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.
The main and largest waterfall within Lava Canyon also happens to be the most dangerous waterfall in the vicinity of Mount St. Helens and is responsible for at least three deaths since the Lava Canyon Trail opened. The falls hurtle 132 feet into a huge, gaping part of the canyon, impacting on a ledge a little more than halfway down the falls. Prior to severe flooding in 2006 there was a distinct pool halfway down the falls, but since the flood event, it appears that part of the canyon either collapsed and filled the pool, or the bedrock which was forming the pool was in some way breached, because there is no longer any distinct pause in the falls as it drops.
Visiting all of the waterfalls within Lava Canyon poses a danger in some form or another, but Lava Canyon Falls is particularly hazardous. The trail approaches the river immediately at the top of the falls and visitors may be tempted to splash in the river there, unaware of the strong current. Do not do this. Additionally, as the trail passes the falls heading downstream, it is carved into a crumbly substrate along the top of the canyon where there is no protection. Slipping and falling would absolutely be fatal, so please be careful when hiking this section of the trail.
- 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. The first half mile of the trail to the viewpoint of Upper Lava Canyon Falls is handicap accessible. From the end of the paved trail, follow the more moderate trail downstream for 1/5 of a mile to the suspension bridge, then continue past and down a much steeper and more treacherous trail for another 700 or so feet, passing Twin Falls in the process. The best views of Lava Canyon Falls are from about halfway along the broad exposed "bench" part of the trail atop the open section of the canyon. 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.