Without races to train for this year due to COVID-19, many trail runners have made their own adventures as a motivation to keep training. Running around a mountain can be both challenging and rewarding. Luckily in the Pacific Northwest, we have Cascade volcanoes to run around.
Circumnavigating a volcano offers views of the mountains from every angle that don’t come by looking from the valley or high desert. Each volcano has its own challenges, however. These challenges can be trail terrain, navigation, distance, elevation, and more.
Portland trail runner and Trails and Tarmac coach Tyler Green now has the triple crown of the fastest known times (FKTs) of Cascade volcano circumnavigations. He set the record on the Timberline Trail (Mt. Hood) in 2018 with a time of 6:10:58, and in the last two months Green broke the FKTs on the Loowit Trail (Mt. St. Helens) in 4:59:54 and the Wonderland Trail (Mt. Rainier) in 16:40:55.
Here’s how Green rates his volcano FKT routes:
Loowit (Mt. St. Helens)
In terms of elevation profile and length, this one doesn’t seem terribly demanding, but it’s so rugged, rocky, and twisty that it really chews you up. The other challenge is the exposure to the sun for most of the route, so I like to make sure there’s a good amount of cloud cover when I run this one. When you run through the blast zone, how cool is it that you run on rocks that were once in the middle of the mountain?!
The trail is called the WONDERLAND. How cool is that? I did this route for the first time with Rachel (Drake) last year over a three day fastpacking trip and it was a challenge. Everything is just bigger up there and so many times you’ll look at the mountain in awe of how big it is.
This is my absolute favorite trail. I’m a sucker for alpine meadows, so the biggest advice I’d give is to take the Paradise Park detour and really soak it in up there. Sure, you won’t officially run every step of the Timberline Trail, but you’ll still run around the mountain and have a grand old time. Water crossings are a big challenge for this route, so keep a keen eye out for rock cairns and move slowly through these sections. To run it fast, start at Top Spur so you get most of the climbing done earlier in your run; or start at Timberline Lodge, which is much more of the classic way of doing it.”
In 2018, we wrote about Phil Brundage’s Volcanic 1080. Brundage biked from his Portland home to Mt. St. Helens. Then he climbed and ran around Mt. St. Helens. Rode his bike to Mt. Adams and circumnavigated it. Then Brundage topped it off by riding from Adams to Mt. Hood to loop around it and then bike home.
We ranked the volcano navigations based on trip reports and experience. Click on the mountain link for more details.
|Distance (miles)||Elevation Gain (feet)||Difficulty||
|Mt. Baker||71||23,000||10||Bushwacking, distance, elevation, navigation|
|Mt. Rainier||93||24,000||9||Distance, elevation|
|Mt. Adams||37||6600||8||Distance, glaciers, bushwacking, navigation|
|Mt. Hood||42||11,000||7||Distance, elevation|
|Three Sisters||48||5500||6||Distance, exposure|
|Mt. St. Helens||32||7000||6||Technical, elevation, exposure|
|Three Fingered Jack||22||3500||2||Some technical|
Volcano Circumnavigation Trail Races
Since most mountains are designated a wilderness area, races aren’t allowed to go around the mountain. However, the Volcanic 50 does circle Mt. St. Helens. This is a great way to experience the circumnavigation because the aid stations make it easier to stay hydrated and well-fed.
Trail Running Groups
Seattle Mountain Running Group and Oregon Trail Runners are two Facebook pages that act as great resources to get trip reports of trail runners circling volcanoes and possibly find a running partner to run it with.