Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Loop
Distance
16.20 mi (26.07 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 Mount Margaret backcountry offers some unique opportunities to view a young Northwest forest in a stage of regrowth. This area was devastated by the pyroclastic blast when Mount St. Helens erupted in May, 1980; the destructive cloud leveled all trees and foliage in the area and dramatically changed the landscape. The Whittier Ridge Trail follows a sharp ridge within this destruction zone and offers outstanding views of the area, but it is much more challenging than the neighboring Mount Margaret summit.

Whittier Ridge is a 2-mile section of unmaintained ridge trail that spans between Mount Margaret and the Mount Margaret Backcountry Lakes. A loop can be created using Whittier Ridge as the connector, though the loop is a strenuous 14.2 miles with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Due to the close proximity to the Mount Margaret summit, it is convenient to combine the two in a single trip. The entire trip can be completed in a long day trip or with an overnight stay at some of the backcountry lake camp sites. These permits must be reserved in advance.

From the Mount Margaret via Norway Pass Trail, follow signage to the right that indicates the start of Whittier Ridge Trail. The signage here indicates the "Most Difficult" trail rating, which convinces most hikers to turn back. This alert is to be respected, but with careful navigation and sure-footedness this trail will reward visitors with some of the best views in the region.

Due to the remote access, wildlife is abundant in the area. Deer and elk can be seen in the surrounding meadows, and mountain goats are visible on the ridge. Be careful not to surprise wildlife that may be on trail.

The trail itself follows the spine of the ridge. When trail conditions prove difficult to follow, the answer is often to look up. Although no rated climbing is required, some small scrambling and traversing across narrow ledges is required.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass

Pros

Incredible scenery, wildlife, no crowds.

Cons

Very difficult, exposure to falls, not maintained.

Trailhead Elevation

3,740.00 ft (1,139.95 m)

Net Elevation Gain

2,060.00 ft (627.89 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Geologically significant

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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

Comments

07/19/2020
Started from Norway Pass at 9:30 AM and got to the junction below Bear Pass a little after 11. Headed towards Mount Margaret to hike the loop clockwise. There were a few patches of snow in the gullies, and some larger ones on the north side of Mount Margaret, but it was so hot it was very easy to kick steps in to cross. I imagine they'll be melted entirely in another week or two. After a lunch in the shade before Whittier Ridge, we began hiking the ridge at 1:30 PM, and those two miles took us 3 hours to do. My first trip in October 2017 I did the whole loop in a day with a daypack during a misty low visibility/whiteout, and this time was beautiful weather with a backpacking bag. Both trips took 3 hours to do the ridge alone. The scariest section of the ridge is mostly in the southern half before Mount Whittier (5,385'), though there are a few short gnarly sections after Mount Whittier as well. We had compact overnight bags ~40 L with no danglers on the outside to avoid snagging ourselves on the rocks. One of us had a tent on the outside of her pack that she rearranged vertically so it wasn't horizontal across the bottom. The ledges can be dicey, but the rock is solid. Many sections require precise foot placement and full attention, though majority of the ridge has a trail at least two feet wide, however with steep drop-offs to either side.

The north half of Whittier Ridge is a little more trail-like, but the worst part for me by far was hiking down steep scree over dirt trail- where I relied on my single trekking pole and accompanying trees for a "veggie belay" so I didn't fall to the valley floor. Near the north end of the ridge, there is a very convincing goat trail that leads you to the left instead of the incredibly sketchy (but correct) trail that goes straight up the boulder ridge, and we mistakenly took this goat trail and ended up in a meadow far off-route. Once topping the ridge again we realized our mistake and caught the trail that goes to Snow Lake to lead us back to the saddle just before the Shovel Lake junction.

Hiking to Panhandle Lake was a breeze (and luckily for us there was a literal breeze- we were so hot!) and the lake provided a perfect swimmable respite. The 9 miles of Day 1 took 8 hours. The next day hiking out from Panhandle Lake was a steep climb up and over Bear Pass and down the other side back to Norway Pass, 7 miles of which we accomplished in about 3.5 hours.

This is far and away my favorite trail at MSH, though it is not for the faint-of-heart, those with vertigo or a fear of heights, or anyone that isn't a *very* confident scrambler/hiker.
10/20/2018
Debated between CW vs CCW but ultimately decided on a clockwise loop. I agree this probably makes it a little easier as you're scrambling up more than down plus I think you get more afternoon shade. There are reliable water sources at Bear Camp, Panhandle Lake, Obscurity Lake, and Grizzly Lake. I think we saw more mountain goats than people. Got very lucky and couldn't have asked for better weather that day. (We attempted it in Sept 2017 but got turned around by 10" of fresh snow...)
01/06/2017
Three comments: I would not advice this hike till late July or (better) August. I have had serious problems with snow on the southern end of the ridge as late as July 25. So the "summer" season indication may be misleading. Secondly, the map(s) shown here indicate the trail alignment of the old washed out trail going up the northern end of the ridge; the current trail ascends entirely on the east side to the ridge. Thirdly, personally I prefer the CCW direction if looping from Norway Pass, as you then have an easy return after the traverse.
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