The Johnston Ridge Observatory is the most common stop for visitors to Mount St. Helens National Monument. Its popularity is understandable, since the visitor center is perched on a ridge overlooking the 1980 blast zone. You'll see spectacular views of the steaming caldera as you enjoy the center's comprehensive narrative history of the volcano.
Luckily for hikers, it doesn't take much to get away from the tour buses and crowds. This 4.6-mile, there-and-back trail is an easy route to a more tranquil experience. The trail is the perfect place to contemplate the power and devastation that the May explosion exacted on both the mountain and the neighboring area.
From the ridge, peer down onto the tundra-like landscape below and you are likely to spot at least one heard of the roughly 12,000 Roosevelt elk that call the monument home. The ground foliage you'll see has taken 30 years to take root in the highly alkaline soil. The most common of these early adaptors include fireweed and field lupine.
For those looking to completely escape from the crowds, this trail can also take you to Coldwater Peak (12.2 miles total, 1,420-foot elevation gain) or down the arduous trail to Loowit Falls (17 miles total with no backpacking/overnight camping options).