Mount St. Helens ranks within the top 50 deadliest volcanic eruptions and many still remember the day it erupted. Although the surrounding area is starting to be rejuvenated, you can still see signs of destruction from that day many years ago. I highly recommend taking a day and exploring the area to see the devastation and how much the area is recovering.
What to know before you go to Mount St. Helens:
When is the best time to go:
You can see the mountain all year round, however some of the activities do close during the winter time. It’s best to go between mid-May and October so that all of the activities will be open. If it is cloudy or foggy, you won’t be able to see the top of the mountain. Unfortunately when we went it was supposed to be sunny, but the clouds never cleared.
What happened here:
Although the eruption occurred in May, the activity started a few months earlier. On March 20, 1980 there was a 4.2 magnitude earthquake that started all the activity around Mount St. Helens. For almost 2 months, there was lots of activity in the area with scientists coming from all over. Then on May 18,1980 Mount St. Helens erupted. On that day 57 people died and the surrounding area was destroyed.
How do you get there:
Mount St. Helens is between Seattle and Portland. I recommend doing it as a day trip from either.
The main part is off of I-5 at Castle Rock. There are other sections to explore around the mountain, but these are more if you are going to be staying for the night and camping.
How much time do you need there:
A day trip is plenty to see the main sights. if you want to do more hiking, probably need at least a full day.
– Pets are prohibited to protect the recovering landscape so best to leave your furry friends at home.
– Visit the website to see full hours and any closures before you go.
What to See and do at Mount St. Helens:
Of all the many sights to stop at, this is a must see. I would recommend stopping here not just for the information, but also the view. This has the closest view to the mountain. It does cost $8 to get into the area, but is worth it. If you have an America the Beautiful pass, then you can get in for free. If you have time, take a walk on the eruption trail. It’s a short 1 mile trail that starts at the observatory. There is a 16 min video to watch, I would recommend if you have the time. Has great graphics about what happened during that time. Make sure to stay until the end for the surprise!
It is closed from the end of October to May so plan accordingly.
Mount St. Helens Visitor Center
Costs $5 dollars to get into. Has some information and a video that is different from the one at Johnston Observatory. This is right off the freeway. It still takes a drive to get to the mountain.
Coldwater Lake Recreational Area:
This lake was created by the eruption. Still pretty clear and you can see trees that had fallen down if you look in the water. This is a great spot if you want to fish, kayak, or swim. You cannot bring gas motor boats.
See the lake with the Birth of a Lake trail. I recommend going to the boat launch area and walking out onto the dock to get some good photos. You will most likely be surrounded by kayakers and fishermen.
As you drive from the first visitors center at Mount St Helens visitor center near Silver Lake to Johnston Observatory on hwy 504, there are many viewpoints along the way.
Make sure to stop at the viewpoint for Hoffstadt Bridge. It is the tallest bridge in Washington at 370 feet.
There are a few areas to walk around. Please keep in mid that as they are trying to recover the landscape, they do not allow pets and you are required to stay on marked trails.
Outside the first stop of Mount St. Helens, there is an easy and flat 0.6 mile walk that goes over a boardwalk and down to Silver Lake. We did not have much time, but were able to do some of the walk. When you start off the hike, make sure to stay to the right. The left just takes you along the road and not much that we saw that way.
Birth of a Lake Trail: this is part of the Coldwater Lake Recreational Area. When you are in the parking lot, to get to it stay to the right. Its a 0.6 mile walk along the lake and boardwalk.
Eruption Trail: this one is a 1 mile walk right next to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Short little trail that is paved.
For those looking for more of a day hike, there is the Hummocks trail which is 2.4 mile loop as well as the Lakes trail which is 9.0 miles.