On Saturday, June 24th, we took on the challenge of Hiking Mount St. Helens via the Worm Flows Route. Technically, the Worm Flows Route is the Winter route, but it was our only option due to a road closure on the way to the Climber's Bivouac caused by too much snow. If you're looking for information on Hiking Mount St Helens via the Climber's Bivouac Route, I have done that hike three times in the summer and found the Worm Flows Route to have many similarities. With that said, I hope you find this blog and video helpful in outlining what the 12-mile, 5700 feet of elevation gain Mount St Helens hike looks like!
Hiking Mount St Helens
Overall, the hike took us just over 5 hours to reach the summit and about 3 hours to get down. As you'll see in the video above and photos below, we were able to glissade (and ski) down a few thousand feet, which helped make the return trip quite a bit quicker! Hiking Mount St Helens is a fantastic experience; ensure you're up for the challenge. If you have any questions about the hike, let me know in the comments, and I'd be happy to answer them!
Camping & Registering Your Permit
We spent the Friday night before our hike camping right by the trailhead in the Marble Mountain Snow Park Overflow Lot, conveniently located by the Worm Flow Trailhead. When you commit to Hiking Mount St Helens, you're signing up for a long hike with minimal shade, so you want to get started early. We set our alarms for 4 30 a.m and were ready to go by 5:15 a.m.
*Important, before setting off on the trail, you'll need to register your group at the trailhead based on the name your permit is under. Yes, permits are required to hike Mount St. Helens! They are pretty easy to get, but they require some planning in advance, and they are released in one-month increments on the first day of the preceding month. You can grab your permits at Recreation.gov here. If you're reading this and realizing your SOL and don't have enough time to grab a permit, I would pop over to All Trails and leave a comment saying you are looking for permits; you might get lucky!
Starting The Hike
Once you've registered your group at the trailhead, the type two fun can begin! The first two miles of the Worm Flows Trail start relatively flat and shaded. You'll see a few different trails, but follow the signs and the blue trail markers, and you'll easily find your way on the hike. Since we were hiking in June after a very good snow year, we knew there would be some snow left on the trail, and sure enough, just after one-mile in, we came across our first snow patch, but it was super easy to walk along the snow patch at this point.
At 2.2 miles and 860 feet of elevation (according to my Apple watch) into the hike you'll emerge from the trees and get your first view of Mount St Helens. As we exited the trees, the sun was coming up over the ridge, burning through the fog and making for some beautiful morning scenery.
As you continue hiking, you'll stroll alongside a small canyon with a waterfall and river flowing through. At this point, the trail gets a bit rockier, and a small creek crossing is required. After crossing, you'll see a few signs for the Loowit Trail, so make sure you follow the Worm Flow signs. It's pretty self-explanatory.
At this point, the trees start to get much smaller, and your shade disappears, and at about three miles in, the games begin. The trail starts to get steeper, and you enter what we like to call 'Scrambletown,' meaning big rocks and various options for routes.
At 3.4 miles in, my watch read that we had climbed about 2,000 feet in elevation, which leaves a lovely 3,700 feet for the next 2.6 miles. As you continue through Scrambletown, you'll walk along a ridgeline where a plateau taunts you about half a mile ahead as a perfect
snack and refueling spot.
At 3.8 miles and 2500 feet of elevation, you can start to catch your first glimpses of Mount Adams to your right and Mount Hood directly behind you.
Now, the higher you go, the looser the footing gets with leftover ash from the St Helens Eruption making it feel like you're trudging along very slowly at times, but keep grinding, and at four miles and 2,900 feet of elevation, you'll hit the weather station, where you can reward yourself with a well-earned snack and breather.
Once you're feeling (somewhat) refreshed, you'll continue right back into scramble town for the next 1/3 of a mile. At 4.3 miles and 3,200 feet of elevation, we hit a spot where the trail turned to snow.
*Again, we did this hike on June 24th, so the snow maybe be different for you! When hiking Mount St Helens in August and September, you likely won't have any snow at all*
At this point, the trail was flat enough where crampons weren't needed (yet), and after crossing the snow patch, you could continue hiking up on the snow or hop back onto the dirt trail. If you wanted to go the snow hiking route, the snow had some solid footholds.
Once you hit 5 miles, You'll have climbed about 3,900 feet of elevation. This means you have one mile and about 1700 feet of elevation to go (gulp)! At this point, you can continue hiking on scramble-town like I did, where the ash gets a little tricky and slides down as you step on it, or if you have crampons like most of my group did, you could strap them on and walk up the snow. This time of year, microspikes work as well.
Eventually, we got a clear view of the end of the road for the dirt hiking trail, and at 5.5 miles and 4,600 feet of elevation, we hit the end of that dirt road. From here, you have to walk on snow, but as I mentioned previously, the snow has plenty of footholds from people walking both up and down, so it's not too difficult to walk on. However, microspikes or crampons would help you keep your footing as you climb.
It doesn't take long to hike along the final snow patch, and as you get to the top of it, you'll see the home stretch to the summit. The top of the snow patch presented one last excellent spot for a break before completing the remaining 1,000 feet to the summit.
The Home Stretch
For this final climb, we had the option of hiking on snow or dirt. If you have the proper gear like crampons or micro spikes, as I mentioned, the snow is the better option as you can get more grip compared to the ash, where every time you step on the ash, your foot is guaranteed to slide down a little bit. It's kind of like two steps forward and one step back. No matter what route you pick, keep climbing; you will be at that top before you know it.
At the Summit of Mount St Helens, you can take in views of Mount Hood, Adams, and Rainier, and of course, the crater left by the eruption of Helens is quite a crazy sight. Enjoy those celebratory beverages and snacks at the summit - you'll have earned it!
Glissading and Skiing Down (If Possible)
On the way down, if there's enough snow, give those legs a rest and glissade down! Pro tip: snow pants are helpful for glissading, and you'll want an ice axe or something similar to control your speed as you're going down the mountain. Or, if you made it to the summit with your skis, enjoy some well-earned turns like my buddy Mike and myself did! We managed to ski over 2,000 feet down the mountain; whew, was it a fantastic experience!
Anyways, thanks for reading/watching. If you're wondering what gear you need for the hike (crampons, ice axe, snow pants, etc.), I will leave some suggestions below. I hope you found this post and video helpful, and good luck on hiking Mout St Helens! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below, and I'd be happy to answer them. Cheers!
Gear That You May Not Have Thought Of!
*If you don't want to buy crampons, ice axe, etc, you can usually find rentals at REI or any other local outdoor recreation store.*
Crampons - Only needed if you're hiking before August, but check recent reviews to be sure!
Microspikes - If you want something a little less aggressive than Crampons
Hiking Poles - Super helpful in the snow and ash. If you want to save money, you can use ski poles too.
Ice Axe - Helpful going up in the snow and going down while glissading
Snow Pants - Only if you plan to Glissade down
Puffy Jacket - It can be chilly up top, so good to have it just in case.
Supportive Hiking Shoes - Sneakers won't cut it!
Peak Camera Clip - If you're like me and take way too many photos, this clip is essential for keeping your camera easily accessible.