- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

COUGAR, Wash. (AP) - The first new hiking trail at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in two decades opened in 2014 and delivered something that had been missing in the Ape Cave area: A view of the volcano. Hence, the thoughtful name for the short trail.

Built by the U.S. Forest Service with the help of volunteers, the Volcano View Trail climbs gradually through the forest to a location with a view through the trees. The view shows a flat-top mountain that lost its upper slopes during the 1980 eruption. St. Helens’ massive crater is not visible from this side of the mountain.

The viewpoint also is ADA accessible. It can be accessed by car via Forest Road 8303.

So far, the trail has proved a good place to get away from the crowds that flock to the Ape Cave to tour the 2.25-mile lava tube. Most hikers would consider this trail too short to warrant the long drive from the South Sound. Luckily, there are plenty more trail opportunities in the area, including the eerie Ape Cave (so bring warm clothes and a couple light sources). Also nearby is the Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site, making the short Forest Road 8303 corridor a packed place for family exploration.

A little farther down Forest Road 83, visitors can also tack on a trip to Lava and Ape canyons. Lava Canyon offers three layers of hiking options, each a little more challenging than the previous.

DIRECTIONS: From Interstate 5 in Woodland, take Exit 21 and follow state Route 503 east toward the town of Cougar. Past Cougar the road becomes Forest Road 90. Continue about 7 miles to Forest Road 83 and turn left. In less than 2 miles turn left on Forest Road 8303 and continue to the Ape Cave parking lot.

DIFFICULTY RATING: 2 (5 is most difficult, 1 is easiest).

MILES ROUND TRIP: 1.7.

ELEVATION GAIN: 400 feet.

BEST TIME OF THE YEAR: May-November.

MAP: Green Trails 332S: Mount St. Helens.

PASS: Northwest Forest Pass.

ALSO: The Ape Cave area draws about 60,000 visitors per year, most visiting in the summer. Volunteers from the Washington Trails Association and the Mount St. Helens Institute helped build the trail. Dogs and other pets are not permitted in Ape Cave. The Ape Cave Center is closed for the season, but the cave remains open. Forest Service rangers recommend allowing 2.5 hours to explore the entire cave. They also suggest bringing three light sources and spare batteries. Don’t forget sturdy shoes, warm clothes and a helmet. There is a geocache hidden near Ape Cave and an earthcache at Trail of Two Forests. For more information, visit geocaching.com.

INFO: fs.usda.gov/mountsthelens.

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The original story can be found on The News Tribune’s website: http://bit.ly/1Q6mZ75

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Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com

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