Loowit Falls

Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument / Gifford Pinchot National Forest / Cougar, Washington, USA

About Loowit Falls


Hiking Distance: 9.2 miles round-trip
Suggested Time: 3-5 hours

Date first visited: 2021-06-25
Date last visited: 2021-06-25

Waterfall Latitude: 46.22293
Waterfall Longitude: -122.18323

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Loowit Falls is a nearly 200ft plunging waterfall sitting in the heart of the blast crater resulting from the Mt St Helens eruption in May 1980.

As a result of its position, I suspect that this is a waterfall that’s relatively new since I don’t think it existed prior to the eruption.

Loowit_Falls_183_06252021 - Loowit Falls
Loowit Falls

Erosion is continuing to change the height and appearance of Loowit Falls since the current landscape is still in its infancy as far as geologic timescales are concerned.

Heck, we noticed a protruding (and growing) lava dome in the heart of the Mt St Helens crater so it might erupt and change the landscape yet again!

By the way, I felt that Loowit Falls is aptly named because Loowit is the Native American name for Mt St Helens, and the hike to reach this waterfall is always in the presence of the imposing nad volatile mountain.

Logistics of Hiking to Loowit Falls

If you know where to look, you might already notice Loowit Falls looking puny within the massive blast crater of Mt St Helens from the Windy Ridge Lookout at the end of the Windy Ridge Road (see directions below).

Loowit_Falls_243_06252021 - Looking at Loowit Falls and a large extent of its downstream cascades as seen from the end of the Loowit Falls Trail
Looking at Loowit Falls and a large extent of its downstream cascades as seen from the end of the Loowit Falls Trail

However, in order to get a more satisfying experience with the falls, I had to earn my visit because it involved doing a 9.2-mile round-trip hike with 500ft net elevation gain.

Due to the landscape still recovering after 40+ years since the major eruption in 1980, the whole hike lacked shade so I definitely needed to liberally apply sunscreen while bringing plenty of water.

It’s also possible to hike from the Johnston Ridge Observatory via the Boundary Trail to Loowit Falls, but you’re looking at over 14 miles round-trip, which would take most people the whole day.

Overall, my hike from the Windy Ridge Lookout to Loowit Falls and back took me nearly 5.5 hours total.

Loowit_Falls_087_06252021 - Hiking the unshaded Loowit Trail with Mt St Helens looming in the background while wildflowers bloomed besides the trail
Hiking the unshaded Loowit Trail with Mt St Helens looming in the background while wildflowers bloomed besides the trail

That said, if I didn’t allow for rests and spontaneous conversations with other hikers on the trail, I probably could have completed the hike in about 4 hours.

Loowit Falls Trail Description: The Truman Trail

Starting from the Windy Ridge Lookout at the end of the public portion of the Windy Ridge Road, I started walking past the gate onto the unpaved part of the Windy Ridge Road.

This is actually a service road that is not for the public to drive as only staff with the means to open the gate and drive past it could keep driving.

Therefore, my Gaia GPS map also referred to this unpaved road section as the Truman Trail (named after another person who lost his life after opting to stay on Mt St Helens when it was about to erupt).

Loowit_Falls_415_06252021 - Looking from the service road or Truman Trail towards some of the cascades tumbling beneath a drainage towards an east-flowing basin
Looking from the service road or Truman Trail towards some of the cascades tumbling beneath a drainage towards an east-flowing basin

Anyways, during this relatively easy two-mile section, it was pretty much like hiking on an oversized wide trail so it wasn’t surprising to share it with mountain bikers.

Yet during this stretch, in addition to getting an in-your-face view of Mt St Helens, it also provided me with views of Mt Adams to the east, some attractive cascades beneath Windy Pass, and even Mt Hood way in the distance to the south.

At about a half-mile into the hike, I encountered one of those Geostation Earth Observatories where seismic activity is monitored.

It looked like there was a bomb shelter-like structure that I’d imagine might be there for an employee to escape to should another eruption and pyroclastic flow should occur.

Loowit_Falls_028_06252021 - Looking back at a Geostation Earth Observatory measuring the seismic activity of Mt St Helens
Looking back at a Geostation Earth Observatory measuring the seismic activity of Mt St Helens

In addition to the scientific infrastructure here, I also noticed that it had a nice view towards Spirit Lake.

At roughly 3/4-mile from the trailhead (or 1/4-mile from the observatory), I reached a bend in the road where I could look towards some cascades tumbling into a drainage flowing east.

Then, at about 1.7 miles from the trailhead, I reached a junction where the unpaved road (or Truman Trail) descended to the right while the so-called Abraham Trail ascended to the left.

