Mount St. Helens is arguably one of the Pacific Northwest’s most renowned landmarks. The volcano received global media attention when it erupted in May 1980, and has always held the curious eye of people around the world as it remains a constant threat to erupt again. But within mere miles of the mountain are other attractions, which receive comparably almost no attention. Situated in the Lewis River valley are three magnificent reservoirs that lay to the southwest of the glorious Mount St. Helens. These beautiful lakes are well worth the visit for locals and tourists alike.
Swift Reservoir is the lake created by the farthest upstream dam on the Lewis River. Swift is the coldest, and deepest of the lakes, but also perhaps the cleanest and the least used. While some people use Swift to enjoy pleasure boating and water sports during the summer, the cold water and the longer drive dissuade many. However, Swift is the only one of the lakes with significant rainbow trout populations, and therefore it attracts trout enthusiasts. There is fishing access on the west end of the lake at the dam, which is less than 10 miles past Cougar, Washington. Boaters must go to the far end of the reservoir to access the lone boat ramp. Those that are willing to make the drive get to enjoy a gorgeous setting, thinner crowds, and beautiful clear water.
Yale Reservoir is created by the second dam and has its own host of attractions. It offers the most boat ramps and parks of the three reservoirs- as there are campgrounds at Cougar Creek, and Beaver Bay, plus an additional day-use areas at (just one mile before you get to Cougar) and Saddle Dam. Yale is full of kokanee, which are land-locked sockeye salmon. The silvery rockets range from 8 inches on up to some over 20 inches, and are fun fighters and excellent table fare. During the fall months you can stop by Cougar Creek to watch the kokanee as they return up the creek to spawn in their brilliant red colors, not unlike their ocean-going relatives. Yale is considerably more popular than Swift for pleasure boaters, but not as much as Merwin.
Merwin is the last of the reservoirs on the Lewis. True to the pattern, it is the shallowest, typically the warmest, and most popular of the three. It is also the closest to town, which probably is the main cause for popularity. The lake has three boat ramps/parks- Merwin Park, Speelyai Bay and Cresap Bay. Merwin also holds kokanee, and while they are not as plentiful, the average size is considerably bigger. It also is home to non-native tiger muskee, giant toothy predators that have more recently become the target of trophy anglers. Be careful, though, not only do they have dangerously sharp teeth, but a slot limit is in place that determines what size tiger musky you can legally retain.
All three reservoirs are run and subject to the user fees applied by Pacific Power. Visiting their website at http://www.pacificpower.net/about/nr/nr2010/rsc.html will allow you to find out what their use rates are, how to book a campground, plus the dates and times of operations at each park. Each of the reservoirs is worth a visit, and each offers an experience unique to the gorgeous corner of southwest Washington where you find them.