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Spotlight: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Spotlight: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Discover Ecosystems in Action

Mt. Saint Helens Visitors getting a look at the crater

What You’ll Find

An active volcano, remembered for its catastrophic eruption in May 1980, is the central feature of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The US Forest Service is proud to be your host at Mount St. Helens on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and invites visitors to immerse themselves fully in programs and experiences offered on the three unique sides of the mountain.

Watch this Mount St. Helens Eruption video to learn more about what happened here over 30 years ago.

Getting There

Check visitor Information for the Mount St. Helens area for specific directions.

Begin your visit at one of the monument's visitor centers or information stations. Interpretive staff are available to answer questions and help plan your visit. Ask about the schedule of interpretive walks, talks, and theater presentations that share the geologic, biologic, and cultural history of the area.

Make Sure You

Join Forest Service Ranger programs at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. From mid-May until the end of October, engage in daily and hourly discussions about the 1980 eruption, the crater and on life returning to the mountain. From late June until the end of September, interpretive talks are complemented by guided walking tours as well as Junior Ranger programs.

From early July until Labor Day, Rangers at Windy Ridge Interpretive Site enhance the experience while revealing the stories of devastation, survival and renewal, while ranger-guided tours at Ape Cave Interpretive Site illuminate the caves’ fascinating stories.

Try This

Allow time to spend more than just a single day to explore Mount St. Helens’ three unique sides, all separated by great distances.

Mount St. Helens is a popular climb for both beginning and experienced mountaineers. Although people are able to climb year-round, late spring through early fall are the most popular seasons. Most climbers use the Monitor Ridge Route from Climbers Bivouac. This route gains 4,500 feet in five miles to the crater rim at 8,365 feet elevation. Although strenuous, this non-technical climb is suitable for people in good physical condition who are comfortable scrambling on steep, rugged terrain. Most climbers complete the round trip in seven to 12 hours. Climbing to the crater rim requires a climbing permit and entry into the crater is strictly prohibited. Visit the Climbing Mount St. Helens page for everything you need to know.

Stay Here

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest offers advance reservations for camping and cabins. There are no campgrounds within the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. For travel information in nearby communities, visit Cowlitz County Tourism, Skamania County Tourism and Lewis County Tourism.

Did You Know?

On March 20, 1980, after more than 100 years of quiet, magma started pulsing into Mount St. Helens shoving its north flank outward five feet a day. Two months later, on May 18, 1980, an earthquake set in motion an eruption that stunned the northwest, the nation and the world. The swollen mountainside collapsed in a gigantic landslide that roared 13 ½ miles down the North Fork Toutle River Valley. The landslide rapidly released pent-up pressure, causing a powerful, hurricane-force lateral blast. This blast blew down and singed 230-square miles of forest in three minutes! Heat released by the searing blast melted glacial ice, releasing concrete-like mudflows that choked major river drainages with debris. For nine spectacular hours a churning column of ash rocketed skyward and drifted northeastward, blanketing 22,000 square miles. The eruption of Mount St. Helens forever changed the face of the landscape and residents’ lives.

Fees at Work

Passes or permits may be required within Mount St. Helens National Monument. Purchase the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Pass at Johnston Ridge Observatory. The pass is also required at Coldwater Lake Recreation Area. Proceeds support interpretive services, trail maintenance, and other programs. A Monument Pass is $8 per person (youth 15 and younger are free). On the northeast and south sides of the monument, a $5 fee per vehicle per day is required. Revenues from pass sales go directly to maintaining and improving the trails, land and facilities you own and enjoy! Federal Interagency Passes are also honored.

Get Started

Visit the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Recreation page to learn about everything there is to do, then plan your trip!