I kept right to take the road to its end in another 0.3-mile.

Loowit Falls Trail Description: The Windy Trail and Loowit Trail

Loowit_Falls_068_06252021 - There was actually still a forest service vehicle parked at the end of the unpaved road right where the Windy Trail began and the Truman Trail portion was about to end
There was actually still a forest service vehicle parked at the end of the unpaved road right where the Windy Trail began and the Truman Trail portion was about to end

At the end of the service road, there were reassuring signs mentioning Loowit Falls so I knew I was in the right place so far.

Behind the sign, I continued straight to cross the first of a handful of lahar zones (basically drainages prone to destructive mud flows and flash flooding should the volcano erupt) as I now embarked on the Windy Trail.

At about 0.8-mile along the Windy Trail, I encountered another signed trail junction, where I kept right to go across another drainage and onto the Loowit Trail.

Going left at this junction would have taken me up to Windy Pass.

Loowit_Falls_377_06252021 - Context of one of the drainages with enough water in it to have a refreshing cascade next to the Loowit Trail. This crossing actually required nifty rock hopping or use of trekking poles to get across without changing shoes or ruining expensive hiking boots
Context of one of the drainages with enough water in it to have a refreshing cascade next to the Loowit Trail. This crossing actually required nifty rock hopping or use of trekking poles to get across without changing shoes or ruining expensive hiking boots

The Loowit Trail would continue to move west across the northern slope of Mt St Helens for the next 0.9 miles.

This involved crossing at least four more creeks or lahar-prone drainages, and each of the crossings involved some degree of going down and up steep embankments with rather sketchy footing.

Some of the drainages had interesting small cascades or waterfalls, which may also serve as useful cooling off spots.

Anyways throughout this 0.9-mile stretch of trail, I continued to get imposing views of the caldera of Mt St Helens while witnessing mats of wildflower blooms as well as impressive views towards Spirit Lake.

Loowit_Falls_138_06252021 - The Loowit Trail offered panoramic views towards Spirit Lake, where Mt Rainier could even be seen poking its peak above the Norway Peaks in front of it
The Loowit Trail offered panoramic views towards Spirit Lake, where Mt Rainier could even be seen poking its peak above the Norway Peaks in front of it

After around 0.9-mile beyond the Windy Pass Junction, I then reached another signed trail junction where I then kept left to follow the trail towards Loowit Falls.

Loowit Falls Trail Description: The Final Approach

Although the trail signage suggested that it was only 1/4-mile to get to the Loowit Falls Viewpoint, my GPS logs indicated that it was more like a 1/2-mile in each direction.

It also felt longer because nearly this entire spur trail was uphill.

Nevertheless, after around 1/4-mile from the signed trail junction leaving the Loowit Trail, I started to get tantalizing views of Loowit Falls watched over by Mt St Helens’ imposing crater.

Loowit_Falls_197_06252021 - Following the final spur leading up to the overlook of Loowit Falls
Following the final spur leading up to the overlook of Loowit Falls

The closer I got to Loowit Falls, however, the less of the crater rim and lava dome that I was able to see.

Eventually, I would arrive at the a big rock cairn marking the end of the Loowit Falls Trail, but I did manage to climb a little more to get an even more satisfying view of the Loowit Falls itself.

During my late June 2021 visit, I happened to see a family of mountain goats around Loowit Creek, which blended in quite well with the bright volcanic surface supporting both the falls and its watercourse.

Speaking of the watercourse, it looked like Loowit Falls was sourced by a combination of the Crater Glacier (I’ve also seen it referred to as the Crescent Glacier) along with any additional snow accumulations.

Loowit_Falls_239_06252021 - This was one of a handful of mountain goats that I noticed at the lookouts for Loowit Falls
This was one of a handful of mountain goats that I noticed at the lookouts for Loowit Falls

What’s remarkable about this glacier is that it’s arguably one of the few left on earth that’s actually “growing”.

I suspect the reason why is because it sits completely at the foot of the lava dome, which itself protrudes and grows from the heart of the crater of Mt St Helens.

I was content with my look-but-don’t-touch views of Loowit Falls and its extensive string of cascades further downstream, because I’d imagine you’d need abilities like those mountain goats that I saw to get up and down the steep cliffs.

This was my turnaround point, and fortunately, the remainder of the hike was pretty much downhill most of the way.

