Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Things to Do

  • Having fun on the Plains of Abraham
    Having fun on the Plains of Abraham
    by mtncorg
  • Hiking up into the blast zone above Sheep Canyon
    Hiking up into the blast zone above...
    by mtncorg
  • Trees recovering from lahars of 1980
    Trees recovering from lahars of 1980
    by mtncorg

Most Recent Things to Do in Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

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    THE CLIMB TWO

    by mtncorg Updated May 12, 2015

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    The technical highpoint of the mountain - 8365 feet - lies about a halfmile to the west, but the icy headwall of Dwyer Glacier make this visit very precarious. Rest assured, I cna tell you that the view from there is the same as from the end of the Monitor Ridge's route - 8281 feet. Watch in awe as rock avalanches roar off the crater cliffs.

    Earlier in the season, it is possible to ski all the way up, though a large cornice forms at the rim which you should observe with caution.

    A word about the climbing permits needed to climb here - climbing rangers monitor the route to make sure everyone has a permit. Summer weekends, you need to reserve, in February when the permits are first available. UP to 12 in a party, $22 per permit. There are a few permits offered - for the next day. The problem is you end up wasting a day by going to Jack's Restaurant, near the town of Cougar on the south end of the mountain, to sign up. First come - first served, but you con't get the permits until later in the day. Late in showing up and the permit goes to someone else. See the following website for all of the rules of the game. Even though it is bureacracy at its best, the views from the Rim and relative lack of others on a trail that would be overrun, makes your trek and pre-trek trials, worthwhile.

    For a 360 view from the top go here.

    Climbers on the Rim; Mt Adams in distance
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    SHEEP CANYON LOOP

    by mtncorg Updated May 12, 2015

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    Continuing past Blue Lake on the Toutle Trail #238 - sometimes signposted - is the main reason to be up here. At 2.5 miles and maybe some 500 feet gained - 300 lost - you come to an idyllic trail junction. Bear left and head for the South Fork Toutle River - sign says 1.5 miles. You could go right and head up the Sheep Canyon Trail, but I think that is better for the latter part of the loop. There is a very nice place to picnic or camp about 30 meters down this trail though, where it crosses a side creek to Sheep Creek.

    Staying with the Toutle Trail, you get to lose another couple of hundred feet after crossing the grand bridge that crosses the lahar-scoured Sheep Canyon.

    Little Girl looks for sheep at the bridge Hiking up into the blast zone above Sheep Canyon Trees recovering from lahars of 1980 Trail is out! Looking down the canyon towards the South Toutle
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    PLAINS OF ABRAHAM

    by mtncorg Updated May 12, 2015

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    A mile-long plateau at the eastern base of Mt St Helens, the Plains of Abraham have long been devoid of life. Massive avalanches off the eastern mountain bastions have constantly swept away what life there was. 1980's eruption ismply continued the process, albeit in a more dramatic manner. To wander among these plains is to transport yourself to another state of mind. Here, it is easy to sit on a rock and just gaze in wonder at the World we live in. For more views, see my travelogue.

    Having fun on the Plains of Abraham Cairns mark the way across the Plains Ground flattened by avalanches off the mountain Mtndach looking across Ape Canyon to the Plains Finding shade is tough to do on the Plains
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    June Lake (Highway 503)

    by glabah Written Aug 25, 2014

    This is a short and relatively easy hike that is somewhat less than 3 miles / 4.5 km round trip from the parking area to the lake.

    The lake itself is fairly attractive, but it is not large. Opposite the flat plain formed by a laval flow some centuries ago there is a waterfall that coms off the cliff face almost directly into the lake.

    The trail is somewhat rocky but wide in most places and easily found except in winter when it is covered in snow. There is only 200 ft / 60 meters or so of elevation gain.

    Be careful when driving into or out of the parking lot, as it is a one lane road and there is no room for error.

    A Northwest Forest Pass or other federal recreation pass is required here, but it is separate from the Mount St. Helens National Monument pass offered at Johnson Ridge.

    The lake itself is hidden from view from the main trail, but it is just after a bridge and a wide open area that is part of an older lava flow that blocked the stream and created the lake.

    To maintain water quality they ask people not to camp within 200 feet of the lake.

