hike: Mount St. Helens – June Lake + Worm Flows
On the south side of Mount St. Helens, take an easy hike to June Lake with a waterfall spilling into it. Or if you like scrambling, continue to the Loowit Trail and climb over large lava boulders to Chocolate Falls.
distance: 5.7 miles (lollipop loop)
elevation gain: 1,150 ft.
difficulty: easy to June Lake, strenuous to Chocolate Falls due to scrambling over large lava boulders
best season: summer to fall (typically June to October)
parking pass: none
hike description: OregonHikers: June Lake hike
drive time from Portland: 1 hour 45 minutes
The hike to June Lake is fairly easy – at only 2 miles to a lake with a waterfall spilling into it, it’s also popular with families and makes a good beginner backpacking trip.
After reaching June Lake, we continued on the steep forested trail above the lake until it ends at a junction with the Loowit Trail. This round-the-mountain trail does exactly that – circles the circumference of Mount St. Helens. At the junction, we turned left to head towards Chocolate Falls (spoiler: there was no water flowing so no waterfall).
Soon, a wall of lava appears next to the trail. Vine maples in this section were full of red fall color.
While there is a trail shown on maps from this point to Chocolate Falls, the trail disappears at large lava fields and there are marker poles spaced throughout. You are supposed to scramble through the rock, finding your way while heading from one marker to the next. The lava is from a centuries-old lava flow named the Worm Flows, not the more recent eruption of the mountain on May 18, 1980. This scramble section is roughly a mile long. That’s a LOT for someone who hates scrambling!
I didn’t take any photos during this part of our “hike”. It was hard enough to walk and then crawl using my hands to get through the rock without falling. There are large holes in-between the rocks to avoid, and my legs don’t always reach as far as they need to, so it was slow going. Partway across, we saw a tree and stopped to take break.
We kept getting off course trying to take routes that seemed do-able, but we kept the markers in sight and made our way across. I was starting to doubt whether or not the return route existed, so when we finally reached a point where we could see the location of Chocolate Falls, and below that an actual trail, I was excited. It meant that I wouldn’t have to go back the same way I had just hiked.
After we reached the end of the lava, we were back on a trail and hiked over to Chocolate Falls. Seeing that there was no water flow, so no waterfall, we turned to take the lower loop trails.
The Swift Creek Trail is quite pretty, but after turning on the Pika Trail, it soon leads back to the lower lava fields. I was hoping that this lava flow had a trail going through it so we wouldn’t have to scramble any farther. But there was no trail and plenty of boulders to crawl across instead.
We scrambled across this for another half mile, following markers until they disappeared.
When we reached the edge of the lava flow, it forms a wall above a dry ravine that we needed to find a route down so we could get back to the June Lake trail. To do this, we followed the edge of the lava rock above the ravine and passed through a makeshift campsite. If people had camped there, we knew there had to be a way down. We found it, crossed the ravine, climbed up the other side and took a long and well deserved break at June Lake. The hike out was so easy peasy in comparison!