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If you are feeling adventurous and want to experience something dramatic, without too much effort, Lava Canyon is the place to go. I have been there a few times by myself on weekdays. The experience was quite intense. The rushing water, dangerous drop-offs, the somewhat scary suspension bridge all add to the drama.
The trail begins with an amazing, ADA accessible, interpretive trail before proceeding down a steep rugged canyon to a one-of-a-kind swinging bridge. There are three sections of the Lava Canyon Trail, each distinguished by increasing difficulty. From the parking lot the trail quickly descends into the canyon on a paved path with a gentle grade. The first section is perfect for everyone from youngsters new to hiking to those with stubborn knees. This section comes to an end at the waterfall viewpoint.
Below, the trail becomes more difficult as the route narrows and skirts along high cliffs. This segment forms a loop, which crosses over a 125-foot suspension bridge torn from the pages of a Hollywood movie script. On the bridge you will be treated to an amazing view of the canyon below and gushing water right under your feet. The sight can be unnerving, so watch your footing.
The trail eventually returns on the south side of the canyon, crossing a steel bridge upstream of the waterfalls and rejoins the paved trail. But before you get there you will need to drop farther into the canyon. If you are fearful of heights, this segment is not for you. After the bridge, the trail crosses an exposed face, followed by a water crossing, where a cable is present to assist hikers make the ford. A metal ladder then descends a vertical cliff providing access to the canyon’s thunderous waterfalls.
The trail soon intersects Ship Trail (the return route), which climbs to a viewpoint atop a lava formation that overlooks a long series of waterfalls in the lower canyon. A bit further, the canyon begins to broaden and flatten as it approaches a large alluvial fan spreading into the Smith Creek valley.