Route Descriptions

Below are descriptions for the two climbing routes on Mount St. Helens: the winter route (Worm Flows) and the summer route (Monitor Ridge). Your climbing permit covers either route. The winter route is open all year long and climbers may choose to climb this longer route at any time. The summer route is only open once the snow has fully melted from the road leading up to Climber's Bivouac Trailhead. The opening date changes every year, and the Forest Service nor Mount St. Helens Institute cannot accurately predict when the snow will melt enough to open the road. Generally, the road to Climber's Bivouac has opened in mid- to late- June. With the snow variations year to year, the road has also historically opened as early as Memorial Day and as late as Fourth of July.

Winter climbing route of Mount St. Helens covered in snow

Worm Flows | Winter Climbing Route

Length: 12 miles, round-trip

Elevation Gain: 5,563 ft

Trailhead: Marble Mountain Sno-Park

Parking: Sno-Park passes required between December 1 - March 31, must be purchased in-person at a retailer. Not available online nor at the trailhead.

Permits: Climbing permits required, by advance purchase only, between April 1 - November 30.

Camping: Dispersed camping is allowed on a first-come, first-served basis

Start at the trailhead from Marble Mountain Sno-Park (elevation 2800'). About 2 miles in, leave the forest and pass views of Chocolate Falls (elevation 3700'), a 40-foot waterfall along Swift Creek, heading into a barren landscape of mudflows and rock, where wooden signpost guide climbers from timberline to approximately 4,800 ft elevation. Continue to snake up the jumbled lava flow ridge up to the seismic station. The seismic station (elevation 6,200') is below the snow field that leads up to the crater rim.

The route crests the crater's crescent-shaped rim, on a clear day revealing dramatic views of Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier. Head west along the rim to the true summit, a 1/4 mile away at 8,363 feet. Savor more sweet views before turning around for the return trip, hugging Worm Flow Ridge and retracing your route, back to the trailhead.


Summer climbing route on Mount St. Helens, Monitor Ridge

Photo credit: Susan Jackson

Monitor Ridge | Summer Climbing Route

Length: 10 miles, round-trip

Elevation Gain: 4,598 ft

Trailhead: Climber's Bivouac 

Parking: Northwest Forest Pass required, day passes may be purchased at the trail head

Permits: Climbing permits required, by advance purchase only, between April 1 - October 31

Camping: Camping in designated areas is allowed on a first-come, first-served basis

Start at the Climbers' Bivouac trailhead (elevation 3700') and follow Ptarmigan Trail (216A) for 2.1 miles, where the route meets the junction of the Loowit Trail. The vault toilet here is out of commission for the season. As the route steepens, remain in the trees for the next half mile before breaking out into the open (elevation 4800'). Save your energy- the majority of the elevation gain is in the last 3 miles to the summit rim. Wooden pole markers usher climbers along the blocky boulders of Monitor Ridge for another 2500 ft of elevation gain. You will pass Monitor Peak (elevation 5994' to the east of the route). A GPS station will appear at 7000', revealing a snake of boulders up the ridge. The final stretch is affectionately called the "Vertical Beach" and is akin to hiking a sand dune to the summit rim.

The route crests the crater's crescent-shaped rim, on a clear day revealing dramatic views of Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier. Head west along the rim to the true summit, a 1/4 mile away at 8,363 feet. Savor the horizon on a clear day and descend on the route you came, following the wooden pole markers back to the trailhead.