Windy Ridge and Plains of Abraham Loop is a 12.6 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Stevenson, Washington that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and mountain biking and is accessible from June until November.
From Randle, drive south I mile on Highway 131 to Forest Service Road 25. Stay to the right and drive 19 miles to Forest Service Road 99. Turn right and drive to Windy Ridge Trailhead at roads end.
I did this ride years ago and it was the most difficult Mtn. bike ride I had done to that point. The loose volcanic material was really challenging, and some of the sheer cliff faces the trail goes along were a little daunting.
We started down by Ape caves and rode up to Windy Ridge and back again. We were the only ones on the mountain that day and it was a gorgeous day and ride.
A barren beauty. The pumice plain out of Windy Ridge is one of my favorite places to hike. We tried this variation out of Windy Ridge onto the Plains of Abraham and found it every bit as eerily beautiful. The lupine were ponds of purple blossoms exploding out of the ash and rocks. This must be a cycling heaven, because we met many at least 20 cyclists and only 2 hikers. Stepping off the trail to let the cyclists by gave us an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and to watch them tackle some tricky rock formations. All in all, I'd rate the trail and scenery 10's.
I rode this twice. Once from Windy ridge (Rough route with stairs and steeps) and once from Ape Canyon (switch back climbings). both times it was beautiful. the Pumice stone can get thick in small patches making it like riding in thick gravel. it also puts off some glare so bring sunscreen & shades. The trail it sometimes hard to see but look ahead for the stacked stone markers. the views are awesome and you can see Mt Hood and Rainer. It interesting to see how things are coming back after the Blast. Wild flowers lined the trail. it on my list of Favorites.
This review is for a 9 mile loop hike starting from Windy Ridge down onto the trails in the area known as the Plains of Abraham at the base of Mt. St. Helen's. We arrived early and parked in the parking lot above Spirit Lake. There's a road opposite the stairs to the viewpoint that's closed to vehicles. This road is a 2 and a 1/4 mile hike that will take you to Windy Ridge and the sand ladders. You'll know when you get to Windy Ridge because you'll see a trail along a ridgeline and the sand ladders leading up to the ridge. The sand ladders are a bit difficult to get up but better to use the sand ladders than not because the pumice makes for a slippery climb.
I've posted pictures of the ridge and the sand ladders. They look very steep in the pictures and they are actually that steep but once you get to the top, the trail gently slopes and is an easy hike down toward the hills leading to the Plains of Abraham. I don't know if it's only late summer but there are swarms of small grasshoppers along the trail. They basically just jump around back and forth across the trail without being too much of a bother but be aware there are areas where they are abundant! You may also see elk tracks on the trail as we did and if you're lucky you'll see some elk, too. There are a lot in the area. Once you come out of the low lying hills you'll find yourself on the Plains. From here the trails weave around the rocky landscape and remain pretty level. Much of your initial elevation gain is at Windy Ridge. There are cairn along the trail to mark the trail since it can be difficult to follow in some areas especially as you approach Mt. St. Helen's. I personally recommend taking a break at the crossroads of trails where the sign posts are so you can truly enjoy the site of the volcano. She is an amazing sight. At the crossroads you'll take the trail that goes onward toward Mt. St. Helen's. As you get closer you'll approach a valley. This is where the trail gets a little iffy as the trail dips in and out of the rivelets created by lava flow but you should be able to see the cairn with pink ribbons tied to them along the way until you get to the hill. Once you've reached the hill you're going to make your way up to the top via a couple of steep switchbacks. Be careful of slipping on the pumice, it's very slippery under the feet. Once you reach the sign posts at the top you're going to make your way down the hill. Again, the trail is very rocky, narrow and washed out in parts so you'll need to make your way down mountain-goat style. Be careful when grabbing onto the rocky hillside. Many of the rocks are loose and will break away. I would -not- take a child on this hike. The drop down into the canyon is steep and with all the loose rock it's a bit of a challenge. Still, this part of the hike was a lot of fun because of the challenge.
At the bottom the trail will continue with gentle sloping until it finally comes out at a little parking lot where only researchers are allowed to park. You will have to hike up the gravel road and back to the road you hiked on to get to Windy Ridge. I strongly recommend doing this hike on an overcast day because there is no shade at all along the trails. The wind was also very chilly, it was 45 degrees up there, so dress in layers. Once you have shelter from the wind you'll probably want to shed a layer or two. Take plenty of water. My husband and I shared a 3.5 liter hydration pack between the two of us which was fine but we also kept another gallon of water back at the car. The harsh winds gave us a bit of windburn and the ash gets around so avoid wearing shorts or wear gaitors or long pants. The ash will irritate sensitive skin. This hike is definitely worthwhile if you come prepared!