Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Hiking Hiking Guide Boundary West

Boundary West

South Cascades

Location

South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens
View map below

Length

10.0 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 2400 ft.
Highest Point: 4390 ft.

Rating

3.73 out of 5

(11 votes) Log in to rate
 
WTA worked here: 2020
 

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
 
 

The Boundary West Trail offers everything the Mount St. Helens landscape is famous for: beauty, desolation, and perhaps just a bit of treachery. Like many of the other trails nearby, Boundary West showcases spectacular views of the volcano. But those views aren’t limited to one section of the trail, they're accessible through a series of climbs and ridgelines, one after the other, that will give you plenty to gawk at while you huff and puff.

Evidence of the 1980 blast remains in the form of sun-bleached tree stumps on barren hillsides, but proof of nature’s ongoing regeneration abounds. Spring and summer provide a riot of colors before the rusty hues of fall take hold. Butterflies, bumblebees, and hummingbirds dance among wildflowers, while critters of every shape and size frequent the ashy floor. You might only spot a chipmunk or a garter snake as your eyes rove the leaf litter and understory, but the ever-present scat on the trail will remind you that you’re sharing this undulating stretch of country with bigger mammals, including cougars and elk.

Most people begin their exploration of Boundary West at the Hummocks Trailhead near Coldwater Lake. Itself a geological marvel, the popular-with-kids Hummocks Trail is a 2.5-mile loop through the dispersed remains of what once was Mount St. Helens’ near-perfect cone.

When the mountain blew its top, it deposited huge chunks of debris on the valley floor below. Many of those chunks today look like perfectly manicured grassy mounds, some small, some impressive in size. Follow the loop trail clockwise, and as you weave through the mounds, let your thoughts run free. If you do, you might imagine a Hobbit-sized door decorating the front of the nearest mound.

After a half mile on the partially shaded Hummocks Trail, you’ll join the Boundary West Trail at the beginning of a grassy meadow, where elk sometimes graze. Though you’ve left the Hummocks Trail behind, you’ll still encounter your share of mounds and debris left over from avalanches caused by the eruption. You’ll also start to climb as you head toward the volcano. The first significant incline takes you through a shaded draw, and on a hot summer afternoon or windy fall morning, you’ll be thankful for the cover.

From there, the trail spills out into more open territory. Enjoy switchbacks up hillsides and winding passages through more mounds. The trail changes with every step, while the views just keep getting better. A pair of binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens will give you an up-close-and-personal view of the ever-changing landscape at the foot of the volcano, where water, snow-melt, and erosion are daily changing the terrain.

But you won’t need any help to see Mount St. Helens itself. A series of gobsmacking viewpoints offer a front row seat to the main attraction. Of course, you’ll need to climb 1,200 feet to enjoy the first of those commanding views. From there, the trail just keeps winding upward.

Less than a mile from the turnaround point, you’ll reach Loowit Viewpoint, which can be reached on foot or via automobile. To escape the road and find more solitude, keep plunging ahead. By now, most of that 2,400 feet of elevation gain has already been conquered. Only 200 feet of gentle climbing remains over the final eight-tenths of a mile, after which you’ll reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

To savor this spectacular setting alone, visit in the early spring or late fall, when the observatory and the road are closed but the trails are still accessible. After enjoying a picnic with a postcard-perfect view, you can retrace your steps and return the way you came.

WTA Pro Tip: Because portions of the trail are on exposed hillsides and ridgelines that are subject to erosion, be sure to wear shoes with good traction. If you’re unsure of yourself, bring a sturdy walking stick or a pair of hiking poles. And pay attention to recent trip reports.

If you’re afraid of heights, you can always turn around at the first sign of dicey footing. Another option is to gut it out to the observatory and then take the road back to the Hummocks Trailhead parking lot, but that will add nearly two miles to an already long day-hike.

 

 

Boundary West

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 46.2869, -122.2717 Open map in new window

Trailhead

South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens

Boundary (#1)

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: South Cascades (Nelson - Mountaineers Books)

Buy the Green Trails Mount St. Helens NVM No. 332S map

Buy the Green Trails Spirit Lake No. 332 map

Getting There

From Castle Rock, drive east on Highway 504 (Spirit Lake Highway) for 42.7 miles. Take the right branch where the road forks, and stay on 504, driving another two miles to the Hummock/Boundary Trailhead, which is located just past the entrance to Coldwater Lake and is on the right.

There are no toilets at the Hummocks Trailhead, but conveniently enough, full-service restrooms are available a quarter mile away at Coldwater Lake. Stop there before parking in the medium-sized lot at the Hummock Trailhead. Restrooms can also be found at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, the turnaround point of the hike, but they're only available in-season (late spring to early fall, most years).

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
 

You can improve or add to this guidebook entry

Boundary West

109 Trip Reports

Hiked here recently?

Submit a trip report!
 
Trip Reports