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Sheep Canyon

Blue Lake Trailhead

Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington

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Sheep Canyon

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  • The Blue Lake Trailhead.- Sheep Canyon
  • An early stream along the trail to Blue Lake. - Sheep Canyon
  • Coldwater Creek.- Sheep Canyon
  • Early morning fog on the way to Blue Lake.- Sheep Canyon
  • Crystal-clear snowmelt rushing through a stream.- Sheep Canyon
  • Blue Lake.- Sheep Canyon
  • Trillium.- Sheep Canyon
  • Old-growth forest.- Sheep Canyon
  • A cloud-covered Mount St. Helens.- Sheep Canyon
  • Elk tracks in the snow.- Sheep Canyon
  • Unidentified woodpecker (help us identify it by providing feedback).- Sheep Canyon
  • A small footbridge leads to a camp.- Sheep Canyon
  • An open view of the Toutle River.- Sheep Canyon
  • Sheep Canyon waterfall viewpoint.- Sheep Canyon
  • Serviceberry.- Sheep Canyon
  • Avalache Lilly.- Sheep Canyon
  • The bridge over Sheep Canyon.- Sheep Canyon
  • A view of the Toutle River Canyon.- Sheep Canyon
  • A typical backcountry campsite.- Sheep Canyon
  • Indian paintbrush.- Sheep Canyon
  • Lupine.- Sheep Canyon
  • Toutle River Canyon.- Sheep Canyon
  • Toutle River Canyon toward Mount St. Helens.- Sheep Canyon
  • Water on salmonberry leaves.- Sheep Canyon
  • An upper view of the Toutle River Canyon.- Sheep Canyon
  • Clouds moving over Mount St. Helens.- Sheep Canyon
  • Serviceberry.- Sheep Canyon
  • Clouds moving over Mount St. Helens.- Sheep Canyon
  • An eroded gully along the trail.- Sheep Canyon
  • The view from the top- Sheep Canyon
  • Permits are required above 4,800 feet.- Sheep Canyon
  • Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa).- Sheep Canyon
  • Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa).- Sheep Canyon
  • Tree skeletons on the flanks of Mount St. Helens.- Sheep Canyon
  • Spring snow tracks.- Sheep Canyon
  • The view up the head of Sheep Canyon toward Mount St. Helens (8,365').- Sheep Canyon
  • A clear view of Mount St. Helens (8,365') from the meadow.- Sheep Canyon
  • Alpine glow on Mount St. Helens (8,365').- Sheep Canyon
  • A crescent moon over Sheep Canyon.- Sheep Canyon
  • - Sheep Canyon
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Great views. Old-growth forest. Blast zone geology. Wildflowers.
Cons: 
Snow covered trail in early summer. Mosquitoes.
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Region:
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, WA
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,509.00 ft (459.94 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Biking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
10.60 mi (17.06 km)
Trail type: 
Loop
Trailhead Elevation: 
3,191.00 ft (972.62 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

The route to Sheep Canyon begins as a narrow, rocky trail that meanders through a graveyard of dead grey trees that are draped in neon green moss. On a cloudless day you can see what remains of Mount St. Helens and its snow-covered slopes through the skeletal trees. The smell of sulfur from the area's geothermal activity helps to create an incredibly unique atmosphere, and it is hard not to stop every few steps just to take it all in. The sound of Coldspring Creek can be heard to the left; eventually you will cross this creek after turning left at a junction for Toutle Trail #238. Be sure to take a little extra time to explore the shore of Blue Lake, which is only a few yards further up the creek.

After crossing the creek, the trail ascends for about 2.5 miles through an impressive old-growth forest filled with Douglas, silver, and noble firs. The trail briefly leaves the forest and continues along the ridge of Coldspring Creek's canyon, supplying a view of Mount St. Helens before entering a much younger forest. The trail crosses a few meadows and eventually meets a junction with the Toutle-Blue Horse Trail. Continue straight for Sheep Canyon Trail.

The path begins to descend down the side of a creek valley, and after a switchback the trail splits. This is the beginning and end of the Sheep Canyon Loop. To the right is a small foot bridge and a stellar campsite. Signs indicate that horses and bikes are not allowed any further. Venturing left will lead to a slightly more impressive bridge over Sheep Canyon's gorge; before turning to go over the bridge, detour a couple hundred yards down to a spectacular waterfall viewing.

The trail becomes a bit more rugged and is overgrown after the bridge, and it is mostly downhill to the Loowit Trail junction. Being on the rim of the South Fork Toutle River's mudflow canyon changes the terrain and scenery dramatically. The ground is covered in a dry, spongy, pale green moss and wild flowers ranging from bluebells, red paintbrush and blue lupine. Journey down to the left to get a view up the river canyon walls toward Mount St. Helens. Follow the trail back to the junction and climb the Loowit Trail as it follows the ridge into the blast zone. The trail enters a shady forest and climbs steadily towards Mount. St. Helens before leveling out at the timberline. The bone-like remains of trees ripped apart from the 1980 blast rise up amongst the new growth. From a large boulder you'll have views of Mount Rainer and Coldwater Peak, not to mention the perspectives down the impressive washout. The path turns right and makes its way across the slopes of Mount St. Helens before descending into the head of Sheep Canyon and back up into the forest. Eventually the Loowit Trail meets with Sheep Canyon trail; keep right and follow along the edge of Sheep Canyon to complete the loop.

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Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide + Trail Map

Field Guide + Trail Map

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(8 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(48 within a 30 mile radius)

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