Start exploring the mountain through interactive displays at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake, a 10-minute drive east from Interstate 5.
Pass tiny Toutle and even smaller Kid Valley, your last chances to grab a sit-down meal, and continue east toward the mountaintop—or what’s left of it. Every few miles brings a new ecosystem and a new landscape. Thick forests give way to open views as the road gains altitude and enters Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Thousands of trees still lie scattered like toothpicks around the blast zone. Closer to the crater, wildflowers and hardy shrubs are gaining ground in ash-covered slopes. Find out more about the returning plants and animals at the Forest Learning Center at milepost 33, open late May through early September.
As well as hosting on-site education programs, the Mount St. Helens Science & Learning Center near Coldwater Lake is a base for further exploration. Schedule ahead to take a guided day-hiking expedition right into the crater itself, or climb to the summit with a geologist from the Mount St. Helens Institute.
At the end of the road and with head-on views of the crater, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, open mid-May through October, offers educational movies and exhibits, panoramic views, paved and unpaved trails, and summer Music on the Mountain concerts.
The mountain’s less-visited east side, home to the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site (end of Forest Rd 99), showcases log-filled Spirit Lake. Try to time your visit for a ranger talk. The relatively unscathed south side gives visitors an idea of what the mountain was like before the blast and is home to some of the area’s best hiking and winter sports.
Photo by Donna Nonemountry