South Coldwater

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

Elevation Gain1,958ft
Trailhead Elevation2,519ft
Elevation Min/Max2519/3948ft
Elevation Start/End2519/2519ft

South Coldwater

South Coldwater is a hiking trail in Skamania County and Cowlitz County, Washington. It is within Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. It is 3.4 miles long and begins at 2,519 feet altitude. Traveling the entire trail is 6.8 miles with a total elevation gain of 1,958 feet. Near the trailhead there are a viewpoint and parking. This trail connects with the following: Coldwater Trail.

South Coldwater Professional Reviews and Guides

"From Castle Rock (exit 49 on I-5), follow State Route 504 east for 45 miles, turning left into the Coldwater Lake Recreation Area. Continue 0.4 mile, bearing left to the boat launch and trailhead (elev. 2510 ft). Privy available."

"This entire hike is within the Blast Zone of the May 18, 1980, eruption, and features elk and blacktails. This hike leads you up a ridge from South Coldwater Trailhead on the South Coldwater Trail, passing demolished logging equipment. You’ll then descend into Coldwater Canyon on the Coldwater Trail.

Once you reach the canyon bottom, you’ll hike along Coldwater Lake on the Lakes Trail to Lakes Trailhead. Early in the season (April and May) elk are very common along the Coldwater Lake section of this route, which can be accessed at that time from Lakes Trailhead, but the higher elevations of the loop will probably still be snow covered. Black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are common along the lake in all seasons."

"The path climbs gently on a slope through scattered willows. Stumps between the willows and the general lack of downed trees show that this area was logged before the 1980 eruption. Shortly, as you round a poorly defined ridge, the Coldwater Ridge Visitors Center and Coldwater Lake come into view to the northwest. If you hike this section of trail in late spring you will probably see elk. This is winter range for the large animals; by June most of them have left for the higher country to the northeast.

This roadbed, like all of the abandoned roads on this hill is badly drifted in with pumice. The path makes a switchback to the right then crosses the rounded ridgeline. As you climb along the ridge you will pass much evidence of pre-eruption logging in the form of roads and skid trails. An abandoned borrow pit is passed 1.3 miles from the trailhead. This broken and twisted equipment shows the tremendous force of the 1980 eruption. A logging operation was in progress in this area at the time of the eruption. It is easy to pick out the sections that were not yet logged at the time of the blast by the thousands of logs that now lie on the ground. A short distance past the portable spar pole is a half-buried caterpillar tractor."

"Hike along a ridge above the sparkling waters of Coldwater Lake admiring Nature’s reclamation of a ravaged landscape. Marvel at the deciduous forests rapidly re-greening clear-cuts and blown down trees from past logging and the 1980 blast."

"If you only have time to do one of the trails framing Coldwater Lake, my money would go on the South Coldwater Trail. The Lakes Trail on the north shore is a beautiful hike, but this hike is just the complete package.

You’ve got the human history in the shape of volcano-mangled machinery. You have wildlife, in the form of frequently present elk (and small critters are always underfoot if the big wapiti are being bashful). You’ve got the volcanic landscape, and of course, you have a respectable elevation gain to get your blood flowing, letting you know you are hiking in the Cascades, after all."

"You will wind in and out of a couple of side draws with small seasonal streams as you make your way along the lakeshore. Cottonwoods are beginning to reforest this area; there are some relatively large ones here close to the trail. After passing the lake access point, the trail crosses more streams and traverses a grove of young alder. As you pass the alder and cottonwood trees look for the evidence of chewing beavers. At 0.8 mile past the lake access point you will cross a stream with a waterfall that drops in stages from the ridge above the trail. Just past this waterfall the trail climbs slightly and passes below some dark cliffs.

The route soon descends back to near lake level, then climbs again to traverse above another set of cliffs. As you pass these cliffs another waterfall descends the slope to your left. A bit farther along a view of the canyon ahead opens up as you pass through alder thickets and cross tiny streams. The rubbing and chewing activities of elk have scarred many of the young alder trees along this part of the trail. Watch for them on all the open slopes around the lake. This hike is best done early in the season. Many of the streams may be dry by midsummer. When I hiked this trail in mid-April I had elk in view much of the time."

South Coldwater Reviews

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My friends &Were thoroughly impressed by this hike. The climb moderate and varied fauna & views were a rare treat; especially the incredible riot of flowers this late in the month. Adding to this adventure; was the surreal quality of seeing logging equipment half buried from the blast. An overall great dayhike!
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The weather was great, sunny with a breeze. We started the hike at 1:30 which, in hindsight, was a poor choice, since we were on the trail for 6 hours. Be sure to start this one early in the day. It's long and there are many reasons to stop including the masses of tiny frogs which covered the path for the first 1/2 mile. Clearing them from the path in order to walk without crushing them was daunting ;-) There are also MANY great photo ops here. Bring your camera. At times, the trail fades to almost nothing. If you aren't comfortable with that, navigating through thick vegetation or scrambling across a few creeks - this isn't the trail for you. On the otherhand, if you like all of that, this is a spectacular trail. We saw many deer, lots of animal tracks, great views and the lake is lovely. We'll be back to kayak some day.
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nice hike, connector (230) between south coldwater trail (230a) and north shore of coldwater lake (#211) is not maintained and at times quite overgrown. requires almost 1 mile of walking along south coldwater creek road to connect south coldwater trailhead (TH) with coldwater lake TH. beautiful views of lake and mt. st. helens. recommend doing the loop in clockwise direction, starting at the south coldwater TH, then along road to coldwater lake TH, follow #211, connect to #230, and return via #230a to trailhead.

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Trail Information

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Nearby City
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Moderate to Difficult
Skill Level
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Local Contacts
Green Trails Mt St. Helens 332S
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Nov 2018