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Pets allowed
Yes
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Loop
Distance
10.60 mi (17.06 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 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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Great views. Old-growth forest. Blast zone geology. Wildflowers.

Cons

Snow covered trail in early summer. Mosquitoes.

Trailhead Elevation

3,191.00 ft (972.62 m)

Net Elevation Gain

1,509.00 ft (459.94 m)

Address

NF-8123
Ariel, WA 98603
United States

Features

Backcountry camping
Waterfalls
Big vistas
Old-growth forest
Wildflowers
Geologically significant

Suitable for

Biking
Horseback

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington

Comments

07/17/2017
We backpacked here for one night last weekend (7-16 - 7-17). It was perfect: nice and cool in the forest and the wild flowers were amazing. We camped about a mile after crossing the big bridge, when you're approaching the Loowit trail (2nd campsite pictured in this report). We were lucky someone just left, because there were a lot of backpackers looking for sites. I think this place is getting more popular. The site can easily be shared but we had a dog and 2 babies with us and we didn't want to feel bad about barking or crying in the middle of the night.

One thing that we noticed, the approach on forest road 81 (starting on 503, a few miles before 83) is SO much better. It's paved until you turn on the last 1.7 miles.
Great trip report! One question-you have two pictures of a campsite. Are these the same campsite? If not, where is the location of the larger looking one "typical backcountry campsite". We are taking off tomorrow and any info would be awesome!!
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