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Lava Canyon

South Cascades


South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens
View map below


5.0 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 1600 ft.
Highest Point: 2800 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
The suspension bridge on the Lava Canyon trail is closed due to cable damage

This trail begins with an amazing, ADA accessible, interpretive trail before proceeding down a steep rugged canyon to a one-of-a-kind swinging bridge.

There are three sections of the Lava Canyon Trail, each distinguished by increasing difficulty. From the parking lot the trail quickly descends into the canyon on a paved path with a gentle grade. The first section is perfect for everyone from youngsters new to hiking to those with stubborn knees. This section comes to an end at the waterfall viewpoint.

Below, the trail becomes more difficult as the route narrows and skirts along high cliffs. This segment forms a loop, which crosses over a 125-foot suspension bridge torn from the pages of a Hollywood movie script. On the bridge you will be treated to an amazing view of the canyon below and gushing water right under your feet. The sight can be unnerving, so watch your footing.

The trail eventually returns on the south side of the canyon, crossing a steel bridge upstream of the waterfalls and rejoins the paved trail. But before you get there you will need to drop farther into the canyon. If you are fearful of heights, this segment is not for you. After the bridge, the trail crosses an exposed face, followed by a water crossing, where a cable is present to assist hikers make the ford. A metal ladder then descends a vertical cliff providing access to the canyon’s thunderous waterfalls.

The trail soon intersects Ship Trail (the return route), which climbs to a viewpoint atop a lava formation that overlooks a long series of waterfalls in the lower canyon. A bit further, the canyon begins to broaden and flatten as it approaches a large alluvial fan spreading into the Smith Creek valley.

WTA Pro Tip: For more volcanic geology, check out the nearby Trail of Two Forests, the location where a series of lava tubes formed when a lava flow crawled through an old growth forest and cooled. When trees decayed, vertical columns were formed where the old-growth trees once stood.


Lava Canyon

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.1654, -122.0889 Open map in new window


South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens

Lava Canyon (#184)

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

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Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: South Cascades (Nelson - Mountaineers Books)

Buy the Green Trails Mt St Helens No. 364 map

Buy the Green Trails Mt St Helens No. 364S map

Getting There

From I-5, take exit 21 and drive east on SR- 503 for 28 miles to Cougar. Continue east on FR-90 past the Swift Dam. Turn onto FR-83 and proceed 12 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
The suspension bridge on the Lava Canyon trail is closed due to cable damage

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Lava Canyon

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