Back on May 18, 1980, an eruption occurred in the state of Washington. This eruption was one of the deadliest and catastrophic events from a volcano in the whole country and it still remains active. If you were guessing this is Mount Saint (St.) Helens, you are right. When I first heard about Mount St. Helens, I didn’t even read about it in a book or from a documentary, but my mom had bought it up from a movie she watched.
Mount St. Helens is the most active volcano in the Cascades Range. Today, you can still view this magnificent volcano, even if you would not want to go so close to it.
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Why visit Mount St. Helens?
I’m a person who is starting to get interested in visiting and looking at volcanoes. I HAD to make it a visit to see Mount St. Helens and it was an alternative choice to go visit it when my original plan in Washington was to see Mount Rainier National Park, but I heard Mount Rainier still had a lot of snow during the time of my visit.
In the last few years, I have only visited my fair share of volcanoes. Volcanoes have really heightened my curiosity and made me even more interested in how geology plays an important part in the way our world is formed. How can something so beautiful be so dangerous?
I always think it’s interesting to try to visit a volcano even if it doesn’t have the chance of erupting anytime soon. You will get to witness the landscape of snow-capped mountains that just appears to be like any snow-capped mountains, but the story behind them (having volcanic activity) is more interesting.
Volcano eruptions are measured by the Volcanic Explosivity Index and Mount St. Helens’ eruption in 1980 was on a scale of 5 out of 7, which makes it a pretty drastic and massive eruption!!! Just to think that the state of Washington had experienced this is mind-blowing! The eruption is just part of why volcanoes had to be studied closer.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and right by Toutle, Washington, you can visit Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and make a day trip there if you want to see her more up close. You can also see for yourself the catastrophic damage she created when you look at where the lava flowed out to through the vegetation, even by a gift shop. Its lava was strong enough to wipe away homes and forests from hundreds of miles away.
Mount St. Helens served as a living laboratory for scientists to help them understand how ecosystems and species respond and recover from events like these.
Forest Learning Center and Mount St. Helens Gift Shop
Early on the drive towards Mount St. Helens, stopping by the Forest Learning Center will reward you with spectacular views as I previously mentioned. Forest Learning Center, an exhibit that makes you want to experience a life-like forest and to learn more about the eruption, is currently closed inside.
There’s a currently opened gift shop too in the Forest Learning Center aside from the outside that already gives you an ultra-beautiful view of Mount St. Helens in the distance. You would also want to go check it out too because there’s a lot of great souvenirs to find, including little jars of the ash. I had to get the little magnets of a variety of photographs of Mount St. Helens.
Forest Learning Center
17000 Spirit Lake Highway – Mile Post 33
Toutle, WA 98649
Johnston Ridge Observatory
Right after the gift shop, the lookout stop here is worth the stop! This is a great photo-taking opportunity and for those who are practicing their landscape photography, you will get plenty of shots that can let you closely photograph Mount St. Helens with zoom lens. You will still be able to see the impact of the 1980 eruption where the massive landscape is as you are “at the heart of the blast zone”.
The observatory center was named after David Johnston, who was a volcanologist who passed away during the tumultuous event while studying there. Unfortunately, the inside of Johnston Ridge Observatory is currently closed.
Spirit Lake Memorial Highway and Castle Lake
The drive through Mount St. Helens is a beautiful scenic drive you won’t regret. There’s a bridge you will drive through and it is so thrilling! To see a small beautiful lake formed from the eruption called Castle Lake, there is a lookout you can stop by to be mesmerized by the views surrounding this lake.
Hiking trails by Mount St. Helens
During my day trip visit here, I didn’t have time to do a hike as I found out I only had half a gas tank (which is not ideal at all and not recommended! ALWAYS fill it up to the top in long nature road trips!), so I had to head back since driving Spirit Lake Memorial Highway can be long and getting to hiking destinations is a bit longer. However, I always recommend a good not-too-difficult hike, so here are some recommended easy-moderate hikes you should check out:
- Hummocks Trail – 2.4 miles, 246 feet elevation gain, loop route type. This hike isn’t particularly for viewing the snow-capped volcano, but it’s great for viewing the hummocks that were created by the volcano.
- Loowit Falls Trail – 8.1 miles, 1,171 feet elevation gain, out and back route type. This is a trail to see a majestic flowing waterfall, even if some of the scenery there is dry with no snow.
- Windy Ridge and Plains of Abraham Loop – 8.4 miles, 1,410 feet elevation gain, out and back route type. Some say this is a hike that makes you feel “up close and personal” with the volcano and you may even get a glimpse of a mountain goat or a few.
- Harry Ridge’s Trail – 7.8 miles, 1,564 feet elevation gain, out and back route type. This hike will give you panoramic views of Mount St. Helen’s crater, Spirit Lake, and more and it’s also good for bird watching.
- Lava Canyon Trail – 5.4 miles, 1,167 feet elevation gain, out and back route type. I’ve read this is a must-do hike if you can for the variety of sceneries! Although it comes with many steep drops, with caution, it can be rewarding.