Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument



Located near Castle Rock, Mount St. Helens was the site of a staggering volcanic eruption in 1980. The explosive eruption blew 1,312 ft/400 m off the top of Mount St. Helens. Rock, snow and ice produced an avalanche traveling down the mountain at 200 mph/322 kph. The avalanche poured into Spirit Lake, sending out water and flooding the lower areas around the lake. Other blasts wiped out nearly everything within 16 mi/27 km. Up to 3 in/8 cm of ash buildup blanketed areas up to 150 mi/241 km away from the eruption. You can still see the jaw-dropping effects of the explosion: a crushed automobile near Windy Ridge, the enormous logjam at Spirit Lake and the shattered crags of Mount St. Helens itself.

In 2004, lava began massing in the crater again, spewing steam, gas and ash. Because of this activity, some areas may be closed on short notice. Ashfalls typically last five minutes: Cover your mouth and nose with fabric, and go inside. Drivers should roll up the windows but not start the car, as the airborne rock particles can damage engines.

East of Castle Rock on Highway 504 is the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Visitor Center at Silver Lake, where you can see a diorama and watch films of the 1980 eruption. The telescopes on the deck of the center provide excellent views into the crater, and a short trail leads to an overlook that's 35 mi/55 km from the mountain. Naturalists are usually on hand to give talks during the summer. Phone 360-274-0962.

Another vantage point is the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where you can get a straight-on view into the crater from 5.5 mi/9 km away. It includes a wide-screen movie theater that shows a film re-creating the eruption. This site has the best view of the crater. Phone 360-274-2140.

Visit the Windy Ridge Viewpoint for a close-up look at the growing lava dome (access it from the east side of the park—Randle is the closest town). Rim climbs and hikes are limited (and sometimes restricted) because of increased volcanic activity. Apply for a permit at the ranger station.

On the southern side of Mount St. Helens (near the town of Cougar), Ape Cave is a large lava cavern that formed during a volcanic eruption more than 2,000 years ago. Keep in mind that many of the roads around Mount St. Helens are often closed in winter, as are some of the visitors centers.

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