Don’t pass up the chance to turn a crank on the shoulder of an active volcano! The Ape Canyon ride, which begins on the south side of Mount St. Helens, is one of the Northwest’s premier mountain biking treks, with varied landscapes and incredible vistas. World-class single-track also awaits at Siouxon Creek, Lewis River, South Coldwater and Old Man Pass/Falls Creek.
Ape Canyon Trail View on Map - Click here for trail reviews
If you haven’t ridden Ape Canyon, add it to your short list. This Pacific Northwest classic puts you right on the shoulder of an active volcano.
Beginning at 2,800 feet, Ape Canyon Trail 234 opens with spectacular views of the Muddy River lahar that rolled down the southeast side of Mount St. Helens during the 1980 eruption. Within a few hundred yards, the trail launches into a five-mile climb through old-growth forest. The ascent ends at Ape Canyon, which offers broad vistas of Mount Adams and the Smith Creek Basin. Stop here snap a few pictures.
In less than a quarter mile, you will reach an intersection with Loowit Trail 216. Head north along the east side of the mountain. After traversing several rocky washes, you will emerge onto the Plains of Abraham. The lunar-like plains can be soft in dry weather, but the tread is good in most places. If you don't have a headwind, the two-mile ride across the plains is fast, flat and easy. When you reach an intersection, head north on Abraham Trail 216D toward Windy Ridge.
After switch-backing through several ravines that are thick with lupine in the summer months, you will reach a bare, knife-edge ridge that is one of the highlights of the ride. The terrain slopes off on each side and then plummets for several hundred feet. It’s important to maintain your focus on the trail, even if your legs ignore the command to stop wobbling.
At 9.5 miles, you will reach a series of wooden steps. If your tank is nearing empty, turn around here and go back for a 19-mile total. Another two miles on logging road will take you to the Windy Ridge viewpoint where you can soak in a great view of Spirit Lake, but keep in mind that this means carrying your bike up the steps when you head back.
When you reach Ape Canyon on the return trip, remember to be careful on the five-mile descent to the trailhead since you will probably meet hikers and bikers on their way up.
Experienced riders may choose to extend their adventure by completing the rugged Smith Creek loop. At just under 30 miles, it’s only seven miles longer than riding to Windy Ridge and back. But don’t be fooled—the technical and aerobic demands are far greater. Before choosing this route, be sure to check the most current trail reviews because Smith Creek can be so overgrown that the fun-factor is minimal.
Once you’ve reached the Windy Ridge viewpoint, travel 1.6 miles on FS99 to the Smith Creek Trailhead. You will drop from 4,200 to 2,400 in less than four miles. There is plenty of loose pumice and difficult switchbacks. Keep your eyes open for abandoned bike parts.
The biggest obstacles in the Smith Creek Basin are a few small creek crossings and low hanging limbs. The lower end is smooth and fun. You will need to ford the Muddy River where it intersects with Smith Creek. Take a few minutes to see if there is a makeshift log bridge. If not, you will have to get your feet wet.
The 5.7-mile climb back to the trailhead on FR8322 and FR83 seems to go on forever. You gain back 1,200 feet—from 1,600 to 2,800—but it feels like more.
From Interstate 5, take the Lewis River Road (SR 503) east from Woodland for 34 miles to FR83. Go 11 miles on FR83 to the Ape Canyon trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Siouxon Creek Trail View on Map - Click here for trail reviews
If you’re looking for a gorgeous, intermediate ride, Siouxon Trail 130 is just the ticket. Totaling 14 miles out and back along magnificent Siouxon Creek, the 130 delivers excellent tread amid lush old-growth forest.
The best downhill comes right off the bat, so enjoy every inch of it. Be sure to check out Chinook Falls, just a quarter mile off the main trail about 5.6 miles out. After 7 miles, you’ll reach a place where you would have to ford Siouxon Creek in order to keep going. Turn around here. Trail 130 continues but becomes steep, rocky and difficult.
When you reach the last 3-mile stretch on the return trip, remember how much fun you had coming down because you now have to grind back out. On the positive side, the tread is typically in good shape and the climb is not incredibly steep.
