Field Notes

Snowshoe in Solitude at June Lake

This tucked-away Mount St. Helens trail offers a snowy, kid-friendly day out.

By Benjamin Tepler Published in the February 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

If you’re not up for dodging the crowds at Trillium Lake, or just don’t want to deal with Mount Hood’s ski season traffic, Mount St. Helens delivers all the winter wonderland you could want in the same hour-and-a-half trip from Portland. A five-mile round-trip snowshoe romp to June Lake—a tiny, glassy watering hole below a cascading 40-foot waterfall—is a quiet, kid-friendly St. Helens classic that rewards with frequent volcano glamour shots.

Start your trip at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park, about a mile from the fair-season June Lake Trailhead. This particular sno-park is a popular nexus for snowmobilers headed east on Forest Road 83—it’s also the parking area for winter summit attempts on St. Helens’s Worm Flows route, so revving engines and large pickups are common on sunny weekends.

Strap on your snowshoes and sneak away from the noise along Pine Marten Trail (No. 245E), blazed with blue diamonds, and running parallel to 83. You’ll rejoin the road briefly to cross a bridge over wide, fast-flowing Lake Creek before hanging a left and linking up with the well-signed June Lake Trailhead.

Follow the trail as it winds along Lake Creek, very gently gaining elevation through snowy, towering, old-growth Douglas fir forest untouched by the St. Helens eruption in 1980 that decimated the wilderness north of the volcano. (On very clear days, you can sneak peeks of brave souls marching up St. Helens in the distance.)

At just over a mile, you’ll cross a small wooden bridge and enter a snowy clearing. Just beyond and to the right you’ll find June “Lake” and its narrow, plunging cascade, often frozen over with long, menacing icicles.

Strong ’shoers who are up for some elevation gain will want to continue another 1.25 miles on the Loowit Trail to reach the even-more-isolated Chocolate Falls (so named because, in summer, its water is so full of volcanic ash it resembles Hershey’s syrup). Otherwise, return the way you came. Call the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District for current conditions, 360-497-1100.

Drive Time 1 hour 30 minutes // Distance 4.8 miles round trip // Difficulty Easy // When to Go January–March // Fee Sno-park pass required: $20 for the day, $40 for the season // Guidebook Snowshoe Routes Washington, Dan A. Nelson

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