My, how things change. In the last 30-plus years, life has flourished anew on this Cascade peak: Forests have retaken barren flanks, migrating elk have returned, wildflower displays burst with color and new glaciers are even forming.
Located east of Castle Rock, on State Route 504, the Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center fast-tracks geology and history lessons. Inside, exhibits include the “eruption chamber,” where visitors can experience the full-force blast fury and a virtual aerial tour of the crater. Thrill-seekers, though, can land the ultimate perch: Hillsboro Aviation’s St. Helens helicopter tours offers flights that take in sightlines of the entire blast zone, remnant ghost forests, and herds of elk.
Further up Highway 504, the Johnston Ridge Observatory—perched just five miles from the massive crater—is still used by scientists to monitor the volcano. An observation deck lets visitors peer into the massive crater, and the auditorium hosts a popular documentary film about the 1980 blast. (Stick around for the credits.)
Don’t just stay inside: Several excellent hikes depart from the observatory, including Harry’s Ridge, offering views of clusters of alpine flowers and the deep-blue waters of log-jammed Spirit Lake, beneath the summit.