    How to Get Here

    From Woodland, head east to Cougar on highway 503, which is your last stop to purchase a Forest Pass from several stores. Take highway 503 east of Cougar and continue into forest service road network after numbered highway ends. Follow forest road 83 towards Lava Canyon, but Lava Canyon is several miles before. Watch for signs into the parking area.

    June Lake is Small Lake with Snags and Waterfall A View of Mt St Helens through Trees from Trail June Lake Trail is easy to find but Somewhat Rocky Bridge over Creek that Flows from June Lake Closeup View of Waterfall flowing into June Lake
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    Trail of Two Forests (Highway 503 Entrance)

    by glabah Written Aug 24, 2014

    Somewhere around 2,000 years ago, Mt. St. Helens erupted towards the south, spreading quite a lot of molten rock towards the Lewis River. What was here at that time was an old growth forest with quite a few trees two feet or more in diameter. The trees likely lit up like match sticks and burned, but they did not burn before the rock had a chance to cool a little bit. Over the past 2,000 years, whatever was left of the trees decayed into the forest floor.

    The result is a field of solidified laval flow, with impressions of the old trees and logs left in the rocks. In most cases, what is left are simply large circular holes in the rock, but one case there were two fallen logs that were encased in molten rock, creating a very small cave that may be crawled through for the adventuresome and small of stature.

    The interpretive trail itself is an elevated boardwalk that produces a 1/4 mile / 0.4 km loop. The elevated boardwalk helps discourage visitors from climbing over the rocks, so that the remains of this forest don't decay due to visitor wear and tear. The trail is wheelchair accessible, but the uphill climb may be difficult for those wheeling their own wheels by hand.

    In summer months, the pit toilets here are somewhat awful as there are far too many people using them for what they are.

    How to Get Here:

    The trail requires the payment of a Northwest Forest Pass access fee, or a national parks pass (the separate Mt. St. Helens Visitor's Center Pass doesn't translate to this part of the forest). This pass may be obtained at several of the stores in Cougar, or it may be provided by cash envelope deposit in a self-service box near the trailhead. If you have a national parks pass, you must fill out the form anyway so that you have a receipt to leave on your car windshield.

    To get here you leave Interstate 5 at Exit 21, which is the Woodland exit. After 30 miles, you will pass through the small community of Cougar, which is the last flush toilet rest area (marked on sign) as well as the last place to purchase a Northwest Forest Pass with a card. Follow the signs to Ape Cave, but just after the turn off to Ape Cave you will see a sign indicating the Trail of Two Forests parking area on the left.

    Boardwalk through Forest in Trail of Two Forests Large Hole in Rock is Only Remains of Old Forest Cave made by Fallen Trees in Molten Rock Waves and Holes in Molten Rock from Old Forest Map of Trail Loop and Description of Old Forest
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    Hummocks Trail

    by glabah Updated Jul 21, 2014

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    This 2.5 mile loop through the severely altered landscape of the Toutle River Valley explores the Hummocks landscape and ecosystems.

    Hummocks are mounds that were formed when the volcano and flood altered the landscape. The resulting form around the debris clusters are various mounds and ponds. Slowly, the ponds over time develop drainage routes, and become swamps, while the small hills (the hummocks) erode away and help create level spots in various places.

    The hummocks along this trail are in a number of different states. Some have eroded away, and some of the ponds have turned into marshy wetlands that have formed ecosystems of their own. In other cases the ponds and hummocks still very barren and look much as they have for the past 30 years. Wildflowers are growing in a few places.

    Please remember that these flowers and other plants are growing in an extremely difficult environment. Walking on them will kill them, and even though you may not be able to see the plants in some areas walking on those bare patches of ground may stir it up to the point where plants that were developing will be slowed down. Remember that the goal of this national monument is to learn about the volcanic environment by letting things recover at a natural pace, and just watch what happens with as little disturbance as possible.

    There are no restrooms or drinking water available here, but across the highway at the Coldwater Lake Recreation area there is an ample supply of both.

    For a few more photos of the Hummocks Trail, see my 21 June 2014 photos of llife in recovery.

