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This trail is fairly easy to find, once you know what you are looking for. However, many people seem to miss this link between the two very different parts of this park.
The two vastly different parts of this park are the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center and its Lake Trail, and the Main Part of Seaquest State Park. The Volcano Visitor's Center draws huge amounts of tourists from all over and is a great introduction to the rest of the Volcanic Monument. The trail at Silver Lake is basically part of the visitor's center as it allows views of Mount Saint Helens, and has interpretive signs relating to the history of the area and how the lake was formed by eruptions in the distant past. This part of the park does not require a day use fee or Discovery Pass, as the visitor's center admissions fee covers this instead.
Seaquest State Park makes up the land on which the visitor's center sits, but is a wold away in terms of the amount of traffic that visits it. It is mostly a camping park, with picnic facilities and trails through the forest. The bulk of this park sits on the other side of the highway, on which a lot of traffic travels, and most of it moves quite quickly - thus you would not want to cross on foot. Furthermore, as a state park, this area of the park requires a day use fee or Discovery Pass.
Thus, the need for a trail that connects these two completely separate worlds, and allows people to get safely across the highway. Those who choose to go beyond the Mount Saint Helen's Visitor's Center and take this trail into the state park will enter a time machine: this is what this area was like in the 1970s, before the 1980 eruption turned the area into a major tourist attraction.
Those visiting the state park, for camping or relaxation, are able to visit the Silver Lake Trail and the Mount Saint Helen's Visitor's Center without trying to deal with the parking madhouse that happens there during the peak tourist season.
Again it should be noted that cars parked in the visitor's center parking lot are exempt from the requirement to have a Discovery Pass showing in their car. The expectation is that the entrance fees to the interpretive center make up for the lack of income from the Discovery Pass. There is no prohibition against parking your car in the visitor's center lot and walking into the main part of Seaquest State Park using this trail. However, the practice is certainly frowned upon as this avoids the fee structure completely. Furthermore, the parking area is very crowded during peak tourist season, and doing this eliminates a parking spot that someone else could use. Therefore, please be judicious in your decision on if you will avoid the fees or not, and be courteous to others.
I should also point out that only the parking lot closest to the visitor's center allows this. The parking lot further east of the visitor's center on the south side of the highway is considered part of Seaquest State Park and not the Mount Saint Helen's Visitor's Center. Thus, using that parking lot requires the Discovery Pass or day use fee.
If you start at the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center end of things and want to go to the main part of Seaquest State Park, you first need to follow the loop trail that starts from the visitor's center. You want to start this loop going clockwise - that is, start on the section that goes from the visitor's center along the lake shore, not the one that immediately goes out into the lake on a boardwalk. The trail parallels the lake edge for a distance, and you will then reach a point where there is a gravel branch trail to the left, and it crosses the exit road to the visitor's center in a crosswalk. You want to take this branch. The trail is marked with faded white paint, but it is in theory a segregated part of the pavement from auto traffic. After crossing the road the trail is a paved section at the edge of the parking lot. Follow this to a tunnel under the highway. The trail then crosses the driveway to the entrance to the park manager's house. It passes between bushes on the other side, but is well marked with a trail sign. It then exits the forest right at the park entrance station and camping trailer sewage dump station.
If you want to go to the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center from Seaquest State Park (this avoids the horrific traffic nonsense in the peak tourist season by parking in the more quiet environment of the forests of the park - but you do need a day use fee of $10 or a $30 annual Discovery Pass) the trail works in the opposite direction:
Start at the small park office at the entrance to the park. Head towards the exit road from the camping trailer RV dump station. You will see a trail through the forest heading down the hill that starts right at the edge of the dump station exit. Take this trail down the hill. It then crosses the driveway of the park manager's home, but the continued trail on the other side of the driveway is not marked quite as well. Here, the trail becomes gravel, and then becomes paved. Follow it down the hill to the tunnel under the highway. On the other side of the highway follow the paved area on the edge of the parking lot and head west. The trail then crosses the driveway of the visitor's center, and then joins the loop trail at Silver Lake. Turn right and take the loop trail west along the edge of Silver Lake and you will arrive at the Visitor's Center.
Photo 1: shows the trail where it passes under the highway. It is basically a glorified water culvert, but it serves the purpose.
Photo 2: As you come up the hill, this is where the trail crosses the driveway into the residence of the park manager. The trail is to the left of the center of the photo, while the main entry road is to the right. Bushes obscure the trail as you come up the hill until you arrive at the driveway. There is no need to walk in the road, however.
Photo 3: This is the Seaquest State Park end of the trail connecting the two. The road in the foreground is the exit to the camping trailer sewage dump station. The photo is taken almost exactly in line with the small wooden office in the middle of the entrance road, which you can not miss if you arrive by driving into the park.
Photo 4: Looking towards Sliver Lake from the Silver Lake end of the trail. You can not see the marked crosswalk here (it is covered in leaves and very faded) but from here the trail crosses the exit road from the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center parking area, and joins the loop trail at Silver Lake. There are actually two branches to this junction. Both are gravel and connect this parking area and the pedestrian tunnel under the highway to the Silver Lake Trail. To the left you can see a gap in the trees. This is one trail that connects to the Silver Lake trail. The other trail is off to the right side of the sign you see in the photo.
