Trails: Lewis River Trail

Lower Lewis River Falls Washington


One of the primary advantages of out-and-back trails, you can turn around at any time–due to fatigue, weather, time limitations, etc. Once you get rolling on the Lewis River Trail, however, your resolve to turn around will be severely tested by the allure of finding out what’s around the next bend and the feeling of “wilderness” that deepens with each passing minute.

The Lewis River Trail courses through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, southeast of Mount St. Helens. The trailhead is about 90 minutes drive from Portland. Most of the trail is below 1600′ elevation, and it is runnable for much of the year.

For the first few miles you’ll be running alongside the Lewis River, through towering old growth. (Trivia break: The Lewis River was not named for explorer Meriwether Lewis, rather for A. Lee Lewis, an early settler who homesteaded near the mouth of the river.)

Guidebooks describe the trail as “moderate to strenuous”; expect to encounter multiple short-but-steep climbs and rolling hills. Several high points reward your effort with great views up and down the valley—nothing but the river, the forest, and you.

About 10 miles in you’ll cross a paved Forest Service road, and another mile or so of running will take you to your turnaround at gorgeous Lower Falls. There’s a campground near here, too, which means you’ll be sharing the falls overlook with other visitors; besides the feelings of accomplishment for having made it this far, you’ll also get a kick from seeing the surprised looks on people’s faces and remarks like, “You mean you ran all the way here?”

Buoyed by this experience, plus all the extra Gu you brought, you should be able to get back to your car in one piece, wrung out but happy!

Driving directions: From Portland take I-5 north 21 miles to the Woodland exit (Washington Highway 503). Head east on WA 503 (which becomes FS 90 east of Cougar) for 52 miles to FS 9039, a short, gravel road that descends sharply to the left. Follow FS 9039 almost a mile to a small parking area on the left; cross the bridge over the Lewis River, where the trail begins on the right.

-Phil Orlowski

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