Some of the best single-track within driving distance of Portland, the ride along the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham starts out in pristine forest but soon delivers you to the lunar landscape of the Mt St Helens blast zone.
The Northwest is renowned for the diversity of its landscape. The entire region is a geological grab bag, thanks in large part to its volcanic history. Some of the most dramatic diversity resides near the volcanoes responsible for the lay of the land. The Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980 left a great amount of destruction in its wake. But almost 35 years later, the landscape has come back to life quicker than anyone could have imagined. Though the blast zone still resembles a lunar landscape, the region continues to noticeably morph from season to season.
What Makes It Great
Riding your bike through the pumice plains of a blast zone of an active volcano is pretty brag-worthy. For those of us of a certain age, the Mt St Helens eruption was a pretty big deal. Get a picture of yourself with St. Helens in the background. The view of the mountain from here is breath taking and incredibly different from the view you typically see from Portland.
This sort of dramatic diversity is a wonderland for outdoor lovers. The singletrack that carves its way from the forested Ape Canyon Trailhead up through the Plains of Abraham is one of the best rides the Northwest has to offer. In fact, it’s the scenery encountered along the entire ride that makes it a stand out. Shady forest, wide open pumice plains, high ridges, sweeping views of the entire blast zone, and a handful of cascade peaks make this a ride like no other.
But beyond the scenery, this 16 mile out and back ride offers plenty of elevation gain and some nice technical challenges along the way. It’s this combination of epic scenery, diversity, and technical challenges that make the ride from the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham one of the top rated in the entire Northwest.
Who is Going to Love It
Any mountain biker will enjoy this trip, but riders that have varying interests related to this area, especially fans of geology or biodiversity, will be blown away. It’s a pretty good workout as well. Lovers of a thigh-burning outing will find this ride quite appealing as well.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The ride starts at the Ape Canyon Trailhead. To get there from Portland, drive north on I-5 and take exit 21 for Highway 503 towards Woodland and Cougar. Take a right turn on 503 South and go 23.4 miles, where you will keep straight for Cougar. After about 12 miles, take a left on FR 83 for Ape Cave, Climber’s Bivouac, and Lava Canyon. After about 11 miles, you will find the paved parking area for Ape Canyon Trailhead.
It requires a Northwest Forest Pass or a $5 day use permit.
Depending on the year, snow can hang on into June. After that it can get hot as all get out. Once you’re out of the forest and onto the plains, it’s very exposed. Bring your sunscreen and lots of water.