Hike to the Summit of Coldwater Peak



12.2 miles

Elevation Gain

2000 ft

Route Type


Added by Matt Klemsz

Experience a rarely traversed trail while gazing directly into the crater of history's most iconic PNW volcano, Mount St Helens. Upon the summit of Coldwater Peak you'll be granted with 360 views including direct sight of Jefferson, Hood, Adams, Rainier, Spirit Lake and so much more!

While thousands of visitors come to witness the raw power and devastation left behind from Mount St Helens' famous 1980 eruption, few wander past the groomed paths surrounding the Johnston Ridge Observatory. It is beyond these paths where you come across the more commonly designed backcountry trails, the trails of which bring you to Coldwater Peak. 

At a final elevation of 5,727 feet, the Coldwater Peak trail covers a total distance of 12.2 miles with roughly 2,000 feet in total elevation gain. It is extremely important to note that the entire duration of the hike is what's referred to as a 'dry trail', meaning there is no access to water along the way and all water must be carried in from the trailhead. With a strenuous hike such as this, it's always better to carry extra than not enough!

To begin the actual hike, head east from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on the Boundary Trail. The first section of trail is heavily trafficked for the first 1.5 miles with multiple benches and signs along the route for people to rest at and enjoy the view. 2.3 miles in, the trail begins to thin out at the junction for the Truman Trail. Hanging left at the junction, continue on the Boundary Trail, where you will cross the pumice fields and old metal bridge until you'll pass another junction which leads you towards Harry's Ridge. This is a great alternative if you are beginning to feel tired or are low on time and water. 

As you push past the junction, the trail begins to increase in elevation granting you with expansive views of Spirit Lake and the crater of Mount St Helens. At this point you can see the way in which the landscape was forever altered in 1980, with bleached trees laid down like toothpicks and even more floating atop the lake being blown from side to side. Continuing to climb, you'll crest the ridgeline and come face to face with the famous 'Hole in the Wall', a literal breaking in the rock face and the only reliable shade on the trail. 

Just 0.5 miles past the 'Hole in the Wall' and 5.5 miles in total, you will come to another large junction where you'll follow the signage towards the Coldwater Peak Summit. For the final push of the hike patience is key, with switchback after switchback. Regardless of the time of year there are typically patches of snow covering the trail in spots, making a few sections more hazardous than others. 

Once you reach the top (making sure to leave the seismic equipment alone as it's used to monitor the activity of the volcano) celebrate your victory with endless views of the Mount Margaret backcountry, Helens, Rainier and Adams. 

After your done relaxing and taking in the vistas, simply retrace your steps heading back towards the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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