Authorities

Loowit Falls resides in the Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument, which is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cougar in Skamania County, Washington. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Loowit_Falls_005_06252021 - Finally making it to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint Parking Lot at the end of the Windy Ridge Road
Loowit_Falls_010_06252021 - Looking down towards Spirit Lake from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint
Loowit_Falls_016_06252021 - This was the gate marking the trailhead for Loowit Falls though that 'trail' was actually a service road despite being called the Truman Trail on my Gaia GPS map
Loowit_Falls_017_06252021 - Looking back at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint Parking Lot as I had gotten started on the hike to Loowit Falls
Loowit_Falls_019_06252021 - The Truman Trail was actually a service road so it was a wide trail, but it already provided glimpses of the massive maw of Mt St Helens
Loowit_Falls_020_06252021 - Just for some perspective, look at the pair of hikers up ahead with the looming partial view of the crater of Mt St Helens in the distance
Loowit_Falls_026_06252021 - Looking back at Spirit Lake from the Geostation Earth Observatory roughly a half-mile into the Loowit Falls hike
Loowit_Falls_031_06252021 - Looking against the morning sun towards Mt Adams from the Truman Trail portion of the Loowit Falls hike
Loowit_Falls_032_06252021 - Looking way in the distance to the south at the tip of Mt Hood from the Truman Trail section of the Loowit Falls hike
Loowit_Falls_034_06252021 - Sharing the Truman Trail with mountain bikers
Loowit_Falls_037_06252021 - Another imposing look at Mt St Helens with a pair of hikers way up ahead looking like ants against the volcano
Loowit_Falls_416_06252021 - Looking across a ravine towards some cascades beneath the Windy Pass and other ridges on the eastern slopes of Mt St Helens
Loowit_Falls_061_06252021 - Approaching a trail fork with the Mt St Helens crater looming even larger the further I'm going
Loowit_Falls_405_06252021 - Context of the trail fork where the Abraham Trail went up to the left and the Loowit Falls Trail descended to the right
Loowit_Falls_068_06252021 - I was surprised to see a forest service worker's truck parked at the actual Loowit Falls Trailhead
Loowit_Falls_071_06252021 - After getting past the end of the unpaved road, I then had to cross this lahar zone to get onto the Windy Trail and ultimately onto the Loowit Trail en route to Loowit Falls
Loowit_Falls_087_06252021 - Context of the Loowit Trail flanked by purple wildflowers
Loowit_Falls_088_06252021 - The Windy-Loowit Trail skirting alongside one of the drainages coming from the crater of Mt St Helens
Loowit_Falls_094_06252021 - At this signed trail junction, I kept right to descend into the drainage to continue the Loowit Trail. The trail on the left went up to Windy Pass
Loowit_Falls_098_06252021 - Looking upstream towards the Mt St Helens Crater and Lava Dome from within one of the lahar-zone crossings along the Loowit Trail
Loowit_Falls_109_06252021 - Looking back downstream towards Spirit Lake, the Norway Peaks, and a hint of Mt Rainier from the Loowit Trail
Loowit_Falls_119_06252021 - At some of the lahar zone crossings on the Loowit Trail, I was glad I wore good hiking boots because some of these trail surfaces seemed kind of sketchy
Loowit_Falls_125_06252021 - There was enough water in this drainage to warrant some rock hopping to avoid getting wet on the Loowit Trail
Loowit_Falls_127_06252021 - Looking directly upstream at a small mountain cascade while hiking the Loowit Trail
Loowit_Falls_132_06252021 - Another look back towards the context of Spirit Lake
Loowit_Falls_144_06252021 - Continuing on the Loowit Trail with Mt St Helens' chaotic crater rim in the background
Loowit_Falls_155_06252021 - Another look at the Loowit Trail backed by Mt St Helens' imposing crater
Loowit_Falls_164_06252021 - Clinging onto more sketchy surfaces as I approached the next lahar zone (though this one was more bouldery)
Loowit_Falls_165_06252021 - Going across a bouldery lahar zone though there were still some small cascades flowing within this drainage
Loowit_Falls_170_06252021 - Clinging to another sketchy surface spot on the Loowit Trail with Spirit Lake in the distance
Loowit_Falls_179_06252021 - Finally making it to the signposted trail junction where I now veered left to continue the final stretch to the Loowit Falls viewpoint
Loowit_Falls_182_06252021 - Finally starting to see Loowit Falls, which hastened my steps to get to its viewpoint
Loowit_Falls_190_06252021 - Even though the trail signage suggested it was only a quarter-mile to get from there to Loowit Falls, I had the GPS logs to prove that it was really more like a half-mile in each direction!
Loowit_Falls_200_06252021 - Making the final approach to reach the end of the Loowit Falls hike
Loowit_Falls_205_06252021 - Looking downstream towards Spirit Lake from the Loowit Falls Viewpoint
Loowit_Falls_207_06252021 - Looking in the general direction of the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Actually the visitor center building is situated more towards the topright of this photo
Loowit_Falls_212_06252021 - Volcanic rock cairns marking the official end of the Loowit Falls Trail
Loowit_Falls_218_06252021 - One of the mountain goats that I spotted at the Loowit Falls Viewpoint
Loowit_Falls_256_06252021 - Context of some backpackers that made the detour to join me at Loowit Falls with Spirit Lake in the background
Loowit_Falls_259_06252021 - Focused on the main drop of Loowit Falls
Loowit_Falls_272_06252021 - Contextual view of Loowit Falls and its downstream cascades.  There were actually mountain goats having a drink among those cascades
Loowit_Falls_277_06252021 - Zoomed in on a couple of the mountain goats by part of the cascades downstream of Loowit Falls
Loowit_Falls_310_06252021 - Looking up at a couple of the guys going beyond the rock cairn to try to improve their view of Loowit Falls even more
Loowit_Falls_351_06252021 - After having my fill of Loowit Falls, it was time to head back to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint while enjoying the scenery all over again
Loowit_Falls_379_06252021 - Continuing on the return hike along the Loowit Trail back to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint
Loowit_Falls_058_iPhone_06252021 - On the return hike, I started noticing cascades that I hadn't noticed before like this one fronting the part of the Mt St Helens crater
Loowit_Falls_399_06252021 - Looking up at quite a few people looking down at the trail I just took.  Those people took the Abraham Trail
Loowit_Falls_401_06252021 - Finally making it back to the unpaved road portion of the Loowit Falls hike
Loowit_Falls_403_06252021 - Surprisingly, the peak of Mt Adams was obscured by clouds when I hiked back from Loowit Falls
Loowit_Falls_410_06252021 - Looking way in the distance at Loowit Falls.  Can you spot it?
Loowit_Falls_412_06252021 - It wasn't all downhill on the return hike to the trailhead for Loowit Falls
Loowit_Falls_427_06252021 - Looking in the distance at some interesting cliffs as I looked east.
Loowit_Falls_429_06252021 - Finally making it back to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint parking lot


