It was the volcanic eruption heard around the world—figuratively. When Mount St. Helens blew its top on May 18, 1980, its summit was reduced by 1,300-plus feet, leaving scorched earth, plumes of ash, and a horseshoe-shaped crater.
Now more than 35 years later, the mountain offers an amazing opportunity to see renewal at work. Dig into the geology and ecology of the landscape on a guided climb from Mount St. Helens Institute, which also offers field seminars on topics like foraging for mushrooms and gazing at the stars.
For self-guided learning, stop by Mount St. Helens Visitor Center off of Highway 504, near Castle Rock, to see a step-in model of the volcano. About 50 miles east, Johnston Ridge Observatory sits in the heart of the blast zone. A theater shows stunning videos of the blast, and rangers lead talks and educational programs every hour.
While summiting Mount St. Helens is a strenuous endeavor, it’s an appropriate goal for beginner and expert mountaineers alike, thanks to its nontechnical terrain. Monitor Ridge, a scramble that gains 4,500 feet in five miles, is the busiest route. Most people take about seven to 12 hours to reach the crater rim, elevation 8,365 feet, and make their way down again. You can summit year-round, but for a particularly memorable experience, consider Mother’s Day. Every year, climbers don dresses for the occasion, making for a fun scene—and some colorful photos.