Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens blew its top and destroyed 230 square miles of forest. The eruption left at least 57 dead and created a mudslide that reached 50 miles. Two years later, President Ronald Reagan established Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in order for the environment affected by the eruption to regenerate naturally.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Mount St. Helens

The monument is the first of its kind and is managed by the US Forest Service. It’s included within the boundaries of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, and there are many opportunities for education, hiking, and more. It also makes a good day trip from Seattle.

 

Johnston Ridge Observatory

We only visited some attractions on the west side of the monument, starting at the Johnston Ridge Observatory (open mid-May through October). There, we attended a lecture by a ranger and watched a short film about Mount St. Helens before going through the exhibits. The observatory is named for David A. Johnston, a volcanologist who set up camp on the ridge and was killed by the blast. Admission is US$8 per person but is free with an Interagency Pass.

Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Johnston Ridge Observatory

Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Johnston Ridge Observatory

The exhibits feature eyewitness accounts, photographs, the history of the volcano, and tell visitors about current monitoring technology. A scale model of the volcano shows the scale of the eruption with lights.

Johnston Ridge Observatory, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Johnston Ridge Observatory

Model of the eruption at Johnston Ridge Observatory, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Model of the eruption

Exhibits at Johnston Ridge Observatory, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Exhibits at Johnston Ridge Observatory

 

Eruption Trail

Outside of the building, there’s the Eruption Trail, a short interpretive trail that runs about ½ mile one-way. You can see firsthand the scale of the damage, with charred tree stumps along the trail and a look at the barren landscape.

Eruption Trail at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Eruption Trail

Before and after picture of Mount St. Helens at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Before and after picture of Mount St. Helens

Charred stumps at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Charred stumps

Barren landscape at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Barren landscape

The views of Mount St. Helens, only six miles away, are incredible. There were some clouds covering the mountain but they cleared up at times, allowing us to see the crater and the dome that continues to build inside.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Mount St. Helens

Close-up of the crater at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Close-up of the crater

Along the trail is a memorial to all the victims who perished in the eruption, in plain view of the volcano.

Memorial to victims of the eruption at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Memorial to victims of the eruption

 

Other Activities

We decided not to do any trails on this visit because the weather was freezing and it was very windy, but we plan to visit the southern and eastern sections of the monument on our next visit. There are a few trails that seem interesting.

Map of the monument at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Map of the monument

 

Loowit Viewpoint

We did stop at a few viewpoints along the way out. The first was the Loowit Viewpoint, which has almost the same view as Johnston Ridge.

Loowit Viewpoint at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Loowit Viewpoint

 

Castle Lake Overlook

Next was the Castle Lake Overlook, from where you can see Castle Lake. The lake was formed by the eruption after Castle Creek was blocked by debris. An interpretive panel tells how the US Army Corp of Engineers constructed a spillway to keep the lake from overflowing and causing a terrible flood.

Castle Lake Overlook at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Castle Lake Overlook

Castle Lake Overlook at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Castle Lake Overlook

 

Elk Rock Overlook

Finally, we stopped at Elk Rock Overlook, which didn’t seem like much of a view with all the cloud cover.

Elk Rock Overlook at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington

Elk Rock Overlook

 

Fire Mountain Grill

Before leaving the area, we had a delicious lunch at the Fire Mountain Grill. This friendly restaurant is located on the Toutle River and is a great place to stop before or after visiting Johnston Ridge. It closes for the winter season.

Fire Mountain Grill in Toutle, Washington

Fire Mountain Grill

I had a buffalo burger while Marisol had coconut shrimp. We finished it off with an amazing mountain berry cobbler.

Buffalo burger at Fire Mountain Grill in Toutle, Washington

Buffalo burger

Coconut shrimp at Fire Mountain Grill in Toutle, Washington

Coconut shrimp

Mountain berry cobbler at Fire Mountain Grill in Toutle, Washington

Mountain berry cobbler

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