Take a short dayhike (or a great first-time backpacking trip) in a ghost forest to a beautiful babbling brook on the southwest side of Mount St. Helens.
From the Toutle trailhead off of Forest Road 8123, look for the trailhead kiosk near the now washed-out parking lot. The trail heads off just behind the kiosk, and bends west, meandering through a wide lahar (outflow from St. Helens’ 1980 explosion and subsequent flood). All around you is a ghost forest of dead trees and gray ash and rock, but a small creek, Coldspring Creek, flows through this valley bottom, and fireweed blooms nearby.
Follow signs for the Toutle Trail on a westerly course to a crossing of Coldspring Creek about a mile from the trailhead. The crossing is done on downed logs across the creek; trekking poles here will help. Once across, the trail abruptly enters forest, transitioning from the gray of the lahar to deep greens and browns of old- and second-growth forest.
Hike through the forest, made up primarily of grand fir and hemlock above, and carpeted with oxalis and ferns below your feet, for 1.7 miles. Early on in this stretch is an overlook offering a small peek at Blue Lake – more green than blue, actually. You'll not access Blue Lake on this hike, but you'll have access to other water, should you need to refill.
Huckleberries and blueberries line the path you hike, which is a gradual incline to 4000 feet, where you find a junction with the Blue Horse Trail off to your right. Continue past this junction, now descending 0.6 miles to a switchback and a junction in Sheep Canyon. At the junction, bear right, heading for a large campsite, which makes this trail a great backpacking option. It’s a large site with room for about eight to ten tents, depending on the size of your group.
Backtrack to an overlook of Sheep Creek crashing through the canyon, or switchback down to the large bridge that crosses the canyon and take in wildflowers and an impressive view of the southwest flanks of the volcano.
If you'd like to carry on to the end of the Toutle Trail, continue north from Sheep Canyon for another 1.5 miles to where the Toutle Trail ends at an intersection with the Loowit Trail. This last bit of the trail goes up and over Crescent Ridge where you'll get views down on the South Fork Toutle River.
If you're looking to camp, consider The Sheep Canyon campsite a better option than the Loowit junction, since people thru-hiking the Loowit Trail will likely be spending the night here.