Trail of Two Forests in Cougar, Washington

Deep in the woods below Mount Saint Helens, a short boardwalk traverses a natural mosaic of green and black. As beautiful as it is, it might be hard at first glance to see both forests mentioned in the site’s name. The two forests of this trail are not separated by biome type or ecosystem, but instead by centuries of history. One is the forest you see today, verdant with Douglas fir and moss. The other is just a shadow of its former self—the remains of the previous environment, destroyed in a volcanic explosion.

During an eruption by Mount Saint Helens almost 2,000 years ago, lava engulfed the forests around it. In this area, the lava buried the trees far up the trunks, incinerating the wood as it solidified. This left deep holes in the new rock known as tree molds. Over time, the living forest has slowly returned. Lichens and mosses break down the volcanic rock, forming cracks and soil for grasses, shrubs, and saplings to take root.

Also on this trail is the opportunity to traverse a narrow lava tube. A ladder descends one way into the tube, and spelunkers with a love of tight spaces are invited to crawl through to the other side. If you decide to go on this minor caving adventure, a light source and waterproof clothing are necessary. Otherwise, this quarter-mile boardwalk is an excellent place for hikers of any ability to enjoy some time in two forests.

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