Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

Planning to visit Washington State and looking for Unique Pacific Northwest Adventures, then you must head to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument.   Mount St. Helens is a volcano located in southwestern Washington state. It’s the most active volcano in the Cascade Range.

This famous volcano made headlines news for its deadly eruption back in 1980 claiming hundreds of lives and destruction of property and surrounding landscapes. In 1982, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic monument was established. The territory of the monument is 110,000 acres with beautiful lakes, meadows and recreation areas.

The Mount St. Helens recreational area are popular for tons of hiking trails, meadows, lakes, visitor centers, learning centers and other outdoor activities.  

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire – A horseshoe shape ring, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and plate movements.

Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range are a small part of the Ring of Fire, a zone of intense volcanic and seismic activity that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. Most of the Earth’s volcanoes are located around the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Mount ST Helens National Volcanic Monument

What happened at Mount St. Helens?

On May 18, 1980 an earthquake hit the north face of Mount St. Helens triggering the largest landslide recorded in history and a major volcanic eruption that scattered ash across many states in USA.  Ash from volcanic eruption fell as far as Minnesota in east and Canada in North.

After the eruption, Mount St. Helens got its current shape and look.  Mount St. Helens went from a 9,677-foot snow-capped peak to a 8,363-foot mountain with a one-mile wide, horseshoe-shaped crater.

Mount ST Helens - Before and After Pic

Since the 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens continues to rumble, with intermittent episodes of venting steam from the crater and increasing height of lava dome.  Scientists are monitoring the growing Lava Dome at Mount St Helens for volcanic activity, so most of the area is closed to visitors.

Mount ST Helens with wild flowers bloomed
Wild Flowers bloomed at Mount ST Helens

Mount St. Helens visit is perfect for a day trip and if you want to drive through the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, here are my tips for the viewpoints, hiking trails, where to stop and more.

  • Mount St. Helens Summit Climb (Requires Permit)
  • Johnston Ridge Observatory
  • Johnson Ridge View Point
  • Boundary Trail
  • Mount St Helens Forest Learning Center
  • Coldwater Lake Recreation Area
  • Helicopter Tours to get Bird Eye view

Mount St. Helens Summit Climb

Mount St. Helens Summit Hike is popular among hikers and climbers for summit climb. The hike is 10 miles strenuous hike that takes through dense woods, a huge boulder field gaining elevation of 2500 feet and an ash field to the crater rim. The hike is challenging and worth the efforts as the views on the summit are magnificent. Permits are required to climb beyond 4800 feet elevation on Monitor Ridge trail that takes to Summit of Mount St. Helens.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Johnston Ridge Observatory

Johnston Ridge Observatory is located in center of the blast zone at end of State Highway 504 also called Spirit Lake Memorial Highway.   It is operated by U. S. Forestry Service and is the Visitor center closet to the volcano and offers stunning views in to the Crater and surrounding eruption altered landscape.

Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount ST Helens

The interpretive displays at Observatory tells about the geological, biological and human story of Mount St Helens. Visitors can enjoy the award-winning films that depicts about the before and aftermath of Volcanic eruption.

A wide-screen theater presentation concludes with the drapes being opened to reveal the view through a windowed-wall. Exhibits take you through Mount St. Helens’ geologic events. Visitors specially Children enjoy the science exhibit that make them feel the earthquake vibrations and one can witness the accounts of eruption and aftermath.

The Observatory is must place to visit, where Tourist can listen to Ranger talks, purchase souvenirs, observe the landscape, have light snacks or set off on a hike.

Ranger talks about the historic day at Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mount St. Helens with Kids  

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is a must for school-age kids with geologic, biologic exhibits and live seismographs. The visitor center offers two different films, perfect for school-age kids.  Also, the kids can go for Junior Ranger Program which is for an hour.

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed during the winter. 

Exhibit at Johnston Ridge Observatory
Listen to Ranger at Johnston Ridge Observatory about the historic day.
Listen to Ranger at Johnston Ridge Observatory about the historic day.

