In the Washington slice of the Pacific Northwest, the fiery, volcanic nature of the region is never far out of mind. Clear days bring jaw-dropping views of the huge Cascade peaks, ancient rock formations linger from times when volcanic vents fumed and the remnants of more recent eruptions — May 18, 1980 anyone? — remind us all of just how this land came to be.
There’s no better way to get a real sense and appreciation of the Northwest’s volcanoes than to explore them on two feet. Here are five of the best volcano hikes in Washington state.
Mount St. Helens
The Evergreen State’s most infamous volcano is laced with fantastic hiking trails that offer up glimpses of everything from endless pumice plains and lava flows to the ghost forest that bowled into Spirit Lake during the 1980 eruption — and which has been eerily floating around ever since. Try the Eruption Trail for a short, paved walk with an amazing view of the volcano, the 10.5-mile Johnston Ridge hike for a more in-depth look or the epic, 28-mile Loowit Trail, which encircles the mountain and offers up a full perspective of St. Helens’ volcanic life.
Trout Creek Hill
Ever heard of it? Us neither. But this small, extinct shield volcano is actually the southernmost of the Cascades in Washington. It sits in between St. Helens and the Columbia River, and though there aren’t any trails up it, nearby hikes like Dog Mountain, Bunker Hill and Beacon Rock — itself a volcanic basalt plug — give a good glimpse at the volcanic terrain of the region.
At 14,411 feet, Rainier is the granddaddy of the Cascades and offers a range of volcano hikes to explore. Its volcanic potential — and its proximity to Seattle — also make it one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the country. That can be hard to remember when you’re hiking among the wildflowers of Paradise or the inspirational views of the peak from the Summerland hike. You can also take in grandiose vistas of Rainier on a hike of Tatoosh Ridge in the Tatoosh Range, a mini range comprised of extinct volcanoes and volcanic vents.
The Goat Rocks
The name’s plural, but this amazing locale is actually what’s left of a single, massive volcano that once rose more than 12,000 feet into the sky between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. Over millions of years, the peak eroded into a series of smaller summits that make for great volcano hikes with expansive mountain views. Try the Goat Lake Loop for a long day hike or multi-day backpacking trip or hit the Nannie Ridge-Sheep Lake hike for a nice panorama of the Goat Rocks peaks.
Second only to St. Helens in terms of having the most thermally active crater in the Cascade Range, this 10,781-foot volcano is the star of the show. The area offers a number of awe-inspiring volcano hikes, such as the three-mile Table Mountain hike that tops out with a stunning view of Baker, or Heliotrope Ridge, the start of a popular climbing route, to come within a stone’s throw of the volcano’s Coleman Glacier.