• Activities:

    Mountain Biking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    9.6 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1650 Feet

Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly

Set your gaze upon breathtaking views as you gradually ascend on one of the southern ridges of Mount St. Helens. With abundant wildlife, views of multiple volcanoes, and a well established trail; this is truly one of the most spectacular hikes within the volcanic area!

Not to be confused with the ever so popular Ape Caves, the Ape Canyon is a moderately challenging hike that remains above ground, climbing a total of 1650 feet in elevation parallel to the Muddy River.  Although originally designed as a hiking trail, this route has become increasingly popular with mountain bikers, so be cautious and respectful throughout your journey.

The trailhead can be found just before that of the Lava Canyon along road NF-83, and while there are only a small number of parking spaces dedicated for the Ape Canyon, cars are able to park alongside the road as long as safe passage is still available for those traveling to and fro. The trail itself begins next to what is left of the Muddy River, where during the infamous eruption of 1980, a massive landslide rushed through leveling much of what stood in its path. Luckily for you, the Ape Canyon Trail follows the ridge of an old growth tree line which not only survived the landslide but has since then thrived.  

Just 0.4 miles into the trail you will be granted with the first viewpoint of the Muddy River with Mount St Helens towering behind.  From there the trail cuts back into the trees for the next 4.15 miles gradually ascending the 1650 feet.  Perhaps the greatest part about the Ape Canyon Trail though, is how well established and maintained it is as you continue to either hike or bike your way to the top. At 4.55 miles in, the old growth forest begins to thin and the beginning of the blast zone comes into view.  From this spot as you look directly towards the south face of Mount St Helens the mouth of the Ape Canyon can be seen, creating a V-shaped formation in the rocks.  By continuing along the trail for another 0.25 miles, you will turn one last corner where the Ape Canyon Trail dead ends into that of the Loowit, a 30+ mile trail that encompasses the circumference of the volcano.  

It is at this very spot where you are finally rewarded for the grueling climb, with breathtaking views of not only Mount St. Helens, but also Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and even the Tatoosh Range.  This makes a great stopping point for those out for a quick day trip or looking to catch their breath, however if you wish to push farther I recommend following the Loowit Trail east in the direction of Windy Ridge. By extending your journey you will be able to experience a combination of the Plains of Abraham, a large flatland of pumice and rock, as well as views of Spirit Lake as you close in on Windy Ridge.  It is important to note that this is a dry trail and water is very limited, so if you chose to make the push to Windy Ridge for an additional 6.0 miles be sure you have the proper equipment to make it home safely.  

Regardless of the route you chose, make sure to take a minute and search the hillsides for mountain goats, marmots, elk, and even bald eagles.  And don't forget to watch your step for all the little frogs hopping across the trail!

Once you feel like you've had your fill of the mountain, simply turn around and retrace your steps back to the Ape Canyon trailhead parking lot.   

Pack List

  • NW Forest Pass
  • Hiking shoes
  • Sun protection
  • Gators (optional)
  • Food/water
  • Extra clothing (layers)
  • 10 essentials
  • Camera
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Matt Klemsz

Wannabe professional wanderer attempting to capture the beauty of the outdoors.

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