    Hummocks formed by Blast with Crater in Background Desolate Pond and Hummocks in Blast Zone Pond and Hills of Hummocks Trail Mixed Recovery Area along Hummocks Trail Wildflowers along Hummocks Trail
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    Summit of Johnson Ridge

    by glabah Written Jun 30, 2014

    The summit of Johnson Ridge, which is part of the Johnson Ridge Observatory and its trail system, features a circular guide that looks a bit like a sun dial. In reality, it is actually a guide to many of the surrounding peaks and features.

    Naturally, the summit provides a view in pretty much all directions.

    One of the nice features of this identification dial is that it shows the profile of the hillsides so that it is somewhat easier to identify what features is named what. There are enough odd shaped summits visible that it otherwise wouldn't be that easy.

    Also visible from here, on a clear day anyway, is Mt. Adams, among all the minor peaks.

    Identification Dial at Summit of Johnson Ridge Detail View shows Detail of Indication and Profile
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    Johnson Ridge Observatory Trails

    by glabah Updated Jun 30, 2014

    Johnson Ridge has a lot of features, including a nature program. One of its features is a paved loop trail that goes to the summit of Johnson Ridge. Walking on these trails requires a visitors fee payment, and is part of the Johnson Ridge and Coldwater Ridge visitor's entrance fee.

    This section of the trail is paved, and forms a loop from the Johnson Ridge Observatory to the top of the hill at Johnson Ridge, and then wanders downhill to a trail junction, and then back to the far end of the parking lot.

    The summit of the hill has an object on it that looks like a sundial, but in reality it marks the various locations of the surrounding peaks.

    Loop Trail at Johnson Ridge Observatory, Looking N Trail at Johnson Ridge Observatory up Hill From Johnson Ridge Trail at Mt. St. Helens Johnson Ridge Observatory and Paved Trails
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    Elk Rock Viewpoint

    by glabah Updated Jun 30, 2014

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    Highway 504 has a number of viewpoints along it. These may be just wide spots in the road, or like Elk Rock they may be official viewpoints with parking areas. Along highway 504 this is the first viewpoint that is actually part of the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, as the land to the west of here is Weyerhaeuser commercial logging land, with one small area owned by the State of Washington and set aside as Seaquest State Park.

    The Elk Rock Viewpoint was a location that at one time provided a view of what was once known as Goat Rocks on the north side of Mt. St. Helens. Today, Goat Rocks no longer exists.
    Goat Rocks didn't exist very long, in geological time. There were estimates that said they were only about 150 years old.

    During the early months of 1980, pressure built up under the Goat Rocks area, making Goat Rocks expand at a rate of 5 feet per day. So, there are no longer Goat Rocks to view from the Elk Rock Viewpoint. They and much of the rest of the mountain surrounding them on the north side were simply blown away in May of 1980.

    However, this viewpoint does allow a view of the transition from forest to the blast zone, and as seen in photo 2 it is possible to view some of the surrounding features. Note that you do have a view down into the North Fork of the Toutle River valley, which is the river that experienced the worst of the blast and abrupt glacial melt.

    The only other features of this viewpoint are a paved parking area, and a marked crosswalk to get to the sign that gives a map of the Mt. St. Helens National Monument.

    View of Mountain from Elk Rock Viewpoint View of Jagged Peaks to the North of Mountain Toutle River Valley and Mt from Elk Rock Viewpoint
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    Boundary Trail: Johnson Ridge to Devil's Elbow

    by glabah Written Jun 28, 2014

    Devil's Elbow offers a view of the new Spirit Lake. On a clear day, Mt. Adams is visible in the distance as well. The trail that goes there is the Boundary Trail, and it runs from Johnson Ridge Observatory to the Windy Ridge Road (forest service #99). The trail is mostly narrow and during weekends has quite a number of people on it. Due to the steep slopes, a fall could be fatal so despite what everyone else does please be careful.

    From Johnson Ridge Observatory to Devil's Elbow it is 2.5 miles. Much of the views are similar to what you will find on the trails near Johnson Ridge.

    Part of this trail is paved with a nice walkway and handrails, but this is the part of the trail that is severely crowded as part of the Johnson Ridge Observatory. As you head down the hill from the top of Johnson Ridge, you will find that there is a branch in the trail, with one branch paved and going back to the parking lot. The other is mixed gravel and dirt, and it continues up along the ridge.

