From the west, State Route 504, also known as Spirit Lake Highway, follows the Toutle River up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory which is the closest drivable overlook at Mount Saint Helens. This spectacular 50 mile drive offers stunning views of the volcano and its devastation, still plainly visible almost 30 years after it erupted. This area has several small towns filled with visitor attractions, as well as trail heads, wildlife, fallen trees, and piles of debris.
The route is open year round.
I rented a car in Seattle for my week long journey to San Francisco. Having a car made a detour to Mount Saint Helens, on the way from Seattle to Portland, an easy proposition. From the north, I exited I5 at exit 63 or 60 (I can't quite remember now) and drove through the attractive little township called Toledo and down road numbered 505. Coming off the freeway here and turning left was the only time I forgot to drive on the right! I drove for nearly 400m before I realised and got a real shock!! Thank goodness there was no oncoming traffic. I never did that agin on the whole trip, so I guess it was a powerful reminder!
Anyway, route 505 is a pretty road that comes out on route 504. Turning left here from 505 and it's straight on to Mount Saint Helens Volcanic Monument. I didn't have time to go all the way to the end of this road, so I aimed for the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Centre.
The road is well sealed and wide. Like all American highways, it was a delight to drive on.
Portland turned out to be not so far away, so if you were staying there, Mount Saint Helens would make a relatively easy day or half day trip.
The highway leading to Mount Saint Helens had to be completely rebuilt. The new road was named in honor of the former Spirit Lake, now nearly covered in lava and ash and filled with dead trees, unable to support any life forms. The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway passes the three main visitors centers and detours to other points of interest, such as Coldwater Lake and ends at Johnson Ridge Observatory where, on days unlike this one, you can view the crater and the surrounding mountains.
The sign shows the path of the old hwy 504, once a two lane road, as well as a map of the new Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. The first portion of new highway opened in 1992, 12 years after the blast.
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