A Regenerating Dip in Coldwater Lake

Three years after bacteria and microorganisms naturally colonized the lake and fed on organic matter, Coldwater Lake was as clear as it is today.

Coldwater Lake

In the midst of Washington’s record-breaking hot summer, we found the perfect solution while camping near Mount St. Helen. Just before you reach the Johnstone Ridge Observatory, there’s a sign denoting Coldwater Lake. As we passed it many times without paying much attention, we decided to grab our hiking boots and packs and take a look at the lake. We arrived early which turned out to be fortunate as it turns out to be a very popular place during the summer.

The Coldwater Lake was created during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which blocked its natural outlet, Coldwater Creek, with volcanic debris. Over the next few months, almost 100,000 acre-feet of water collected to form a lake 5 miles in length. At the rate the lake was filling, it was anticipated to overtop the landslide dam by late 1981 or 1982. If the natural dam had been breached it would have been yet another catastrophe for the communities downstream. A spillway was constructed to stabilize the lake and it was this effort that allowed us to hike its shoreline in the summer heat.

coldwater lake
On the nearly five miles of trails in Lewis and Clark State Park, Theresa stands in front of an old-growth Douglas Fir..

It was while we were at the far end of the lake that we came across a nice little cove shielded from the trail by vegetation. Several logs from the 1980 eruption line the slopes surrounding the lake, and some of these make for perfect picnic spots. It was while having lunch that we started to eye the cool waters and abrupt drop-off leading to deeper water just in front of us. It wasn’t long before we were in the refreshing waters swimming and diving.


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Three years after bacteria and microorganisms naturally colonized the lake and fed on organic matter, Coldwater Lake was as clear as it is today.

Steve Weileman


We are the learned society for geography and geographers.
Working to provide opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to make a difference as they play in the outdoors.
Working to translate long-term monitoring into effective marine conservation solutions.
Sea Grant Washington
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Lewis and Clark State Park

We found ourselves in a new campground for this outing; the  Lewis and Clark State Park. Despite its close proximity to Interstate 5, I was pleasantly surprised by the old-growth and ‘wild’ feeling of the park. If fact it was established in 1922 for just that reason, containing one of the last intact stands of old-growth forest remaining in the Cowlitz Valley.

Before its membership into the State Park system, it was actually part of the old north spur of the Oregon Trail, which extended from the Cowlitz River landing to the city of Tumwater. When pioneers used this road, ramps had to be built over some of the downed logs (six to nine feet in diameter), since they had no saws capable of cutting the giants.


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