A Visit to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

Preceded by two months of earthquakes and venting steam, Mount St Helens in southern Washington State erupted on May 18, 1980. The eruption started with another earthquake, which caused the mountain’s entire north side to slide to collapse. This is all to say that the eruption of Mount St. Helens was a cataclysmic event unlike any other in the United States. The mountain itself was left with a huge crater on its north side. The surrounding area was preserved in 1982 as Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Wildflowers in Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument,Washington
Wildflowers at Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

A Natural Disaster of Epic Proportions

The collapse caused a massive avalanche of rock and ice to crash into Spirit Lake, while the pressure in the mountain resulted in a massive lateral explosion. The blast leveled almost 150 square miles of forest and the eruption column reached a height of 80,000 feet (or 15 miles).

It was the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in U.S. history, killing 57 people. Large volcanic mudslides, known as lahars, came running down the mountain, flowing as far as the Columbia River Gorge 50 miles to the south. Huge areas instantly became a wasteland, thousands of wild animals died and damage costs exceeded $1 billion dollars.

Memorial at Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument,Washington
Memorial at Mount St Helens

Visiting Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

This spectacular national monument lies an easy 2-hour drive north of Portland, Oregon and about 3.5 hours south of Seattle. Although it attracts about half a million visitors each year, it’s much less famous than other volcanoes in the region, such as Mount Hood or Mount Rainier.

There’s plenty to do, though. The main visitor area is the wonderful Johnston Ridge Observatory, which faces the crater and offers spectacular views of the volcanic valleys and canyons below. In summer, an abundance of colorful wildflowers covers the fertile slopes, making the scenery even more attractive.

Spend some time exploring the observatory and learning about the 1980 eruption before heading out on one of the nearby trails. Also make sure to stop at the Castle Lake and Loowit Viewpoints on your way in.

Visiting Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument can last between an hour or two and several days. You can get a good understanding of what happened there in a couple of hours, but there are also plenty of opportunities for overnight adventures. I would recommend, though, to stick around until sunset, which can be absolutely glorious.

Ground squirrel siblings at Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington
Ground squirrel siblings

About Bram

Website: http://www.travel-experience-live.com

Bram is a Belgian guy who's currently living in the USA. For over four years now, he has been wandering the globe, with jobs here and there in between. So far, his travels have taken him to four continents and twenty-two countries. Bram likes to try different styles of travelling: from backpacker and adventurer to tourist and local, he has been all those stereotypes and probably will be many more in the future. You can follow his adventures on his travel blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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  1. 12 Fun Things to Do in Portland, Oregon | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] the Washington border, you’ll find sensational landscapes around Mount St. Helens and, further north, in world-class Mount Rainier National […]


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