Created in 1980 by a blast that the USGS estimated at up to 50 megatons in strength (that's 100 billion pounds of TNT), the landscape you explore on this mountain bike ride is definitely unlike any other in the United States, and it is seldom found in the entire world. Combine the fantastic nature of Mount St. Helens, a backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, including Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, and some quality biking, and you have an IMBA-certified epic ride.
The ride begins on the Ape Canyon Trail, which flanks the Muddy River lahar field. In stark contrast to the barren lahar field, the trail ascends through a forest of both young trees and old-growth fir that escaped destruction. Topping out above the forest you come to your first panoramic vista above a narrow, rocky cleft. Immediately past the lookout point is a section of washed out trail with signs warning bikers to dismount and walk. These signs are best heeded, as a fall could result in death.
Above Ape Canyon you reach the junction with Loowit Trail (#216). Take this short connector through the windswept pumice fields until Loowit Trail turns east to Windy Pass and you continue north on Plains of Abraham Trail (#216D). There is less elevation change on the plains, but the punchy ups and downs can get dicey on the loose pumice. When you have a bit of open trail, it is a great place to practice controlled drifts through the shallow twists and turns. Just remember that the volcanic rock is not as forgiving as forest loam. While not many years ago the plains were as barren as the moon, during late summer they now erupt in magnificent wildflower displays.
The second half of Plains of Abraham Trail leaves the pumice fields and snakes in and out of the steep, fluted hillside below Windy Pass, eventually veering west for a loose, somewhat exposed ridge ride. Most riders stop at the end of the ridge before the stairs that drop to a Loowit Trail parking lot. Along with continued wildflowers, you ride past standing dead trees stripped bare by the force of the eruption.
Take a quick rest at the end of the trail before turning back. If the ride out was spent soaking in the incredible scenery, the ride back is all about the trail disappearing under your tires as you descend. Don't let your speed go completely unchecked, especially in the woods; you never know when a family of hikers will be just around one of the numerous blind corners.