The Loowit Trail is the epic path that circles all the way around Mount Saint Helens, which gives the hiker a unique view of a geological rarity. The variation in terrain keeps it incredibly interesting for those who are interested in volcano geology and those who enjoy incredible mountain views and canyons. It is a challenging hike without consistent campsites, some sketchy and loose rock, scrambles over old lava flows and sometimes a lack of water. The mileage of this trail is anywhere from 28 to 34 miles, depending on the route and trailhead you choose. There are several places to start this trail from including Ape Canyon Trailhead, Climber’s Bivouac, and Blue Lake Trailhead. This article starts the route from the June Lake Trailhead, which adds some mileage, but is worth it for the view of the lake and the waterfall that cascades into the lake.
What Makes It Great
The scenery on this trail is breathtaking. From the June Lake Trailhead, hike 1.3 miles to the Loowit Trail Junction and turn right if you would like to go counterclockwise around the mountain. You will cross the muddy river and traverse Ape Canyon. Stay left at the Abraham Trail Junction and find a place to set up camp east of the trail around mile 6 near Pumice Butte. The next day will be a long one, so plan appropriately for time. You cross the Plains of Abraham, which is almost as other-worldly as the blast zone itself right below the still-massive, intimidating Helens.
If you turn around you will likely get a good look at Mount Hood. Keep left and go up the switchbacks to Windy Pass at about mile 7.3. The hike up to Windy Pass gives you a good look at Mount Adams to your right with Mount Rainier and Sprit Lake right in front of you to the north. The trail on the north side of Helens is poorly marked, but do not fret- much of the trail is found by using cairns left by backpackers that came before you. The trail will lead you about 7 miles to the Toutle River, which should be crossed with much care as it runs fast and loosing footing could be detrimental, especially with more weight on your back than usual. Make sure to scout out the best way across. Take a right on the Toutle trail once you pass the river and hike .2 miles to some good camping spots in a bog-like area.
The third day consists of hikes through scree-filled gullies and meadows that are covered in wildflowers in the summer. You will get to a four-way junction with the Ptarmigan Trail, where you should continue straight. After another 4.3 miles, you’ll close out the loop and it is a mere 1.3 miles past June Lake to the trailhead where you started.
Who is Going to Love It
No matter which route you take, it is important to consider that there is no camping allowed in the 10 mile blast zone, from Windy Pass to the South Fork of the Toutle River, so the backpacker must be capable of doing that kind of mileage and a little bit more to get to the campsite in one stretch. In terms of picking the time of year, it is important to think about the amount of sunlight you have during the day and how much mileage you plan to do.
This is a difficult trail, which rules it out for less experienced and even intermediate hikers, but for experienced backpackers, it is a perfect way to spend three or four days seeing the beautiful and majestic Mount Saint Helens in a way you never have before. Make sure you are well versed in trip planning, as you will be traversing some scree-filled gullies that do not always have clear trails through them and may sometimes require a detour or scramble. Water is limited, but some year round springs are located 1 mile from the Butte Camp/Loowit junction on the Butte Camp Trail, ¼ mile from the Loowit/ Toutle junction on the Toutle Trail, and ½ mile from the Windy/Loowit junction.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the June Lake Trailhead from Portland, take I-5 for 29 miles north to WA 503 and head east 34.4 miles through Cougar. Take a left on FR 83 and its just 7 miles to the trailhead.
After all that strenuous backpacking, be sure to stop for a burger, beer, and fries at the Cougar Bar and Grill. After 3 or 4 days on this trail, it will absolutely be the best burger of your life.