Photo 5: from where the tunnel comes out from under the highway. This parking lot is part of the area where a Discovery Pass is required. The paved area that is above the curb is the trail connecting to Silver Lake. The trail runs along the edge of the parking area, and in the background crosses the road and connects with the Silver Lake Trail.
Updated Nov 30, 2011
There are approximately 7 miles of hiking trails inside Seaquest State Park. By far the busiest and most developed of those trails is the loop at the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center, which features views of the mountain (on a clear day) and the wetlands made by Silver Lake.
As this trail is radically different than everything else in Seaquest State Park, I have put it in its own separate section.
The rest of the hiking trails are accessible from several areas around the Day Use area. They form multiple intertwined loops through the forest, and during the wet season there will be mud, if not entire streams running down the middle of the trails.
Many of the trail intersections are marked with maps to help you decide which direction you want to go.
Due to the sheer amount of traffic, the trail over at the Mount Saint Helen's Visitor's Center is gravel for its entire distance, except for the boardwalks. However, in the actual state park day use area, the trails are mostly dirt. The area is mostly flat with some natural slope in places, but that flatness also means that the water courses from springs near the trails will cause mud to accumulate in places. Unless it hasn't rained for a while, the trails here will have mud in places, and mud is a certainty during much of the year. It isn't terribly deep, but just be prepared for things to be a little slippery in places.
There is a map of the park trails on the State Parks web site for this park.
Updated Nov 29, 2011
Address: 3030 Spirit Lake Highway, Castle Rock, WA 98611
The core of the day use area of Seaquest State Park has a number of picnic areas. Some of these are reservable shelters tucked into the forest, one or two are large shelters with big fireplace facilities and large group capacity, and in some places there are just picnic tables out in the clearning that are surrounded by forest. Some of the reservable spaces do not have a shelter.
The largest of the shelters is in the center of the park and has two wings, with enough space for quite a number of people under the shelter. It also has the most extensive facilities.
A few of the other shelters have water right near the shelter. Virtually all of the shelters have some sort of barbecue stand or fire pit. Except for the large shelter towards the center of the day use area, most of the picnic shelters lack electrical power outlets.
It is possible to reserve some of the picnic facilities by calling a toll free number listed on the state parks web site, or by using the web link on the Washington State Parks web site. Web reservations are handled through the Tacoma Public Utilities web site, which also owns several parks.
Updated Nov 29, 2011
Address: Highway 504, Castle Rock, Washington
While already covered in my other tip about this trail located on my Mount Saint Helens National Monument Page, the land on which the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center sits is eseentially part of Seaquest State Park, and the trail that connects it to Silver Lake is as really more a part of Seaquest State Park as it is Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument.
The trail forms a loop, much of which is on boardwalk above Silver Lake. On a clear day, it is possible to see Mount Saint Helens from the boardwalk and many other places of the trail. It is also possible to see a lot of bird life at times along the trail, including wintering birds (depending on the season) and woodpeckers in the very large trees near the visitor's center.
Other parts of the trail run in forest along the edge of the lake.
The vast majority of the trail is well maintained gravel, but a few soft spots exist that make it a little muddy in places at times. However, as a general rule the trail is far less muddy than the regular trails across the highway in Seaquest State Park itself.
There is a tunnel under highway 504 that connects the main part of Seaquest State Park with the Mount Saint Helens Visitor's Center so that visitors to one can visit the other without having to fight highway traffic.
The main trail entrance is located behind and beside the visitor's center. Just keep heading downhill and towards the lake from the visitor's center entry along the concrete walkways and you will find your way to the trail.
Updated Apr 6, 2011
Address: 2999 Spirit Lake Highway, Castle Rock, WA 98611
In the Cascade Mountains and their foothills, we have what are commonly called "Gray Jays" but another common name for them is "Camp Robber". They are extremely aggressive food hunters, and have no hesitation at all about stealing food.
Anything they can find and grab is fair game, even if that means coming right up to you and taking the food off your plate as you sit at a picnic table.
They *might* have some hesitations about stealing food that is cooking right off a hot camp stove, but they would only be hesitations, and they would probably be very brief ones.
Even food that you have in your hand and are trying to eat are subject to swoop and grab incidents if it is left exposed long enough.
Normally, these birds are confined to areas fairly high up in the mountains, and do not come close to places as close to Interstate 5 as Seaquest State Park. However, even though it is only 5 miles (8 km) from Interstate 5, Seaquest State Park is some 500 feet (150 meters) above the freeway. This is enough of an elevation difference that the Gray Jays are common here.
They will be willing to take food right out of your hands, but it is not good to feed them unless you have something that is actually good for birds to eat (not bread - that interferes with their digestive system). They will eat anything, but not everything will be good for them. If you want to feed them (and people really prefer that you don't) please consider brining some actual sunflower seeds or other bird food that you can feed them.
Written Nov 28, 2011