Touring the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument on Highway 504 is an all day adventure that will provide interesting memories to ponder over for many years to come. There is plenty to see and do at the roadside overlooks and following the hiking trails will present even more opportunities. Seven lakes were created when Mount St Helens erupted back in 1980 and one of the most intriguing is Spirit Lake, which is a full day adventure in itself. There are good camping options at the base of the mountain by Silver Lake, which is a world renowned fishing and birdwatching spot. As can be imagined, an entire vacation trip can be planned around all there is to experience at Mount St Helens on Highway 504, so it is best to just set up a basecamp and go for it!
Previously published articles have focused on Seaquest State Park, Silver Lake, Castle Lake Overlook and Coldwater Lake. All of these destinations can be found along Highway 504 on the way up to the volcano crater. There are lodging options along the way, but all signs of civilization start to disappear after entering the blast zone where the most recent pyroclastic flow destroyed everything in its path.
As Highway 504 makes its way up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, there are a few more roadside overlooks that simply must be checked out. Clear views of the entire gigantic pyroclastic flow area can be seen along the ridge line at the Lewitt Viewpoint. The sight that will strike an observer the most in this place is the old logs that are scattered on the ground everywhere for miles around. This was once an old growth tall tree forest before the volcano blew its top and the old logs are all that remains. The volcanic ash explosion was so powerful that many of the big logs show signs of being snapped in half like toothpicks. The trees were knocked down by a force so powerful that it is difficult to imagine, yet while standing in the blast zone it all starts to become real.
Further up Highway 504 is the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is the end of the line. The observatory is the closest point to the Mount St Helens Crater on this side of the volcano. The views up top face directly into the side of the crater that exploded and caused the gigantic pyroclastic flow. The entire valley heading downhill from the volcano cone actually is the pyroclastic flow avalanche area. When following this wide disaster area with the eyes as it goes downhill, it is easy to see that the previous landscape was entirely erased. Fresh new green growth now covers the gray volcanic ash flow area, but deep ravines are easily cut through the loose soil during heavy rains. The result is a wild untamed landscape like no other, so be sure to set plenty of time aside when touring the Johnston Ridge Observatory!
If the Johnston Ridge Observatory looks like a thick concrete bomb shelter, it kind of is. Mount St Helens is indeed an active volcano and new puffs of smoke from small eruptions have taken place recently. Back in 1980, even after plenty of scientific data was analyzed, the volcanic explosion event was still a surprise. Volcanoes are a topic area that is still being learned, so it is wise to heed the warnings even if it is just a tiny rumble. Believe me, if the ground shakes a little bit at the Mount St Helens Crater Observatory it definitely will get the adrenaline flowing and just the thought of it will make drinking coffee unnecessary for this trip!
Some days are better than others for observing Mount St Helens. The State Of Washington is well known for endless days of continuous rain, so it is best to plan on encountering wet weather. During my trip, the heavy clouds draped the mountain peaks and rain drizzled off and on all day. The actual Mount St Helens Crater could not be seen during my visit and the weather was not expected to clear up any day soon. I settled for what I could get, which was some fantastic views of the rain drenched pyroclastic flow area where the fresh new green growth struggles to exist. Mount St Helens certainly is alive in more ways than one and this big intimidating volcano must be experienced to be believed!
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