Getting some rest in Olympia was good, but the kid couldn’t sit still any longer - Mount St. Helens was finally on! If you ask the kid, it can probably tell you more about volcanos in general, and particularly this one than you might ever learn in a lifetime. Therefore visiting Mount St. Helens was supposed to be one of the highlights of this vacation.
You can’t really go up all the way to Mount St. Helens, but there are several places from where you have a wonderful view at the volcano. There are two ways you can use: in the north it’s Spirit Lake Highway, the 504. And in the south it’s Lewis River Road, the 503. Make your decision, each route is good for one day. For today, coming from Olympia, we decided on the northern route.
Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center
The first stop on this route is the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, right outside the 1980 eruption blasting zone. The center exhibits many artefacts, photos and newspaper articles from the 1980 eruption, and has a visitor platform for a first look at the mountain. You can also book helicopter flights to the volcano and back here.
In the back of the parking lot is an old and dented car parked, from KOMO TV. That car belonged to reporter Dave Crockett, who was in the area when the volcano erupted, abandoned the car and made his way out - all the while filming with his camera.
By the way, there is a nice little Geocache near by the car.
Viewpoint Hoffstadt Creek
Driving further up the 504, about 10 minutes later is the Hoffstadt Bridge over the Hoffstadt Creek. Right before the bridge, on the left side, is a view point with information panels. This point is right on the edge of the blast zone.
Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center
Next stop on this route is the Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center, already located inside the blasting zone of the 1980 eruption of the volcano. Go inside, walk around and discover how the eruption in 1980 destroyed the entire area and how it was build up again. There is another visitor platform, a few steps up.
Johnston Ridge Observatory
Going to the observatory was stressful: there was construction going on, and they closed the highway from time to time. Also traffic could only pass into one direction. Dunno why they didn’t heard about traffic lights in the USA - whenever we have seen street construction work there were always two workers with a sign telling you that you can pass or not pass. And all the time they looked bored, and didn’t really like to stay on the hot street for several hours straight, doing nothing except holding the sign.
But we were rewarded with a magnificent view!
Not in our original plan for the day, but we had enough spare time - on the way back from the observatory was a sign: “Coldwater Lake”. Given that there was absolutely no cellphone reception in the area (to lookup the place on the Internet), we tried our luck, left the highway and found another beautiful spot.
The lake is the result of the 1980 eruption. There is parking space nearby, and a recreation area. You might see rowboats or rubber boats on the lake, but motorboats are forbidden. The water is crystal-clear - and very cold.
Last impressions on the way to Portland …