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You will need to turn right (SW) on Washington Trail 238 to finish the loop but take Trail 216 right instead a couple hundred yards toward the river to check out the canyon, stopping before the main trail continues down to cross the water. There’s an open Washington paintbrush-covered meadow off-trail near the ledge with superb views up the South Fork Toutle River. Hike the last 1/2 mi of the loop by staying right (SW) at the sign (for South Fork Toutle River, Toutle and Loowit Trails), soon crossing a small creek, then ascend the thin, uneven path as it winds up to the bridge near the Sheep Canyon Washington Trail four-way intersection. Stay on Toutle Trail 238 for 3 mi S back to the TH without any trouble, the first mile being uphill.
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Bear grass owns the steeper slopes up Crescent Ridge to Mount St. Helens in July.
ELEVATION: 5727 ft, with about 2000 ft vertical gain DISTANCE: 6 mi one way, 12 mi round-trip DURATION: 3-4 hours up, 6-8 hours round-trip.
DIFFICULTY: Strenuous. Long, some steeps but not bad, rocky, drop-offs, narrow.
TRIP REPORT: Fairly easy access to the goods for hiking within the Mount St. Helens volcanic blast zone is located at the Johnston Ridge Observatory (milepost 52 on State Road 504). David Johnston, who was the unfortunate volcanologist stationed N of the volcano that fateful day in May, was supposed to be out of harm’s way when in fact the opposite was true. The summer crowds thin to the fork for Harry’s Ridge, where even fewer hikers continue to Coldwater Peak or beyond. Bring plenty of water as the trails are dry. There are few services at the interesting interpretive center and little to no food options as is the case with all of the official viewpoints surrounding the mountain, which never received National Park status and kept the region rather wild without much infrastructure. A Monument Pass (day use fee per person over sixteen) is required for any of the viewpoints or trails from the observatory (open mid-May through October, 10 a.m. 6 p.m., restrooms inside), which is only 5 mi N of the crater in the center of the blast zone. You can always pay after if you get an early start hiking. The very best and free exhibits to be found for the volcano are at the Science and Learning Center back near milepost 43.