Because I did the Loowit Falls hike from the Windy Ridge Lookout, I’ll describe the driving directions for the route that I used to get there from Portland.

From Portland, I drove the I-5 north for about 29 miles to the WA-503 exit towards Woodland/Cougar.

Loowit_Falls_008_iPhone_06252021 - There were lots of sections of the road on both the NFD25 and the NF-90 (Windy Ridge Road) that were sinking during my late June 2021 visit to Loowit Falls
There were lots of sections of the road on both the NFD25 and the NF-90 (Windy Ridge Road) that were sinking during my late June 2021 visit to Loowit Falls

I then headed east on the WA-503, which became the Lewis River Road en route to Cougar, and I followed this road for about 47 miles.

Near the headwaters of the Swift Reservoir, I then kept left to go onto the NFD-25 Road, and I took this road for the next 25 miles.

Note that the NFD-25 Road seemed to have a slot of surprise dips as I suspect that many parts of the road were sinking so you may have to slow down to avoid catching air on some of those dips (I’m not kidding!).

Eventually, the NFD25 Road intersected with the well-signed NF-90 Road (Windy Ridge Road) on the left, and I took this road for the remaining 16 miles to its end at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint Parking Lot.

Loowit_Falls_013_iPhone_06252021 - Driving the Windy Ridge Road towards the Windy Ridge Viewpoint on Mt St Helens
Driving the Windy Ridge Road towards the Windy Ridge Viewpoint on Mt St Helens

Overall, this drive took me about 3 hours.

Note that I could have also taken the I-84 east to the Wind River Road via Cascade Locks and Carson from Portland, but that 127-mile drive would take about 3.5 hours plus require a toll to cross the Bridge of the Gods.

As for geographical context, Cougar is about 54 miles (about 90 minutes drive) northwest of Carson, 58 miles (over an hour drive) northeast of Portland, Oregon, and 172 miles (3 hours drive) south of Seattle.

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Deliberate sweep starting from Spirit Lake and some hikers returning and then ending with a back and forth sweep of the waterfall and its underlying cascades


Right to left sweep from a lower position on the cliff beginning with Spirit Lake and ending with a more frontal view of Loowit Falls


Left to right sweep somewhere near the start of the hike beginning with Mt Adams the panning along some distant cascades before ending with Loowit Falls way in the distance

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Tagged with: cougar, mt st helens, blast zone, crater glacier, windy ridge, skamania county, gifford pinchot



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Loowit Falls, Mt St Helens, Washington October 4, 2009 6:21 pm by Art Shapiro - Picture of Loowit Falls, Mt St. Helens, Washington. ...Read More

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