    Boundary Trail between Johnson Ridge and Spirit Lk Start of This Section of Boundary Trail at J.R.O.
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    Coldwater Lake Picnic and Trail Area

    by glabah Written Jun 27, 2014

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    While the trails that run the circumference of Coldwater Lake are dirt and fairly long, the main access point for Coldwater Lake has paved trails that are wheelchair accessible as well as boardwalks and observation points over the lake. There are two parking areas arranged on a loop, and the first one has a series of picnic tables in the shade along the parking lot so it is very easy to get your food from your car to the picnic table. The boardwalk areas also have a few benches so that if you want a something a little more scenic to look at you can use one of those benches instead. The second parking area has the boat ramp and a pay phone (though the pay phone has had the receiver taken from it as of June 21st, 2014).

    Coldwater Lake Boardwalk with Mt St Helens View of Coldwater Lake Boardwalks from Ridge Picnic Tables at Coldwater Lake along Parking Area Restrooms at Coldwater Lake are Modern and Solid
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    Coldwater Lake

    by glabah Updated Jun 27, 2014

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    Created completely new from debris dams and water runoff during the May 1980 eruption, Coldwater Lake was originally a very muddy mess that smelled of decaying material and sulfur gas from the eruption. Today, it has cleared up, and is in fact it is a true gem in the area.

    There is a loop trail that runs approximately around the lake, but runs along the edge of it only on the northwest side. The southwest side is along a longer ridge to the east. There is a small paved loop among the parking areas that also goes out onto several boardwalks with views of the lake and the mountain, so that even someone in a wheelchair is able to view the mountain from at least some of the trails.

    There is also a boat ramp here so that those with small craft may drop them into the lake. Combustion powered engines are prohibited, but electric powered craft and paddles are welcome.

    The lake is quite a bit larger than it appears from ground level (see the photo from Coldwater Ridge, photo 3) so you will want to be prepared for a fairly long walk if you do decide to walk around the entire lake.

    The annual recreation pass is accepted here, as well as the $8 per day Mt. St. Helens day use fee.

    Boardwalk with View of Coldwater Lake and Peaks View of Coldwater Lake Viewpoint and Mt St Helens Coldwater Lake is Larger than Appears at Ground
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    Loowit Viewpoint

    by glabah Written Jun 24, 2014

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    Named after one of the early names of Mt. St. Helens, the Loowit Viewpoint has paved walkways to the edge of the bluff overlooking the remains of the Toutle River below. It also links with the Boundary Trail, which connects this viewpoint to Coldwater Lake. This trail is not paved.

    Other than the parking lot and the paved viewpoints, there isn't much here. There is sometimes a ranger posted here on busy weekends to help with interpretation.

    The Johnson Ridge Observatory is 3/4 of a mile (1.2 km) up hill on the Boundary Trail, which at this point isn't too steep. If you have to, on busy weekends you may need to park your car at this parking lot and walk up the trail. I would point out that this trail runs along a steep bluff in places, so it is not for everyone as a fall could be fatal.

    Loowit Viewpoint near Johnson Ridge Mt. St. Helens with Remaining Wildflowers Mt. St. Helens, Toutle River Valley from Loowit Pt
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    Coldwater Ridge Science Center is OPEN

    by glabah Updated Jun 22, 2014

    One of the tourist sites that claims to represent what is going on in the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument is wrong when it comes to the Coldwater Ridge Visitors Center. It was not permanently closed in 2007 due to federal budget cuts. It was mothballed for a time starting in 2007, but it was reoponed in 2012. It is open to the public only on weekends (the rest of the time it runs programs for school groups), but the admission is free of charge. At the very least I recommend stopping here if it is a weekend because the Johnson Ridge Observatory is very crowded, and it is possible to get admission wrist bands here at Coldwater as well, WITHOUT a huge wait in line.

    Granted, the program has changed a bit. Coldwater Ridge now focuses more on scientific programs, but that doesn't mean the center is closed.

    There is a movie offered here on a regular basis that tells one part of the story of the mountain and its eruption.

    Coldwater Ridge Center is also open earlier in the season than Johnson Ridge, and is closed later than Johnson Ridge (and sometimes is able to stay open all year depending on the snow fall that year) as it is at a somewhat lower elevation, and it is easier to keep the road plowed.

