Mount St. Helens’ infamous eruption on the morning of May 18, 1980, punched a 1,300-foot (396-meter) hole in the volcano and sent fire and ash raining down the mountainside. Visitors today can view the mountain’s crater, spot wildlife, see the country’s youngest glacier, and witness the surrounding forest’s recovery.
Mount St. Helens is protected as a National Monument, preserving its forests, meadows, glacier, and crater. Visitors can pick from among numerous hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging, including an option to climb the mountain and peer into its crater. The drive toward the crater is breathtaking, and visitor centers along the way educate you about the blast and the area’s recovery.
Visit independently or join a group or private tour from Seattle that includes round-trip transportation. Most full-day excursions include a visit to the blast site, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a walk along Eruption Trail, and a gourmet picnic.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Visiting Mount St. Helens will enthrall a range of travelers, including families with young children, serious hikers, photographers, and geology buffs.
- Wear layered clothing, as alpine weather can change quickly. The Pacific Northwest is often rainy, so a raincoat is advisable.
- Mount St. Helens’ visitor centers are easily accessible by car. Visitor centers have restrooms, helpful staff, and gift shops.
How to Get There
Mount St. Helens is located 96 miles (154 kilometers) south of Seattle and 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Portland. To access the Monument Visitor Centers and Johnston Ridge, take I-5 to Castle Rock, exiting onto Highway 504, which dead-ends at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
When to Get There
Mount St. Helens and the surrounding area see significant snowfall in winter; summer is the best time to visit. The visitor centers close seasonally during winter and reopen during late spring. The area is busiest on weekends in July and August; to avoid crowds, visit on a weekday.
Best Hikes Around Mount St. Helens
To view the blast zone, walk the Hummocks Trail, a flat 2.3-mile (3.7-kilometer) round-trip hike. For a longer stroll with crater views, trek the 8-mile (13-kilometer) Harry’s Ridge trail near Johnston Ridge Observatory. Duck into Ape Caves, eerie lava tubes on the mountain’s southern flank. A 10-mile (16-kilometer) adventure, requiring knowledge of alpine environments and snow travel, brings you to the peak. Obtain a permit through the Forest Learning Center located off Highway 504.