You are here

Pets allowed
No
Guided tours
No
Backcountry camping
Yes
Lodging
No
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

In the spring of 1980, the Mount St. Helens eruption destroyed the surrounding landscape, ecosystem and communities.  In a matter of moments the entire north face of the once symmetrical mountain collapsed, sending a massive rock and ice avalanche down the mountain, into Spirit Lake, over a 1,300-foot ridge, and 14 miles down the Toutle River. An explosion of pressurized gases broke through the avalanche, blasting wind and rock across 150 square miles of forest and pushing a column of ash thousands of feet into the air, impacting communities as far away as eastern Washington.

In 1982, the 110,000-acre area was protected as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and the resiliency and persistence of nature has prevailed over the dead landscape. Since the violent, nine-hour eruption, regeneration has transformed the area into one of the country's most remarkable resources for volcanic research, recreation and education.  In addition to spending some time at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake to learn about natural history, the eruption, and the recovery of vegetation and animal life, visitors can take advantage of trails, picnic areas, viewpoints and campgrounds.

Visiting the Park

Mount St. Helen's National Volcanic Monument has three main access points/areas:

  • Northwest Side: Access along the Toutle River to the 1980 'blast zone' via WA Hwy 504 is by far the park's most popular and famous destination, with the Johnston Ridge Observatory as the areas main attraction.  Here visitors will enjoy panoramic views of the 'blast zone' and glimpses into the volcano's steaming caldera. Day-hikes include the Johnston Ridge Boundary Trail, Coldwater Peak, hikes around Coldwater Lake and the Hummocks Interpretive Trail
  • Northeast Side: Acccessed from Randle, Washington along NF-25, this entrance brings visitors to Mount St. Helen's remote northeastern side, but features easy access to famous Spirit Lake, the Mount Margaret Wilderness (where backpacking is permitted), Windy Ridge and further to 186 ft. Loowit Falls and the Plains of Abraham.
  • South Side: Access is via WA Hwy 503 to this still lush and densely forested side of the volcano. The climb to the mountain's 8,365 ft. summit via Monitor Ridge is certainly the main draw for the area, but other geological wonders also make this side of the volcano quite popular.  Attractions include: Ape Caves, the Trail of Two Forests, June Lake, Ape Canyon and the Plains of Abraham, and the countless waterfalls that descend down Lava Canyon.

Camping

Overnight camping in the monument is extremely limited, which must be considered when visiting this remote section of Washington. The volcano and monument are truly a giant outdoor science classroom - a living lab where we can better understand how life returns and can flourish even after the most drastic of events and in the harshest of environments. Because of this, the park is intentionally set up to limit the impacts of human activity.  Overnight camping is prohibited in most of the monument, including backpacking with the exception of the Mount Margaret Wilderness best accessed via Norway Pass or Coldwater Lake.  The park's only campground is the Climber's Bivouac, a small collection of primitive sites on the volcano's south side.

Note however that there are several privately run campgrounds/lodging options at the monument's WA Hwy 504 entrance, including the Eco Park Resort and the Kid Valley Campground.

Regardless of the length, pace or ambition of your visit, spending time in and around the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument will enrich your understanding of the region’s volcanic natural history and provide you with an unforgettable outdoor experience.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Geological wonder. Informative visitor centers. Numerous recreational opportunities.

Cons

No campgrounds on the north side (Johnston Ridge area). No dogs in the blast zone.

Address

Loowit Trail
Cougar, WA 98616
United States

Features

Geologically significant
Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Flushing toilets
Mountain biking
Potable water
Picnic tables
Waterfalls
Old-growth forest
Fishing
Big Game Watching
Wildlife
Big Game Watching

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington
Southwest Washington/Mount St. Helens, Washington

Comments

08/26/2013
The wildflowers in the Mt Margaret Backcountry can be quite a sight at the right time of summer.
10/07/2009
Climbing Monitor Ridge all the way into October is possible without technical gear.
08/26/2009
The Mt Margaret Backcountry is an excellent place to see life resurface amongst the old carnage in the blast zone.
Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.