There are a few paved roads that go to Mount St Helens observation points and the most popular is Highway 504. This pathway begins at the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument Visitor Center by Silver Lake and Seaquest State Park. The long road ends way uphill at the Johnston Ridge Observatory on the side of the volcano rim that was blown out by the massive ash explosion and the resulting pyroclastic flow back in 1980. If you ever wanted to see just how powerful an unstoppable volcanic hot volcanic ash avalanche can be, Highway 504 is definitely the road to tour!
In a previous article the start of the Highway 504 Mount St Helens tour to the Castle Lake Overlook is described. Minimal damage can be seen in the lower elevations after all these years, but at the Hofstadt Creek Bridge landmark, the evidence of a massive eruption starts to become clear as day. From this point on, the terrain increasingly looks more and more like an extreme disaster area and the monuments of civilization remain safe far behind downhill.
Castle Lake is an interesting place, but it is way in the distance so access is limited. A little further up Highway 504 is where Coldwater Lake can be found, which is a roadside attraction that practically anybody can experience. The parking area is large and modern facilities are conveniently located in this place. Coldwater Lake is a day use picnic area in a lakeside deep forest environment, so this is quite a serene place to be. There are well maintained pathways that go to viewing spots in the wetlands and the lake. Longer hiking trails that go deeper into the wilderness can be found here too.
Coldwater Lake definitely is a surreal place, because many old logs are beached on the narrow shoreline from way back when the Mount St Helens eruption knocked the tall trees down. This lake has a look of being something new, because the waterline shows no signs of long term erosion, while the forest butts up against the water. These are all the clues needed to confirm that Coldwater Lake was indeed created during the 1980 eruption. The pyroclastic flow blocked off Coldwater Creek and this big lake was formed. Seven Lakes actually were created during the Mount St Helens event, which once again provides an idea of just how powerful this old volcano really is.
On a rainy dark overcast day, like during my visit, Coldwater Lake can look downright ominous and uninviting. There were no other visitors that dismal day and the silence was deafening. On the flip-side, Coldwater Lake is a great place to explore on a sunny day and paddling a kayak across the water is guaranteed to be a learning experience. This lake is stocked with trout, so fishing for dinner can be done here too. The weather conditions can make a big difference in the mood that Coldwater Lake imparts, but either way, the thought of the big Mount St Helens Volcano Crater being so close by will certainly preoccupy the senses. This is one very strange place to spend some time, so be sure to check it out when doing the Highway 504 tour!
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