Johnston Ridge View Point

After spending a short time visiting Johnston Ridge Observatory, We started out on small and easy walk towards Johnston Ridge. The trail is paved part of the way to the vista point upon the hill and eventually splits into two directions. One paved loops down to the main parking lot and the other dirt trail continues along the ridge towards Boundary Trail in east.

Paved trail walking road to Johnston Ridge view point
Paved trail walking road to Johnston Ridge view point
View of Parking lot from Johnston Ridge

Boundary Trail

Boundary Trail starts from Johnston Ridge View Point. The trail is easy and with panoramic view of the Mount St. Helens and the destruction site created during the volcanic eruption.

This is a great hike with fantastic views of Mount St Helens without much elevation gain. It was an leisure walk on trail with wild flowers bloomed and majestic view of the Mount St. Helens.

Boundary Trail Sign Board at Mount ST Helens
Boundary Trail Sign Board at Mount St. Helens
Wondering on Boundary Trail at Mount ST Helens
Wondering on Boundary Trail at Mount St. Helens
This Part of Boundary Trail gives a feeling of walking straight in to the Crater. But we are miles away from it.
This Part of Boundary Trail gives a feeling of walking straight in to the Crater. But we are miles away from it.

We stopped at the memorial point that is build to honor the people who lost their lives during the deadly volcanic eruption in 1980.

Memorial Point -People who lost their life during Volcanic Eruption
Memorial Point -People who lost their life during Volcanic Eruption

Mount St Helens Forest Learning Center

It is located inside the blast zone on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory.  The visitor center is open to public free of charge. 

The Forest Learning Center is a fascinating place that offers unique experience through Interactive kids Exhibits, Eruption theater, Virtual Mount St Helens Helicopter Tour, walk through a life-like forest.  It tells the story of a remarkable recovery of forests and wild life after the eruption.

Exhibits at Johnston Ridge Observatory
Exhibits at Johnston Ridge Observatory

 The kids room gives hands on approach to touch the variety of  lava rocks. The gift shop, elk viewing, trails &  play area are open 7 days a week from Mid-May thru October from 10.00 am to 4 pm.

Virtual Helicopter Tour at Mount St Helens Forest Learning Center
Mount St Helens Forest Learning Center- Virtual Helicopter Tour

Where is Mount St Helens Forest Learning Center

From Interstate 5 in Washington, take Exit 49 and continue east on Highway 504 (Spirit Lake Memorial Highway) to Milepost 33.

Cold water Lake Recreation Area

Cold Water Lake is huge 750 acre lake that got created in 1980 after the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens. The Cold water recreational area is famous scenic place with picnic area facilities, hiking trails, fishing and boating.

Cold Water Lake Recreation Area Mount St Helens

Helicopter Tours

For the Visitors who are not afraid of flying in to air and would love to get bird eye view of the Mount St Helens, there are Helicopter Tours that give the opportunity to fly above the mountain.

Helicopter Tours of Mount St Helens
Helicopter Tours of Mount St Helens

Family Fun at Mount St. Helens 

The delicate nature at Mount St Helens is yet recovering and new growth is still going on. The landscape is experiencing continued seismic activity and so there are limited recreational activities at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Magma Moves the mountain side board at Johnston Ride

Mount St. Helens Visitor Center

Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake is a Washington State Park that offers exhibits on the 1980 eruption. Located 6 miles from Castle Rock along State Route 504, it’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer season.

Ape Caves National Volcanic Monument

Ape Caves are one of the geological wonders at Mount St. Helens. Ape Caves is a lava tube that is third longest tube in North America that is 13,042 feet long (about 2.4 miles) underground.  

Ape Caves were formed about 2,000 years ago when lava poured down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens in streams.  The outer edges of the lava stream cooled forming a hardened crust which insulated the molten lava beneath.

Other Places to visit at Mount St. Helens

Lava Canyon, Spirit Lake View Points

Where is Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is located 52 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, along State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway). It’s located 150 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington and 110 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon.