This ride can be lengthened and intensified by taking 130A near Chinook Falls toward Siouxon Peak and Huffman Peak. Notice the inclusion of “peak” in this description. After 2 miles, you will reach a logging road. At that point, turn left. The logging road turns into a jeep road. Amazingly, when it appears it can’t get any steeper, it does.
The descent is a rush—7 miles on a ridgetop about as wide as your handlebars back to Siouxon 130 via Huffman 129. You will intersect the 130 about a mile from the trailhead. Before attempting the extended ride, it would be wise to call the Gifford Pinchot folks at (360) 891.5000 to find out if the 129 has been cleared of blown-down trees. Please note that the extended version that includes Huffman 129 is not for beginners or intermediates. Total elevation gain is in the neighborhood of 7,000 to 8,000 feet.
From Interstate 5, take Lewis River Road (SR 503) east from Woodland and turn right onto Hayes Road, heading toward Amboy. Go right on NE Cedar Road for about 19 miles. When you reach Chelatchie, go past the ranger station on the left. Turn right on NE Healy Road and continue for 7 miles. When you reach a fork, stay right on the paved road that takes you into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. At the next Y, turn left on FR57 and take another left onto FR5701. The trailhead is on the left about 50 yards past a sharp right-hand bend in the road. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Lewis River Trail View on Map - Click here for trail reviews
One of the most popular trails in southwest Washington, Lewis River 31 is known as “the roller coaster” because of its end-to-end undulations. The trail parallels the river, traveling through luxuriant old-growth forest and offering eye-popping canyon views.
For beginners, the best strategy is to leave one car at the lower trailhead off FR9030 (see directions below) and take another to the Lower Falls Campground, located farther up FR90. Because the trail from the Lower Falls Campground to the intersection with FR90 (approximately 2 miles) is treacherous, it would be a good idea for less-experienced bikers to ride down FR90 from the campground and then pick up the trail. From there, the 9.5-mile route to the lower trailhead will take you from 1,600 feet to 1,100, so you’ll have the advantage of running slightly downhill.
Intermediate and advanced riders may want to park at the lower trailhead and ride out and back, continuing across FR 90 to the Lower Falls Campground. Roundtrip is 23 miles.
One caution—the Lewis River Trail can lull you to sleep with its compact tread, rushing water and seemingly benign up-and-down. However, there are a number of nasty spots, some on the upper portion near the falls where a missed corner will result in a long tumble and another where the trail runs along a cliff approximately 7 miles up from the lower trailhead (2.5 miles from the intersection with FR90).
From Interstate 5, take Lewis River Road (SR 503) east from Woodland (becomes FR90 east of Cougar) 52.3 miles to FR9039. Take a left on FR9039 and drive 0.8 to the lower trailhead, located just before the river crossing. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Falls Creek Trail View on Map - Click here for trail reviews
One of the most popular trails in southwest Washington, Falls Creek has received big exposure – and rightly so – in books, magazines and newspapers. Consequently, it draws plenty of riders from Portland, Vancouver and Hood River. This ride is usually done as a shuttle, starting at Old Man Pass and ending at Falls Creek, for a total of 16 miles.
From the parking lot at Old Man Pass, Trail 151, traverses an alpine meadow that can be rife with bear grass and hellebore in the summer months. Trail 151 connects with McClelland Meadow Trail 157. Several miles of moderate but steady climbing will get the blood pumping.
Conditions can be hot and dusty in the exposed areas, but the tread is typically pretty firm and clear days provide great views of Mount Hood to the south. McClelland Meadow Trail 157 links to Falls Creek Trail 152, where riders enter a mix of pine, white fir and noble fir featuring rocky terrain and a series of small drops.
The final 5 miles of the 152 are the highlight of the ride—a big, swoopy downhill on smooth tread beneath a lush canopy. After riding across Falls Creek, you finish at the parking lot at Falls Creek Horse Camp. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Tour de Blast is the essential event for road bikers, attracting crowds in excess of 1,000 each year. The 82-mile route from Toutle to Johnston Ridge takes riders into the very heart of the blast zone. If you can’t make the annual June event, you can still enjoy the experience and the views by following the ride route from Toutle to Johnston Ridge Observatory. Total elevation gain is 6,240 feet.