Lewis River Trail

Ride Data

  • Ride Type: Shuttle or O&B
  • Ride Length: 13 to 18 Miles (one way)
  • Ascent: About 1500 Feet
  • Descent: About 1700 Feet
  • Ride Time: 4-5 Hours
  • Technical Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Plus: Remote
  • Minus: Remote
  • Location: SE of Mt. St. Helens

The Lewis River Trail is one of the Gems of the Northwest. It has all the features one would expect of a river trail: a nice river to follow, deep northwest woods, and lots of little ups and downs. And, like most river trails, you must either ride it as an out and back or shuttle it.

Please see my pictures from this area here.

Getting There

The simplest way to get to the Lewis River Trail southern trailhead is to head towards Mt. St. Helens on Highway 503 from I5. If you are coming from the south, it's the second exit past the big Transit Center, right after two cool old steel bridges.

Give yourself enough time, as it takes about an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half to get all the way past Cougar once you leave I5. Once past Cougar, keep going until you pass the Ape Caves turnoff, where you would turn if you were hiking Ape Canon. After much more curvy highway, the road straightens out and you come to a Ranger Station, where you can get directions or buy a Northwest Forest Pass for $5. (Hint: You will need this pass, later.) Turn right to stay on Highway 90 here, as going straight on Highway 25 will take you to the middle of nowhere.

Once you make that turn south to stay on Highway 90, it's only about 4 miles to the bottom Trailhead, at Curly Creek. You will probably miss the dirt road turnoff and have to backtrack. Head down the dirt road about 3/4 of a mile. Park at the bridge and you won't have to pay a $5 fee. If you are heading to the top of the trail, it's about 10 miles back up Highway 90 to the Lower Falls Campground, on your right. There you will have to pay a fee to park in the day use area.


The LRT is not a difficult trail in general, but it is remote. From the Portland Oregon area, it takes about 2.5 hours to reach the southern Trailhead. With a 3 to 4 hour ride and a stop for Beer and Food after the ride, that makes for a long day. So plan accordingly -- it's worth it.

When I ride this trail alone, I park at the Southern Trailhead and ride an out and back. When I have the luxury of riding with a group, I try to shuttle this ride, since an out and back of the whole trail is at least a 6-hour ride.

If you shuttle, leave one or more vehicles at the bottom, then head to the Lower Falls Campground, near the top of the trail, so start your ride. I'll describe the ride as a shuttle, since the out and back version is a simpler and less interesting case.

The Ride

We parked at the Lower Falls Campground after dropping a car at Curly Creek. Don't forget the $5 Northwest Forest Pass. If you didn't get one at the Ranger Station there's a self-serve Kiosk at the Day Use area of the Campground, where you should park.

At the start of our ride, we stopped to check out Lower Falls:

SiSSy by Lower Falls

SiSSy at Lower Falls, Lewis River

There is a nice viewing platform, and it's tempting to stay here. But the trail awaits in both directions! First, uphill a bit to the middle falls. This is actually the second largest climb in the ride. Most of this trail has a reasonable (ridable) grade, but this section requires the granny gear, or standing up if you're on a single speed. But the middle falls made it seem worthwhile.

Middle Falls

Middle Falls, Lewis River

The middle falls are almost as large as the lower falls and a little harder to see. At this point, the trail heads up some switchbacks (not really ridable going up), so we turned around. I have been to the Upper Falls once before, and they are nice, but we wanted to get going on a long day.

We headed back down, passing the Middle Falls viewing platform and entering a section of flowy downhill single track.

Trail South from Lower Falls

Time to head down the trail!

After a couple of miles, we crossed the road we had used to drive to the campgrounds. Then the real climbing began. After several false tops we finally reached the highest elevation on the trail and where I wanted to stop and refuel. (We had just come up this steep slope!) This spot is about 2.5 miles south of the road crossing:

The Understatement

Top of the World, Ma!

After eating and resting, it was time for the payback. Miles of mostly downhill to go! It was time for a couple of hours of fun, and we had to step up and forget all our worries.

There are too many pretty river views and technical trail bits to enumerate. Here's one view of the river:

Pretty River Pool

Yet Another Beautiful Swimming Spot

If only the time was longer and the water not so cold, I might have been tempted to swim!

Here's how one of the technical spots used to look -- the skinny on the right has since vanished:

Double Skinny

Double Skinny -- One for me, and one for good riders

There's also a camping area I call the Boy Scout Camp a few miles from the bottom, since I've seen Boy Scouts camp there several times. The Shelter could use some work. This is called Bolt Camp:

A-Frame Falling

Bolt Camp Low-Rent Shelter

After much grinning and a couple more climbs, we arrived at the Curly Falls Trailhead.

Lower Trail Head

Curly Falls LRT Trailhead

Ride over. What a great day!


Real men, I am told, ride this as an out and back, from the bottom. Having attempted this once, I can attest to the fact that this would make a long day. I rode from the bottom to the road and back on my Single Speed, and it took a little over 5 hours. Your mileage may vary.

One can also make a loop the hard way, by riding up the road. There is a 1/2 mile section of gravel and dirt on the road, so that may help.

One last note: the trail does continue south a couple of miles from the Curly Falls Trailhead, and the ride can be rewarded with more falls during the right time of year.

© VirtenSys 2012