Hiking with Kids: Trail of Two Forests


Hiking with Kids: Trail of Two Forests

When you think of Mount St. Helens perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is the massive eruption that occurred in 1980. It truly transformed the surrounding landscape and left behind a permanent reminder of its widespread destruction. But, did you know that another, much older volcanic eruption also left a remarkable impression on the landscape?

If you travel to the south side of Mount St. Helens, near Cougar, you will find the most fascinating lava caves that you can easily explore. There are the Ape Caves, which are quite large and best suited for adults and older kids, but then there is the, sometimes overlooked, Trail of Two Forests that is an absolute delight for all ages! We took our children there when they were only 7 months, 2- and 4-years-old (back when we only had 3 kids) and they absolutely loved it!

Trail of Two Forests
This forest is home to two separate forests: an old growth forest that was engulfed and encased in lava 2,000 years ago and a forest that has grown up over top since that time. The ancient lava flow blazed through here and left massive imprints of trees that were trapped in the lava bed. Some of the trees fell over and were engulfed and as they slowly disintegrated, they left a hollow cast of where they once laid. Nowadays, you can actually crawl all the way through these “tunnels” from one end to the other. It’s unbelievably cool.

Trail of Two Forests
If you’re still not sure that it’s worth a visit, let me share with you three reasons why this is one of the best place to go hiking with kids in the entire Pacific Northwest region:

  1. The trail is short and educational:

    What kid doesn’t love lava? This short, 1/2 mile interpretive trail provides all kinds of information about how the lava flowed through this forest and formed these tunnels and imprints.

  2. Stroller friendly:

    Need I say more? The majority of the trail is on a boardwalk and we were able to easily navigate our stroller through the entire 1/2 mile trail.

  3. Tunnels that you can crawl through:

    Um, hello, who wouldn’t love this? Oh wait…if you’re claustrophobic this may be your worst nightmare but for those who don’t mind squeezing through dark, small spaces, it’s really awesome. To get a very rough idea of what it’s like, watch this video. These tunnels are absolutely perfect for little kids. You can actually see where people come out of the tunnel while standing at the entrance. The tunnels are only about 100ft long or so (my eye for measurement is terrible but the tunnels are short). There is one turn to the left a short distance in, so you definitely want a head lamp (there are some really cool headlamps that our kids love: Kid Dinosaur T-Rex LED Headlamp Flashlight w/Sound). The flashlight on your phone will work, too, since this is truly a very short distance.

My kids loved this place so much. They kept going back through the tunnels over and over again. My husband and I took turns since our knees would get a bit sore having to crawl on the hard surface through the tunnel.

Trail of Two Forests

Exploring the Trail of Two Forests can take as short as 15-20 minutes if you are in a big hurry and don’t want to do much exploring or you could spend an hour or two here easily if your kids just love going through the tunnels repeatedly, like ours did.

The whole experience was such a great confidence boost for our older kids, who were absolutely terrified when we took them into the Ape Caves. I strongly recommend using the Trail of Two Forests as a warmup for the Ape Caves if you have little ones. After we did this trail, our kids were brave enough to ultimately go back to the Ape Caves (the shorter, flat section of the Ape Caves).

Stay tuned for my blog post on the Ape Caves with kids!

Finally, you may be wondering how on earth you get to this place. Well, you’re in luck. Here are some directions courtesy of wta.org:

Drive east from I-5 on Highway 503 as it changes to Forest Road 90. Pass the town of Cougar, and just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam (about 35 miles from your turn off I-5), make a left onto FR 83. Proceed two miles and turn left onto FR 8303. The trailhead is on the left, a half mile away.

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