If this is your first time in the area, make sure you stop by the Woodland Chamber of Commerce's Tourist Information Center just west off I-5 on your way to HWY 503. Here you can get the latest updates on road conditions, campgrounds, free maps and area information.
Next - where to camp ? While there is abundant number of campgrounds along the Lewis River Road (HWY 503), there is one that remains a hidden jewel of the area - Lake Merril Campground. On a hot, sunny summer weekend ( like the one we just had) it's hard to find a vacant spot even at a major 45-tents campground like Cougar Camp, but when I arrived at Lake Merril Campground ( which has only 8 spots ( meaning- less crowd, quieter )), I found a spot ! by the lake ! And the surroundings were breathtaking. The most amazing perk ? It was FREE !
Camping at Lake Merril Campground
The area's two most visited attractions are - Ape Caves and ... well.. Mt St Helens ,of course !
Sitting on Volcano
80% who made it to the top.
Climbing a volcano ! Exciting ? It was OK for me...According to the statistics:
In past years ,between 11,000 and 12,000 people have received climbing permits ( yes, you need one -$ 22 ). More than 80% make it to the summit ( where the hell the other 20% go?), making it one of the most- climbed peaks in the world !
For me the hardest part of the climb was getting to the trailhead ( Climber's Bivouac ), the gravel road was horrible. I really got scared for my car suspension system ( though I am driving Subaru Forester ). Once at 3,700 feet (Climber's Bivouac ) I found a cool thing - Climber's Bivouac is also a campground ( official), so if you want to get a good night sleep ( instead of driving for 2 hours and then hiking), come here the night before. As usual I am not gonna describe the hike and ruin it for you, just will say that it's a lot of fun scrambling on big andesite boulders and hiking in the smooth, sandy lava ash.
One funny fact about "climbing" Mt St Helens:
Though USGS scientists believe that "climbing" is safe...rangers suggest carrying goggles, a hamlet and an ash mask.
And I did see somebody wearing a helmet ! Not sure if it was a safety concern or something a doctor prescribed.
Mt St Helens is a great mountain biking destination ( according to the authors of
" Mountain Biking Washington ". I swear, I use this book for the last time. It's the worst guidebook I've ever used). Two trails ( from that book) I wanted to try: Plains of Abraham and Kalama Loop.
Note to myself ( and others) - don't hike Mt St Helens and mountain bike the same mountain on the same day. Tha's what I did. After my hike, I drove to the Lava Canyon and tried to MB Plains of Abraham.
Needless to say I didn't make too far. And it wasn't even the difficulty of the trail. Late in the afternoon, those flies become notorious. If your insect repellent doesn't work, you are done.
Mountain Biking on Plains of Abraham
Back at the camp, I took a nice relaxing sunset paddle around the beautiful Lake Merril and called it a day.
Next morning I decided to give MB here another chance. Kalama Loop Trailhead at the Kalama Horse Campgrounds is about 6 miles away. According to the book:
The popular route skirts the base on the southwest side of Mt St Helens and is frequently used by horseback riders.
My description: Do you like riding your bike in horse crap? Do I need to continue?
All in all, I really like the area. It's a great family destination as well as for those interested in multi sport outdoor activities.