Some liken it to riding on the moon. It might be since riding across the Plains of Abraham is riding on one of the newest landscapes in the lower 48 states. Wiped by searing heat, pelted by hot rocks, and washed clean by mudflows from melted glaciersthe Plains were sterilized on May 18, 1980 by Mount St Helensleaving few recognizable landmarks. What was left is one of the most unique riding areas anywhere. Vegetation is now returning after 30 years, the early summer wildflower display rivals that anywhere with large areas of Paintbrush, Mimulus and Lupine.
The Ape Canyon Trail leads up to the Plains through a remnant old growth Noble Fir Forest with some grand old trees shading the trail. It is generally a steady climb, but not technically difficult. The trail breaks out of the forest and enters the 1980 Devastated Area at the narrow cleft that is it's namesake, Ape Canyon. From there it's a short climb in the open up to the Plains. Many riders go as far as a ridge top perch that overlooks the landslide filled Toutle and blasted Smith Creek drainages. Those that turn around there enjoy a smooth descent across the Plains and a fast smooth ride back down the Ape Canyon Trail.
More adventurous riders continue north to Windy Ridge and on to the Smith Creek Trailhead. It's a fast steep descent in to Smith Creek on a trail over loose pumice. Several waterfalls, rarely seen except by mountain bikers who are the common users of this trail can be seen from the Smith Creek Trail. The trail down Smith Creek alternates between singletrack and doubletrack arched over by Alders reminiscent of the hallway going to to see the Wizard of Oz. The climb out of Smith Creek is 1100 feet in three miles on old doubletrack maintained for MTB'ers.
The total for the entire loop is about 25 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. It has been said that a singlespeeder has done this loop three times in one day. A good workout on a unique landscape.
Ape Canyon / Plains of Abraham / Windy Ridge
Start: Ride starts at the ape canyon trail head
Length: 21 miles out and back
Time: 4-6 hours
Elevation: 2030 feet
Trail surface: 17.4 miles of single track, 3.6 miles on gravel road
Best Season: May-Oct
Dog Friendly: Yeah!
Land Management Agencies: Mt St Helens’ National Volcanic Monument Headquarters, 42218 NE Yale Bridge Road, Amboy WA 98601 (360) 449-7800
Fees: $5 Northwest Forest Pass puchased at www.naturenw.org
Maps: Maptech maps: Smith Creek Butte, Washington; Mount St Helens, Washington
Directions to the Trail Head: From Portland- North on 205 to Washington State Route 500 East. 1.5 miles to the stoplight at NE Fourth Plain Road. 44 miles north on SR 503. Turn left on Forest Road 83 toward Ape Canyon Trailhead. Go 11.5 miles and turn left into the Ape Canyon Trailhead parking area.