hike: Mount St. Helens – June Lake + Worm Flows
On this day hike to June Lake on the south side of Mount St. Helens, we planned to do a short loop on the Loowit Trail to Chocolate Falls and back to the lake. I didn’t know I’d end up scrambling on lava rock without a trail for over 1.5 miles.
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.
I didn’t do enough research before this hike, but I did create a map using Caltopo and a route in Gaia, and both showed a short loop trail back to June Lake on the Swift Creek and Pika Trails. Usually, I assume that if a trail is shown on these maps (as well as on Forest Service maps), there is an actual trail. However, after a short distance on the Loowit Trail, the trail disappears and instead, there are marker poles spaced through large lava fields. 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 it didn’t.
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!
The next time I go to June Lake, I’m turning right on the Loowit Trail. It’s five miles from there to the junction with the Ape Canyon Trail. I was there earlier this summer on a backpacking trip and thought about hiking over towards June Lake, so someday it would be nice make that connection.