Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Loop
Distance
10.50 mi (16.90 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens is one of the most iconic geological events in American history. Thousands of visitors flock to the mountain and surrounding area annually to view the aftermath of this incredibly destructive force. For visitors who are looking to take in the beauty of the reshaped terrain and marvel at the spectacular prominence of Mount St. Helens and the surrounding cascade peaks, a hike through the Mount Margaret Wilderness provides perhaps the best, least crowded option. 

From the Norway Pass Trailhead, the trail to Mount Margaret winds just over 5 miles through the blast zone of the eruption. The downed trees and subsequent lack of tall foliage is unique to this small portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and results in great views of the exposed terrain that aren't normally found in the region. The trail is well maintained, and aside from a few narrower spots, it offers ample width and comfortable footing for hikers. 

Mount Adams appears a short distance from the parking lot, and it remains in view as you make your way up to the Boundary Trail.  You'll reach Norway Pass after 2 miles, and you'll get your first spectacular view into the crater of Mount St. Helens. Spirit Lake sits hauntingly in the foreground of your photo opportunity here, with tree trunks clogging the alcoves at the edges of the lake like floating boneyards. Continue north from here along the ridge overlooking Grizzly Lake and you'll get a spectacular view of Mount Rainier in the near distance.

Toward the top of the ridge, the trail cuts west across the slope. In snowy or icy conditions, this section of the trail can be very difficult to traverse. Continue about a mile until the trail turns north again into the saddle between Mount Margaret and Mount Whittier near Bear Camp (note that backcountry camping in the Mount Margaret wilderness requires a permit).

The trail turns back from here, heading south for one last mile to Mount Margaret's 5,858-foot summit.  On a clear day you'll get a 360-panorama of the Cascade peaks: Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Goat Rocks are the most prominent. Mount Jefferson is also visible to the south with good visibility. 

It's difficult to imagine the view from this location in 1980. On May 18, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter Scale caused the largest rock slide in recorded history. As millions of cubic feet of the mountain top slid down toward Spirit Lake, a catastrophic pyroclastic flow erupted northeast from the resulting crater. The cloud of superheated gas and rock known as tephra obliterated 230 square miles of landscape within minutes, killing 57 visitors, scientists and residents. 

For adventurous hikers, the summit of Mount Whittier can provide a more challenging adventure just a mile from the junction that marks the Mount Margaret Trail's return to Bear Camp. Additionally, the Sapphire Lakes region northeast of Mount Whittier includes a trail that loops back to Norway Pass, adding approximately 4 miles.

Note: Access to a portion of NF-26 is closed during the winter. Consult the driving directions for a seasonal detour. Please stay on established trails in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument area. Also, dogs are not allowed in the Mount St. Helens restricted area, which is defined to its north by the Mount Margaret summit. Although it may be possible to bring your dog along for portions of this trip, we suggest leaving pets at home to help promote the re-generation of the Mount Margaret Wilderness and to avoid a potential fine. 

 

 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass

Pros

Spectacular views. Low crowds. Historical significance.

Cons

Trailhead is seasonally accessible.

Trailhead Elevation

3,670.00 ft (1,118.62 m)

Net Elevation Gain

2,188.00 ft (666.90 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Big Game Watching
Wildlife
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Geologically significant
Big Game Watching

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Washington, Mt. Adams/Indian Heaven Wilderness/Goat Rocks

Comments

08/29/2019
Such a great hike and the elevation gain was pretty gradual so it was easy enough for my 9 year old to keep up. It's categorized here as a loop but if you're just doing Mt Margaret and back to Norway TH it's really a there and back trail. I highly, highly recommend that you do not follow the printed directions in here and instead opt for the much simpler version: Go East on 12 as per directions however continue to Randle and instead turn Right on Chilcoat Avenue/131 which turns into FR 25. Then at the Y stay to the right for FR 26 (someone spray painted the back of a sign FR 26 to let drivers know otherwise it would be unmarked). On 26 the Norway TH is on the right just over 14 miles. This is the more traditional approach as listed by famous writers like Ira Spring, the directions here have you taking a "shortcut" that isn't going to save you any time by cutting through a bunch of back country gravel roads where you will have to drive much slower. IF you do take the directions listed by the OP, there is a spot in the gravel road driving just past the bridge you have to cross, where multiple roads split off in every direction, be sure to go straight. At the end of that gravel road is the intersection where FR 25 and FR 26 meet take the immediate right for FR 26
09/03/2009
Vegetation has been making a slow comeback in the blast zone of Mt St Helens.
10/03/2015
Personal opinion: October is the best time of year to visit the Mt Margaret Wilderness. All colors were out in full force. Elk grazing, mountain goats prancing, and according the hikers back at the trailhead, we just missed a porcupine sauntering down the trail. Honestly, this is one of my favorite gems on the Pacific Northwest.

These shots offer a view into a fall hike in this pristine area!
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