During the Labor Day Weekend of 2012, my family & I decided to visit Mount St. Helens. My wife and I grew up in Portland and both remember the May 18,1980 eruption (as well as the thousand other small eruptions that occurred during that time).
My daughter had been studying volcanoes in school, and was very curious to see one. I kept trying to tell her that during it’s eruption, Mount St. Helens didn’t have red hot lava spewing down it’s flanks.
The vast majority of visitors to Mount St. Helens visit the volcano using State Route 504, which is a smooth two-lane road going straight up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is the closest that you can drive to the crater. To get any closer, you would have to hike into the backcountry into the moonscape-like blast zone.
If you want to a true explorer to see parts of the mountain that few people ever see because they don’t have the time, then I most highly recommend taking an extra day to drive around the mountain in a loop. This is what we chose to do.
We spent the entire first day exploring State Route 504, driving up to the Observatory and retracing our route back down. The most important thing to know about this road is that it ends at the Observatory: there is nowhere else to drive out. If you make the 28 mile drive up from I-5 at the town of Castle Rock, you have to allow time to return. Coldwater Lake is located near the top, but only day use is permitted and camping is not allowed there.
Here are the first pictures from our trip:
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