We’ve had a less than stellar winter. But for every bad situation there is a silver lining!

Lack of snow made for a unique opportunity to complete a loop hike on the east side of Mt St Helens in early March. The road to Lava Canyon is closed, as it normally is this time of year, but this time it’s not because of snow. The result is a beautiful bike ride from the Marblemount Sno-park to the Lava Canyon trailhead, a distance of about 5 miles.

The chilly, early morning ride got me to the trailhead at 8:30am. There I stashed my bike among the stunted trees near the Lahar. In the brisk morning air I started down the trail on foot.


The loop took me down Lava Canyon with its violently cascading stream, up Smith Creek to Rd 99 and Windy Pass, along the Abraham and Loowit Trails, and finally across the Plains of Abraham to camp. Tucked at the head of Ape Canyon, I had a picture perfect view of Mt Adams and St Helens. Mountain goats grazed the upper slopes of the canyon, as the sun sunk behind their steep walls.


The next morning was a chilly 20 degrees. Some might have argued cowboy camping wasn’t the best idea this time of year, but my Feathered Friends Lark sleeping bag kept me warm all night long.


I headed down Ape Canyon Trail after some welcomed oatmeal and hot coffee. Retrieving my bike, I happily pedaled back to the car.

The total loop is about 23 miles. Views include Mt Adams, Mt Rainer, Goat Rocks, Mt Hood, the Mt Margaret Range, Spirit Lake, and of course, Mt St Helens. The wildlife was diverse and magnificent, including elk, mountain goats, a red headed woodpecker, and my current favorite bird, the winter wren.


If you want more of an adrenaline rush, the loop is open to mountain bikes and is doable in a day. However, it would make a great overnight bikepacking trip. I recommend going clockwise if riding. Lava Canyon is closed to bikes, but a gravel road completes that section of the loop for bikers.

My pack weight was around the 16 pound mark. I’ve been working on getting it even lighter in preparation for the Mountain Shop’s upcoming Ultralight Fest, March 14-15. Going light helped me cover the 23 miles with relative ease. Of course, having legs that hiked the CDT last summer didn’t hurt either. ;-)



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