Trail of Two Forests

Walking the boardwalk at the Trail of Two Forests.  Photo: KGilb.

Walking the boardwalk at the Trail of Two Forests. Photo: KGilb.

This unique trail winds its way through an old-growth forest of Douglas firs and western red cedars. The trees close in from all sides, lush and thick. They’ve been growing here for a long, long time. But underneath the boardwalk, covered with moss, are remnants of another forest that flourished here 2000 years ago.

Barrel-shaped holes dot the ground, as if some hard rock miner has been sinking dry wells everywhere and then connecting them with jackstraw tunnels. Some of the “wells” are up to six feet deep. Where did they come from?

Well, way back when ancient Rome still ruled the world, a stream of molten lava cascaded down the southern flank of Mount St Helens and smothered the landscape below. The lava flowed around trees and over fallen logs, setting them afire, but cooled and solidified before the wood completely burned away. The tree trunks survived just long enough to leave behind their imprints in what would become solid rock. These ghostly hollows—called volcanic tree molds—are all that remains of that once great forest.

The Trail of Two Forests is a fascinating look at a 2000-year-old lava flow that’s located just a few miles northeast of Cougar, WA. Open from dusk til dawn, it’s an easy half-mile loop through the woods that begins and ends at the parking lot. The boardwalk is level and well-maintained, with interpretive signs posted at regular intervals. Picnic tables and old-fashioned “non flush” restrooms on site. There is a $5 access fee, but it’s payable at the trailhead.

Directions: From I-5, take exit 21 (Woodland). Drive east on Hwy 503/USFS Rd 90 for 35.5 miles. A beautiful scenic drive! Turn left onto USFS Rd 83, drive two miles. Turn left again onto USFS Rd 8303 and drive 1/2 mile to the Trail of Two Forests. Parking lot is on the left.

**Special Note: Want to learn more about the only active volcano in the continental United States? Check out this book entitled Mount St Helens: The Eruption and Recovery of a Volcano by Rob Carson. (Sasquatch Books)

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