The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens is one of the most iconic geological events in American history. Thousands of visitors flock to the mountain and surrounding area annually to view the aftermath of this incredibly destructive force. For visitors who are looking to take in the beauty of the reshaped terrain and marvel at the spectacular prominence of Mount St. Helens and the surrounding cascade peaks, a hike through the Mount Margaret Wilderness provides perhaps the best, least crowded option.
From the Norway Pass Trailhead, the trail to Mount Margaret winds just over 5 miles through the blast zone of the eruption. The downed trees and subsequent lack of tall foliage is unique to this small portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and results in great views of the exposed terrain that aren't normally found in the region. The trail is well maintained, and aside from a few narrower spots, it offers ample width and comfortable footing for hikers.
Mount Adams appears a short distance from the parking lot, and it remains in view as you make your way up to the Boundary Trail. You'll reach Norway Pass after 2 miles, and you'll get your first spectacular view into the crater of Mount St. Helens. Spirit Lake sits hauntingly in the foreground of your photo opportunity here, with tree trunks clogging the alcoves at the edges of the lake like floating boneyards. Continue north from here along the ridge overlooking Grizzly Lake and you'll get a spectacular view of Mount Rainier in the near distance.
Toward the top of the ridge, the trail cuts west across the slope. In snowy or icy conditions, this section of the trail can be very difficult to traverse. Continue about a mile until the trail turns north again into the saddle between Mount Margaret and Mount Whittier near Bear Camp (note that backcountry camping in the Mount Margaret wilderness requires a permit).
The trail turns back from here, heading south for one last mile to Mount Margaret's 5,858-foot summit. On a clear day you'll get a 360-panorama of the Cascade peaks: Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Goat Rocks are the most prominent. Mount Jefferson is also visible to the south with good visibility.
It's difficult to imagine the view from this location in 1980. On May 18, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter Scale caused the largest rock slide in recorded history. As millions of cubic feet of the mountain top slid down toward Spirit Lake, a catastrophic pyroclastic flow erupted northeast from the resulting crater. The cloud of superheated gas and rock known as tephra obliterated 230 square miles of landscape within minutes, killing 57 visitors, scientists and residents.
For adventurous hikers, the summit of Mount Whittier can provide a more challenging adventure just a mile from the junction that marks the Mount Margaret Trail's return to Bear Camp. Additionally, the Sapphire Lakes region northeast of Mount Whittier includes a trail that loops back to Norway Pass, adding approximately 4 miles.
Note: Access to a portion of NF-26 is closed during the winter. Consult the driving directions for a seasonal detour. Please stay on established trails in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument area. Also, dogs are not allowed in the Mount St. Helens restricted area, which is defined to its north by the Mount Margaret summit. Although it may be possible to bring your dog along for portions of this trip, we suggest leaving pets at home to help promote the re-generation of the Mount Margaret Wilderness and to avoid a potential fine.