    The Coldwater Ridge Center also features a few diagrams of the mountain in large scale 3D map format and as an artistic format.

    There is also a good view of the mountain with Coldwater Lake in front of it, as well as some of the substantial rock formations to the north of the mountain. These are somewhat harder to view from Johnson Ridge.

    Sadly, the café is currently closed, but the

    Coldwater Ridge Observatory and Mt St Helens Mt St Helens from Balcony of Coldwater Ridge Ctr Mt St Helens through Window of Coldwater Ridge Coldwater Lake from Coldwater Ridge Center Map of Mountain to Columbia River in Coldwater Ctr
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    Mount Saint Helens Visitors Center

    by glabah Updated May 29, 2014

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    Soon after the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, the National Forest Service decided to capitalize on the event and installed a small visitor's center in a trailer on the edge of Silver Lake, and essentially in the boundaries of Seaquest State Park. The location was selected because:

    1) The mountain was still very active, and this was considered a safe distance and location due to the way the slopes work around Silver Lake.

    2)The state gave them permission to have it on their state park land as part of Seaquest State Park

    3)The views of the mountain were quite good on clear days, and if there happened to be some smoke and ash coming out of the mountain visitors could see it from here without getting themselves into danger.

    4)The location was well downhill from the danger area, and therefore helped contain the huge crowds that had come to watch the volcano in areas where they were safe. It gave the crowds something to visit and see the mountain and understand what was going on, while many of the roads further up the hill were being rebuilt.

    5)The movies shown here were intended to give people a healthy respect and fear for what might happen to them should they get too close to the mountain.

    This wonderful new visitor's center opened in 1987, and the temporary center in the trailers closed.

    In 2000, the Visitor's Center was determined to be beyond the mission of the US Forest Service, and operation of the center was transferred to the State of Washington.

    My how things have changed since those early days! The tiny trailer that I visited as a child has now also become an adult. Still owned and managed by the State of Washington, and still essentially located on land that is part of Seaquest State Park, the visitors center today hosts rooms of material about the volcano. There are several different movies that play in the theatre, with the primary one being a 13 minute introduction to everything that happened before, during, and after the eruption. It is possible to spend an hour or more looking through all the material that is here. It is definitely a must-see on your way up to the mountain, as this facility really sets the stage for what you will see further up the hill.

    The center really contains the story of the mountain, including history from First Nations people (and even photo albums and historic artifacts from these times), the geological reasons for the eruption (including a diagram of the Juan de Fuca Plate and the North American Plate) and a model of mountain with before and after photographs of the areas impacted by the eruption.

    At one time it was possible to watch a working seismograph of the information coming from the mountain, but today anyone can watch this anywhere in the world as it is reported on a web server. The old mechanical live-from-the-mountain-feed seismograph has been turned off but is still on exhibit in the museum / visitor's center here.

    Also, this center is reasonably close to the freeway, making it a good stopover place if you are looking for something that is good to do reasonably close to Interstate 5. This is opposed to the several hour trip to the top of Johnson Ridge and return that is required to really see the National Volcanic Monument.

    Also, this visitor's center is below the usual snow line, so it is possible to visit it in all except the most unusual weather. Further up the hill, many of the roads are closed in winter.

    If you are able to time your visit so that you come through here in the winter, and then are able to visit again in the summer, I highly recommend visiting here in the winter months. This visitor's center receives some 300,000 tourists a year, even though interest in the Volcano has waned in recent decades as people have forgotten about the eruption. In winter months there are far fewer people at this visitor's center, and it is much easier to enjoy the displays and facilities.

    Standard Admission Price is $5, with discounts for children and students but not seniors. If you are a registered educational group with advanced registration, there is no charge. The center is open 9 to 4 during the winter months, and 9 to 5 during the more popular tourist months (currently May 1 to September 30). It is closed on certain holidays, which are listed on the web page for the center.

    The Visitor's Center also offers a one mile trail overlooking Silver Lake which is open dawn to dusk.

    As this center essentially sits on land that is part of Seaquest State Park, please see my Seaquest State Park page for more information about the area around the visitor's center.

    Mount Saint Helens Visitor Tourist Season Talk from Wall at Visitor's Center Mount Saint Helens and Silver Lake from Center Historical Artifacts from Spirit Lake History and Model of Eruption in Museum
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