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.
This pair plunging falls consists of a narrow flume-like fall tucked deep in a recess, followed by a side-by-side of contact plunges. Prior to severe flooding in 2006, the lower tier of the falls appeared as a broad curtain style plunge, displayed very prominently from natural viewpoints along or just off of the trail. The floods of 2006, however, appear to have severely altered the pool between the two tiers of the falls - possibly clearing it of talus, boulders and fill material. As a result, the lower tier of the falls now appears heavily incised into the bedrock and is difficult to see unless the river is running at high levels. Though the falls are the third largest along the Muddy River and are still worth seeing, it now lacks the impact which it formerly possessed.
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.
- Middle Lava Canyon Falls is the Unofficial 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 about 4/10 of a mile, passing Twin Falls and Lava Canyon Falls in the process. Middle Lava Canyon Falls will be best seen from a basalt promontory just off the trail shortly after passing the top of the falls and descending a set of switchbacks. If you reach the ladder, you've gone too far.