About Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mt St Helens is famous for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980. It is an active volcano and most recently had volcanic activity present from 1980-2008. Its eruption affected much of its surrounding area, covering the land with ash for many miles. The eruption decreased the height of the volcano by over 1,300 feet. It was deemed a National Volcanic Monument in 1982. After the eruption in 1980, many new glaciers were formed within the volcano’s crater. Today, you can see how the area and nature has recovered after the massive eruption. Also good to know, many Bigfoot legends come from this area.
How to get to Mount Saint Helens
The best way to get to Mount Saint Helens is by car. It is about 3 hours from Seattle and 2 hours from Portland. It is also about 3 hours from the Paradise Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park.
If you are flying into the area from somewhere else, the two biggest airports nearby can be found in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. Numerous car rental companies can be found at both of these airports.
There is not a shuttle within this National Volcanic Monument and there are many seasonal closings due to the weather in this area. Check here for the latest updates from the National Park service.
Where to Stay at Mount Saint Helens
There is no lodging inside the park on the west side of the park. Outside the park on the west side, there are several local communities with campgrounds.
Seaquest State Park
Seaquest State Park is around 45 minutes from the west entrance of Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. We decided to stay here because it was one of the closest campgrounds outside the park that had available spots when we were planning our trip. The spots here can be booked online through the Seaquest State Park Website . We loved our campsite here and it was perfect for our stay here. The site we stayed in was very private and clean. The bathhouses have running water and showers. Our site was so nice with ginormous, tall trees towering over the entire area. Even though there were many other people at the campground, we felt very secluded. We would totally recommend staying at Seaquest State Park.
Some other nearby campgrounds include Silver Lake RV Park, Mt St Helens RV Resort, Silver Cove RV Resort, and Longview North/Mount St Helens KOA Campground. These campgrounds are also around 45 minutes from the Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument entrance.
Things to do at Mount Saint Helens
Johnston Ridge Observatory
The Johnston Ridge Observatory opened in 1993, 13 years after the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Here you can learn about the history and visit a small gift shop. The best view without hiking is from here. You can look up into the crater and see the various formations created during the eruption period. Several small trails begin from here where you can further explore the area if you choose. There are also many informational signs outside to learn more about the eruption and history. As of July 2021, the Johnston Observatory exhibit area was closed due to renovation, but the outdoor areas and bathrooms were still open.
The Hummocks Trail miles from Johnston Observatory. Here you can hike 2.4 miles through hummocks created during the eruption. Hummocks are round hills formed from volcanic debris in huge landslides. The trail was beautiful when we went in the summer because there were so many colorful wildflowers growing everywhere. It was beautiful to walk through the rocky fields of vibrant flowers. The second half of the trail is more shaded and walks along a small waterway for a bit of time. It is amazing to see how something that was created out of destruction is now once again thriving with life. Be sure to wear closed toe shoes on this trail as we encountered a few harmless snakes in this shaded part of the trail.
Birth of a Lake Trail
Birth of a Lake Trail is a short 0.6 mile trail with paved walkways and boardwalks that brings you to Coldwater Lake, a lake created completely from the amount Mt Saint Helens eruption. There is an interesting biological phenomenon that happened after the eruption. When the lake was first created, there was a lot of debris and the water was the color of ash. However, over the course of a few years, microbes completely cleared the debris and the water is currently clear and sparkly. From the lake you can also see the surrounding mountains. It’s a nice, gentle walk that would be great for any age.
When driving into Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument from the west, there are several pull-offs on the right side of the road where you can get good views of the volcano. The notable pull-offs are Elk Rock Viewpoint, Castle Lake Viewpoint, and Loowit Viewpoint. Keep in mind, your best view will likely be from the Johnston Observatory, but these roadside pull-offs can offer unique views as well.
Notes on Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
We visited the west side of the park since it is the closest entrance to Seattle. This part of the park has the best view of the crater and volcanic formations without hiking. However, if you have more time, there are also entrances on the south and east sides. In these areas there are more hiking trails, including a trail up to the crater of Mount Saint Helens and lava tube trails. Many of these trails require permits from the US Forest Service, so be sure to check with the US Forest Service and local rangers before your trip.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know your favorite thing about visiting Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument!
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