By Scott Cotrell, February 21, 2019
Feel like a hike? Head north out of Portland/Vancouver towards Mt St Helens to the gorgeous Coldwater Lake, where you can admire the landscape all day on a twelve-mile loop trail.
Coldwater Lake is a barrier lake created during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which blocked its natural outlet, Coldwater Creek, with volcanic debris. It is one of several lakes in the area that were created or otherwise enlarged by the eruption. Summer hikes will be full of wildflowers, while late spring and fall hikes promise elk spotting. Views include Mt St Helens, Minnie Peak, Mt Whittier, and Coldwater Peak itself. Rainbow trout and cutthroat trout were reintroduced in the 80’s after the eruption; the daily catch limit is one fish up to 16 inches, so don’t get too excited. But there are opportunities to stop for a swim instead and become one of the fishes.
This is a long hike, so take care, lots of time, and plenty of water and snacks. Since it is a loop, you can start just about anywhere along the paved access road along the south edge of the lake. Pets are not allowed on this trail, and please remember to stay on the established trail to allow the fragile post-volcanic landscape to continue to heal. Have fun and take lots of pictures!
Drive north on I-5 to the junction of Washington State Road 504. Exit the freeway, and turn right (east) onto SR504 and follow it east, past the Silver Lake Visitor Center and on to the Coldwater Lake Visitor Center. (closed) Take the exit directing you to Johnston Ridge, but as you descend toward Coldwater Creek, you will come to a parking area on your right. Park here and walk eastward along the paved road to the trailhead for the South Coldwater trail, which will be on your left.