Located along the the Mount Saint Helens blast zone, the South Coldwater Trail takes you from wildflower meadows to ridge-lines and ends with a stunning view of Mount Saint Helens.
The trail starts at the road’s edge and takes you into a new-growth forest. The ascent here is moderate, and after 40 or so minutes of hiking, you break out from the trees and get your first view of Coldwater Lake and the surrounding area.
Looking West, you can see where lava once flowed.
Out of the forest and on top of the mound, the trail takes you through meadows and rotting tree stumps. Looking back (East), you can see Spud Mountain is in the distance.
It takes a bit of time, but as the meadow slowly leads you upward you finally get your first glimpse of Mt Saint Helens.
Looking forward, we get a good view of Coldwater Peak, our intended destination. Well, we will pass through the peak and end at St Helens Lake.
Along the trail you will see several mangled tractors. All have been damaged from the blast and left to slowly rust away.
Another tractor, now a home for chipmunks and trees.
Rodents weren’t the only wildlife on the trail. This garter snake was catching some early morning rays.
As we continued on, for an hour or so, Minnie Peak slowly came into view. With it’s jagged rock structures and dramatic lighting, it quickly became a fascination of mine.
Taking a quick snack break, I scurried off trail and snapped a few more photos of Coldwater Lake with Spud Mountain in the far distance.
Back on the trail, the meadows were predominantly cleared from logging. But if look across the valley, you can start to see some of the devastation from the blast.
A closeup of Minnie Peak in all its pointy goodness. The fallen trees remind me of what a dead sea urchin looks like when its spines all collapse.
Three miles in and you get to check out the famous tractor that was actually thrown here from the blast on St Helens.
Shortly after the tractor, you come to the split leading you to either the Lakes Trail or the Boundary Trail. We continued on with the Boundary Trail.
One of many chipmunks that call the old tree stumps their home. This one was resting in the shade, trying to get a break from the increasing heat.
Indian or Red Paintbrush are scattered throughout the meadows.
Some of the more interesting rock structures found along the trail.
A view of Heart Lake from across the valley.
After four miles or so the trail will make its way around the peak and have you hiking along a ridge line directly towards St Helens.
The view was stunning to say the least, so we took a short break to enjoy it.
Across the way, a few pockets of snow hang on.
After the break, it was back on the trail.
At five miles in, on the saddle of Coldwater Mountain, you get your first real view of Saint Helens. The overwhelming amazement of such beauty and devastation provides enough excitement to keep you eagerly moving on with the hike.
Finally, some conifers have taken hold on the mountain side.
A combination of devastation and regrowth in progress. It’s amazing to see how long it takes for a forest to restart after being completely destroyed by volcanic activity from over 30 years ago.
Found along the hike, these little toads were all over the place.
A closeup of Coldwater Peak.
There is a scramble climb that leads up to the peak, however we passed on making the ascent, this time.
As the trail makes its way through the second saddle you get another amazing view of St Helens. And if you look closely, you can see Mount Hood in the far distance.
And not only do you get to see St Helens and Mt Hood, but looking to the east is Mt Adams.
Mt Adams with the Observatory connecting trail in the foreground.
Closeup of St Helens.
A little more perspective.
A very rare sighting, someone taking a photo of the photographer.
I’m holding onto my hat, not because it looks good for the shot, but because the wind was ripping up the mountain and would have easily taken my hat with it.
Once we made it to the connecting trail, almost 6 miles in, we stopped to have our lunch and enjoy the view of St Helens Lake and Mt Adams.
Now in the middle of the afternoon, it was time to head back. But not without a few more photos of St helens of course.
I loved how the clouds would form off of St Helens.
Not to be skunked, I managed to spot a herd of Elk waiting out the hottest portion of the day.
One last shot of St Helens.
With the sun now at twelve o’clock and temperatures reaching into the 90’s it was time to pack up the gear and focus on conserving water for the trek back to the car.
Here’s a handy little map that illustrates our hike and where we ended up turning back. if you have more time, you can make this into a loop and go all the way past Johnston Observatory. I’m sure the views of St Helens are even better the closer you get.