwater Visitor Centers, as well as the tip of Coldwater Lake.

The trail heads down along the edge of the blast zone among young conifers, huckleberries, bear-grass, and Sitka alders. Enter shady woods and wind down with canyons on either side. The trail reaches the eroded edge of a side canyon and keeps dropping, then entering thimbleberry/Sitka alder thickets. Reach the Loowit-Toutle Trail Junction. Go left here after noting the ever-changing alignment of the Loowit Trail (The South Fork Toutle crossing also changes from year to year).

The Toutle Trail #238 goes through lush thickets riddled with mountain beaver burrows. Reach an exposed slope and negotiate some large blowdown with views of dammed streams below. The trail crosses three branches of a stream, reaches a camp site, and heads up to the left. Switchback twice up a lush, shaded hillside, traverse above a gushing spring in a corydalis thicket, switchback, and then traverse up. The trail winds through old growth noble fir and Douglas-fir and then in and out of a gulley. I traverse up and into Sheep Canyon, crossing the high footbridge over the narrow canyon. At a switchback, there is the Toutle-Sheep Canyon Falls Trail Junction. Go right here and head down on the old Sheep Canyon access trail about 170 yards through lush, dripping thickets to a short spur that leads right to a viewpoint for 100-foot tall Sheep Canyon Falls. The trail continues from here a short distance down to the old Sheep Canyon Trailhead on the decommissioned section of FR 8123. Return to the Toutle Trail, head up and soon come to the Toutle-Sheep Canyon Trail Junction, where you go right and head home.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • none


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount St. Helens, WA #364 (partial)
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount St. Helens NW, WA #364S (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

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 and Alan L. Bauer
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • A FalconGuide to Mount St. Helens by Fred Barstad
  • 95 Virtual Hikes of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument by Northwest Hiker
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Scott Leonard
  • Washington Hikes by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris

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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