A Day Trip to Mount St Helens

At 8:32 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, Mount St.Helens erupted.

A 5.1 earthquake triggered a massive landslide, that caused the entire north side of the mountain to give way, and that sent a giant cloud of ash and gases more than 12 miles into the air. The skies were darken up to 300 miles away. Everything within eight miles of the blast was wiped out in an instant. The volcano continued to erupt for more than nine hours, depositing ash across Eastern Washington and 10 other states. It killed 57 people, and damaged roughly 230 square miles of land around the volcano. It also destroyed 200 homes,  158 miles of roads and countless wildlife.  The eruption is the most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.

Sign at start of the monument

The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was established in 1982 and it is administered by the National Forest Service.  It is located in the Cascade Mountain range in Washington state, about 55 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, and about 95 miles south of Seattle, Washington. If you are visiting the area, it is an excellent day trip or side trip if traveling between Portland and Seattle. One note: the monument is only open from mid-May to October, so make sure to visit during these months.

When planning our trip to the Pacific Northwest,  seeing Mount St Helens  was at the top of our list of places to visit.  Both  of us remember being in grade school when the eruption occurred in 1980 and our classmates bringing in ash for show and tell. Below is our account of our day trip to visit Mount Saint Helens.

Our flight from Kansas City landed at PDX at 4PM. Where we then rented a car and drove to Kelso, Washington. We rented a hotel room at Super 8 then ate diner at Bugerville.  We also enjoyed stopping by Ashtown Brewing Company to try a sampling of their local beer. Kelso is about 50 minutes north of Portland. Anxious to start exploring, we were up early to get going on our adventure. We stopped by Dutch Bro Coffee, and got some coffee for the road.

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Map of the area
Early Morning Iced Latte
Plan on at least a 90 minute drive

We turned off Interstate 5 at Castle Rock, onto Highway 504. From the turnoff it takes about 90 minutes to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is the closest visitors center to the crater. There was a bit of fog that morning which made for an eerie but  pretty drive.

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Foggy Morning Drive

There is also the  Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake at mile marker 5. It is operated by Washington State Parks and has exhibits on the eruption and its effects on the region.  The center wasn’t open yet when we drove by and we were going  to stop on our way back out but, our GPS had different plans for us. It routed us on a different road to take to Seattle. If we are back in the area, we do wish to visit the Visitors Center at Silver Lake.

Patty’s Place, a picturesque breakfast stop

Our first stop was for breakfast at  Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House . We ordered the Tater Tot Casserole, Biscuits and a pot of coffee. The portions were huge! We didn’t have enough room to sample any of their famous fruit cobbler.  The restaurant and gift shop sits overlooking the Toutle River, we walked around after breakfast taking in the pretty views.

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Tater Tot Casserole
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Toutle River
We found Sasquatch!

Not far from our breakfast stop we found Bigfoot. Of course we had to take a picture!

Posing with Mount St Helens

We stopped along the road at a scenic overlook to try to see Mount St Helens for the first time. On highway 504 there are a few overlooks so you can pull your vehicle over and take photographs.

Highway 504
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Tree Stumps

The the landscape kept changing the closer we got to Mount St Helens. You start to see a variation of the trees on the mountain ridges. There are parts of the forest that were planted after the eruption where all the trees are the same height.  Then you come upon the stark landscape where the land was allowed to recover naturally, where there are just the tree stumps that were all that was left after the explosion.

Barren Landscapes
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We made it!

Our destination was the  Johnston Ridge Observatory at mile marker 52. This observatory is operated by the National Forest and only five miles from the north side of the mountain.

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Mike looking at an exhibit

There are many wonderful exhibits to explore, rangers will give talks about the recovery of the plant and animal life in the area.

There is also a movie about the eruption, which concludes with a dramatic view of Mount St Helens. The observatory also houses the equipment that is still used to monitor activity within Mount St. Helens.

Outside of the observatory,  the viewing deck provides spectacular views of the crater. You can also walk on lots of trails to observe the volcano from different vantage points. We were amazed that you can view the steam vents on the crater. It was a great reminder that Mount St Helen’s is still an active volcano.

The Crater
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Uprooted Tree
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Blast Path

Not long after the eruption, new life started returning to the area. Wildlife is roaming the land and new trees and plants are covering the area where the blast had left a barren landscape.  We were reminded on our visit that after a destruction there is always rebirth.

Majestic Mount St Helens

Thank you for reading about our adventure to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and have if you have any comments, please let me know. Happy Travels, Tava

A Day Trip to Mount St Helens(1)





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