The Muddy River harbors several waterfalls as it cascades off the slopes of Mount St. Helens, but until the May 18, 1980 eruption most were very difficult, if not impossible to access. The eruption melted the Shoestring Glacier and sent a massive lahar surging down the valley, which scoured away vegetation and stripped topsoil back to reveal the nuances of the canyon in full. Three decades later, the canyon has made great strides towards recovering from the devastation that was wreaked in 1980.
While not the best location to appreciate the turbulent history of the Muddy River, the uppermost fall within Lava Canyon is the easiest to access. Flanked by impressive columnar jointing, the Muddy River hurtles 56 feet into one of the narrowest parts of the gorge. Immediately upstream from the falls lies a smaller fall of about 10 feet in height that can be seen from an adjacent footbridge. Between the two falls, the river snakes through a curvaceous trough carved into the bedrock which is just as interesting to watch as the falls themselves.
When visiting the waterfalls of Lava Canyon, extreme caution should be exercised. There have been dozens of fatalities as a result of visitors edging too close to the lip of the gorge, or splashing in the river and being suddenly swept away and over one of the waterfalls.
- Upper Lava Canyon Falls is the Adopted name of this waterfall.
Lava Canyon is located on the southeast side of Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. From Interstate 5 at Woodland, drive east along SR 503 for 35 miles, or 12 1/2 miles west of the Pine Creek Information station along FSR 90, to FSR 83. Turn and follow FSR 83 to its end at the trailhead in 11 miles, following the signs to Lava Canyon. From the parking lot, follow the paved trail to the viewpoint overlooking Upper Lava Canyon Falls in 1/2 mile. The Lava Canyon trail has periodically been closed due to flood damage or slides, and if closures are encountered, please heed warnings and do not proceed down the trail.