Mount St Helens, Seattle
From time to time, posted in the Seattle Travel Forum, there are questions about visiting Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. Usually, these are people who would like to do this trip as a day trip from Seattle. Obviously, following the 1980 eruption Mount Saint Helens became a tourist attraction for the region, but today it is not quite as much of a magnet as it used to be.
Before we get into that, however, I would like to point out that Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument has its own set of travel documentation here on VirtualTourist. So, please take a look at the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Section:
Now, it is possible to visit Mount Saint Helens as a day trip from Seattle. However, it will be a fairly long day, and so it is my suggestion that if you are going to try this that you look at spending the night at Castle Rock, Chehalis, or one of the other communities quite far south of Seattle that is on the way to the mountain. It is a two hour drive, under the absolute best of circumstances, to get from Seattle to Castle Rock, and the best parts of the National Volcanic Monument are another hour up the hill from there. The hour drive up to the Johnson Ridge Observatory and return, this is already six hours (three hours each way) of driving alone. There are three good sized museums and visitors centers along highway 504, and if you spend a little bit of time at each of those, plus take photos at the various viewpoints along highway 504, plus explore the area a little bit, this has now become a 12 hour or so trip - not including whatever traffic you hit coming south out of Seattle in the morning, and this traffic can be quite congested.
Furthermore, this leaves out seeing entire sections of the National Volcanic Monument, as there are many sections you can not access from highway 504. Highway 504 is the most popular route for tourists to visit as that gets you to several of the main viewpoints.
It all depends on what it is that you want to do, but if it were me I would not try to do all this in only a day. Spending the night closer to the mountain at Castle Rock or Kelso will allow you to be two hours closer to the mountain and get an earlier start to your day, as well as avoid potential traffic problems going at least one direction.
I would also like to make an important point about weather and time of year: Highway 504 travels to Johnson Ridge Observatory and is the main tourist route, but this highway becomes snowed in in the winter due to its going to high elevation. Therefore, during the season where there is snow covering the road (and the specific days that this happens depends on the weather that year) you will not be able to go as far upward as Johnson Ridge Observatory.
The one visitor's center that is sure to be open in almost all weather is the State of Washington Silver Lake Museum and Visitor's Center at Seaquest State Park. You can see the mountain from there and the information about the eruption is second to none. However, as it is close to Interstate 5 it doesn't get very close to the mountain.
See my Seaquest State Park Travel Page
and my tip about the Volcanic Museum at this state park:
So, before you make plans, check to make sure that the places you want to get to will be open during the time of year that you will come, as winter closes a lot of things in the mountains.
There is far too much to do at the monument to describe in one small tip, as there are dozens of trails and multiple access points. It is possible to spend a week here if you have the time.
Due to significant cutbacks of federal funding for Mount Saint Helens National Monument, the fee system at Johnson Ridge Observatory as well as Clear Lake and several other locations are not part of the National Park Pass system. If you wish to go to those places you must purchase a separate day pass. Other parts of Mount Saint Helens National Monument are covered by the Northwest Forest Pass or National Park Pass, depending on the location. The museum at Seaquest State Park is now state funded and has a separate admissions structure.
Due to damage caused by numerous irresponsible owners, dogs are now prohibited from the vast majority of the most sensitive parts of the monument (most areas along highway 504). There are marked pet exercise areas.
Below is the official web site of the National Volcanic Monument:
Mount Saint Helens is an active volcano, that exploded in 1980. Its more than 1,000 feet smaller than it was prior to 1980, when it was 9,677 feet.
After the eruption, 85,000 acres were preserved as the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument.
I always enjoy learning where the names come from. Apparently it's named after Baron St. Helens, Alleyne Fitzherbert, British ambassador to the Court of Madrid. Native names include Lawala Clough meaning Smoking Mountain, Low-We-Not-Thlat meaning Throwing up Smoke, and Low-We-Lat-Klah meaning The Smoking Mountain.
I went to the mountain on a Grayline tour and it took the entire day from Seattle. It was really worth it though. Here is a link to a seperate page I have dedicated entirely to Mt. St. Helen's!
Mt St Helens.
This Volacano is situated approximately 90 miles from Seattle. The famous major eruption on May 18th 1980 killed 57 people. During the months leading up to this event, geologists had predicted there to be a major eruption shortly and advised the local residents to evacute the 10 mile radius around the mountain. Obviously there were going to be some people who didn't want to move due to business or personal reasons. Some of them paid the ultimate penalty...death.
I remember visiting this area when I was only 4 and seeing blocks of ash everywhere. This wouldn't have been long after the major eruption which would have devasted forests but create new interesting looking landscapes.
Check out the wineries on the Olympic pennisula, especially Hoodsport Winery, they have great truffles!
Also, climb Mt. St. Helens while you are there. Most people go to the north side of the mountain and visit the observatories, which are great, but climbing up the south side (permit required) was really fascinating. Standing on a volcano and looking out over the eruption area was truly awe inspiring. Plus great views from the top. Take GOOD hiking boots, you will need them.