From breathing the ocean breeze to the cool mountain fresh air. We left Astoria and headed to Cougar, Washington which is located 11 miles south-southwest of Mount St. Helens. But before I gush over the fresh mountain air, let me take you first to Cape Disappointment. The cape is just a stone’s throw from Astoria by crossing over the Columbia River through the Astoria Megler bridge which spans 4.1 miles and connects Astoria to Prince Ellice in Washington state. We hiked to Cape Disappointment which is where Lewis and Clark finally spotted the Pacific Ocean. This 1.2-mile trail took us to the upper headland that featured a lighthouse, an artillery bunker, a museum, and Dead Man’s Cove, a picturesque chasm in the cape’s cliffs. The views at the top are wonderful. You can see for miles….including the South and North Jetties as well as all the maritime traffic entering and leaving the Columbia River. This is also the best place to view the “bar” of the Columbia River.
After the hike, we headed to Long Beach (not California) Washington where a Boardwalk stretches for almost half a mile. We followed this on the south end and came across a real preserved Gray Whale skeleton. The beach is quite expansive and you can see it all the way to the horizon.
We left Astoria and drove to the town of Cougar which is the gateway to Mt. St. Helens on the south side. We checked out Ape Cave, and no, no apes do not live there. Instead, it is a lava tube located in Gifford Pinchot National Forest just to the south of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Its passageway is the longest continuous lava tube in the continental United States, at 13,042 feet (3,975 m). I chickened out on hiking inside the tube as it is dark and cold but most of all I was scared and we did not have a flashlight. Instead, we hiked on the upper ape cave trail on the surface, a 1.3-mile walk through the old forest that links the two lava tubes and leads from the trailhead to these underworld entrances. This trail leads through wonderful old forests, walking on snow, a view of Mt. St. Helens and lava rocks.
On our way out of the park and a quick right turn took us to another trailhead the Trail of Two Forest. This is just a short hike though a “lava cast” park. The 1/4 mile plank trail winds through a 2000-year-old lava flow. As the lava entered the forest, fir trees were surrounded and the lava cooled. The “cast” is what is left. This trail is quite interesting as you try to imagine what happens when hot lava cascade down the mountain and hit all the trees in the surroundings. As we saw there was a lot of devastation but is now slowly growing back creating a new forest.
To top it off, we were breathing fresh mountain air during the whole adventure.