Enjoying the Wanderlust
Enjoying the Wanderlust

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is open 7 days a week from mid-May until the end of October, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.  Annual Pass of “America the Beautiful” is good to have to visit or admission tickets can be purchased. There are some free days to visit the historic monument. Check the site for yearly calendar.

Mount St Helens is perfect trip that can be done with family and all age group people. It is a unique experience to explore about the history of volcanic eruption and learn more about the reforestation of wild life and nature. If you love visiting Volcanoes, You would love to visit Mount Rainier National Park. It is one of the active volcano in Ring of Fire and in State of Washington.

Where to Stay ?

The closest towns are Castle Rock or Kelso, both along Interstate 5. There is no Public transportation to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Mid Range/ Couple StayTimberland Inn & Suites and Best Western Aladdin Inn – Near to Mount St. Helens Visitor Center in town of Castle Rock.

Budget Hotels/Bed & BreakfastBlue Heron Chateau Bed & Breakfast Inn Great Location that offers panoramic views of Mt. Saint Helens and Silver Lake.

Have you visited Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument , Washington? Feel free to comment below and share your experience. I would love to know about it.

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Mount St. Helens with Kids
Mount St Helens


Mount St. Helens, Washington USA
Mount St. Helens with wild flowers and clouds

You would like to read more about beautiful places in Washington. Do check below links

39 thoughts on “Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

  1. Hi. This is really informative! I’ve never really spent much time north of San Fray, so I’m really intrigued about this area. Sounds like a good cross country destination for me! Melissa Damiani | Gratitude Grace Glamour

  2. I can’t believe I didn’t have Washington State in my travel bucket list! Would love to visit the volcano! That really sounds and looks fascinating 😃 Thanks for this amazing guide. Definitely saving this!

    1. Sarah

      I have never been to Mount St. Helens, however I would love to go! I have been to several of Costa Rica’s volcanos though.

  3. Wow! I didn’t know Mount St Helens is still that lovely especially with the flowers and all! It looks like a beautiful and fun place to bring the family! There’s great information in your post. Thanks for sharing! – Amor

    1. It looks nice but I’m not sure I’d like to visit it— mainly because there’s a possibility it could errupt. I wouldn’t want to be around there. I’d rather look at it from the screen.Lol.

  4. I remember when Mt. St. Helens erupted. I’ve never thought about touring the area and didn’t realize that it was a national monument. Now, it’ll be another stop on my tour of the Pacific Northwest!

  5. Wonderful post! It really makes me want to visit there myself too now. My parents toured the whole US in a truck and RV and got a chance to go out there after it happened and brought back some ash. I remember it really moved them. Also there was just a good book that came out last month that I read and reviewed prior to publication that you might enjoy if you are going to make the trip out there. It’s a wonderful story in it’s own right, called A Hero on Mount St. Helens.

  6. Thank you for such a great post. I have always been fascinated with volcanoes, from as young as I can remember, and grew up to be a geologist. I’m sure that learning about Mt St Helens in School is what kick started the passion. We are planning on doing a big US road trip around all the national parks as soon as our daughters are old enough and I will save this post to read again then 🙂

    1. Vow glad to know you are geologist. I am sure you will enjoy visiting here with your family as children gets to learn lot from this destruction site about reforestation, regrowth of wildlife and water life after volcanic eruption in 1980. Thank you Suzy for stopping by to give a read.

  7. Ana

    I haven’t been to Washington State yet but I’m planning to visit Seattle soon and maybe visit St. Helens National Volcanic monument that time. How many days will you suggest and the best time to visit?

  8. Wow, this is so interesting! I had no idea this ever happened. Nature is crazy! Mount St Helen looks like a beautiful place to hike and a really interesting place to visit, both for the nature and the history.

  9. Daniel Kiteski

    Great post!! The views are just amazing and you pictures proves it very well. Honestly I had no clue that Washington has volcanic mountains, how cool is that?? I am surely adding it in my list for sure. I love the fact that you also took the efforts to mention the great story behind it too.

  10. Shane Prather

    I actually had no idea there was an active volcano in washington! The snow capped tops make for a stunning view! I need to make a trip out west one day soon… there is so much beauty on that side of the US!

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