ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Visiting the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Updated on June 28, 2020
bdegiulio profile image

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens | Source

Anyone planning a visit to the great Pacific Northwest and Washington State, in particular, might want to consider adding Mount St. Helens to their list of must-see sites. While it’s been over 40 years since the mountains infamous eruption, the landscape today continues to recover while still showing the scars of what was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States. A visit to Mount St. Helens can be both a learning experience and an opportunity to visit one of America’s most beautiful National Monuments.

On three trips to Mount St. Helens over the past 25 years we've been witness to an amazing rebirth of the area surrounding the mountain. On each subsequent visit, it was readily apparent that change was taking place to the landscape. Nature has a way of healing itself and while the scars from the eruption will remain for years to come the transformation is very noticeable.


The Eruption

On March 20th, 1980, Mount St. Helens awakened from over one hundred years of lying dormant when a magnitude 4.2 earthquake began a series of events that would eventually lead to the main eruption. A few days later on March 27th, steam and ash began venting out of the mountain and over the next two months the north side of Mount St. Helens began bulging at the rate of about five to six feet a day.

On May 18th, 1980, at 8:32 am, with very little warning, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake caused the bulging north face of the mountain to collapse in one of the largest landslides in recorded history. The magna that had been building inside of St. Helens burst out in a single large-scale pyroclastic flow that flattened virtually everything over 230 square miles. The eruption killed 57 people in what was the most destructive volcanic eruption in the United States.

The violent ash plume eruption continued for over nine hours with the plume reaching to sixteen miles above sea level and moved east over parts of Canada and the United States. The statistics from the eruption were staggering: 57 dead, over 7,000 large animals killed, over twelve million fish killed, over 250 homes destroyed, over 185 miles of roads and 47 bridges destroyed. The eruption and subsequent landslide carved over 1300 feet off of the top of the mountain and replaced it with a mile-wide crater.

Getting There

Getting to Mount St. Helens from either Seattle or Portland is fairly easy, but it can make for a long day trip, especially from the Seattle area. Castle rock is the starting point for the fifty-mile journey on Hwy 504 into the heart of the Mount St. Helens National Monument area. Castle Rock is located right off of I5, which is the main north/south highway connecting Seattle and Portland.

The trip from Seattle to Castle Rock is 117 miles and should take about two hours. The ride from Portland is shorter, about 58 miles, and will take about an hour. There are a few other ways to get into the heart of the park, but as the main visitor center is located at mile five on Hwy 504 this is the preferred route going in. How long it takes you to make the trip from Castle Rock all the way to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (the end of the road) will depend on how many stops you make along the way. There are a total of three visitor centers and one Learning Center currently open to the public and they are all worthy of a stop.

When leaving the Mount St. Helens National Monument there is a short cut you can take that will save you a few minutes but only if you are heading back toward the Seattle area on I5. While heading out on Hwy 504 look for Hwy 505 which should be at about milepost 15.

Castle Rock, WA:
Castle Rock, WA, USA

get directions

Mount St Helens:
Mt St Helens, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington 98616, USA

get directions

Silver Lake Visitor Center Hours:

May 1 to Sept 15:

  • Open daily 9 am to 5 pm

Sept. 16 to April 30:

  • Open daily 9 am to 4 pm

6 & Under Free

7-17 $2.50

18+ $5.00

Family $15.00


Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center Hours

Open Daily, no charge for admission.

9:30 am - 4:00 pm


Fire Mountain Grill

  • Open Thursday-Monday
  • 11:00 am - 4:00 pm
  • 360-274-521

Johnston Ridge Observatory Hours:

Open Daily May through October

Hours are 10 am - 6 pm

Fee: $8 per person

What to Do And See

As you begin the drive into the park from Castle Rock it is worth the time to stop at the Silver Lake Visitor Center located at milepost five on Hwy 504. The center contains presentations on the historical and cultural significance of the area along with a chronology of events leading up to the eruption plus several interactive exhibits.

The next visitor center along Hwy504 is the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, which is located at mile marker 27. Unlike the other two centers, this visitor center is free, though much more commercialized. The Hoffstadt Visitor Center has a large restaurant, and helicopter tours of the mountain are available from this site weather permitting.

The last of the visitor centers and clearly the most impressive is the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is only five miles from the summit of the mountain and is as close as you can get in a car. The Johnston Ridge Observatory is located on Johnston Ridge, which was named in honor of U.S.Geological Survey volcanologist David A. Johnston who was on duty at the USGS, Coldwater observation post during the May 18, 1980, eruption. David Johnston was the first person to announce that the eruption had begun and certainly had to have known that he was about to lose his life as he witnessed the north face of the mountain begin to collapse.

This visitor center has trials for exploring the area and rangers available for interpretive talks and hikes. There is also a large theater at this center and the film shown on the eruption is a must see and a fitting climax to your visit to Mount St. Helens. The view from here into the crater of Mount St. Helens is very impressive and certainly worth the ride.

Mount Saint Helens from the Johnson Ridge Observatory
Mount Saint Helens from the Johnson Ridge Observatory | Source
Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens | Source

Learning Center

The Mount. St. Helens Forest Learning Center is located on Highway 504 at milepost 33. The Learning Center is a partnership between Weyerhaeuser Company, Washington State Department of Transportation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The Center is open to the public from May to October and is free of charge. While there take a walk through a life-like forest and experience the Eruption Chamber which is pretty cool. If you have young children the Learning Center makes for a great stop and they even have a playground area for the kids to explore. In the spring it’s possible to see hundreds of elk grazing on the mudflow plain below so bring your binoculars.

Learning Center exhibit
Learning Center exhibit | Source

Harry Truman

Those of you old enough to remember the news coverage of the Mount St. Helens eruption back in 1980 may remember the colorful character, Harry Truman. Truman was the crusty 83 year old owner of the Spirit Lake Lodge, which was situated at the base of Mount St. Helens. In the weeks leading up to the eruption, Truman defiantely refused to leave his lodge and scoffed at the suggestion that he was in danger.

Truman become somewhat of a folk hero in the weeks leading up to the eruption as he gave several interviews to reporters declaring that "if the mountain goes, I'm going with it" . The Spirit Lake Lodge, with Harry Truman and his 16 cats presumably still inside, was buried under 150 feet of volcanic debris. Harry Trumans name and presence will always be a part of the spirit of Mount St. Helens.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Nadene. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful area of the country. I know most folks think it's always raining there but during the summer months the weather is spectacular. Hopefully someday you make it out that way to see for yourself. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Nadene Seiters profile image

      Nadene Seiters 

      8 years ago from Elverson, PA

      This is an informative article, and if I ever make it out that direction I will definitely make a stop!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)