On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens, an active volcano formed 40,000 years ago, erupted with the force of a 26-megaton hydrogen bomb, killing 57 people as it created the largest landslide ever recorded.
The column of ash rose 80,000 feet and deposited ash in 11 states. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage (equivalent to over $3 billion as of 2018), thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side.
According to the website for Pinchot National Forest, “Shaken by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the north face of this tall symmetrical mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche. In a few moments, this slab of rock and ice slammed into Spirit Lake, crossed a ridge 1,300 feet high, and roared 14 miles down the Toutle River.”
Once a moonscape, the mountain, and area around it, is now a recovering landscape with wildflowers, waterfalls, creeks, and incredible views along dozens of trails hiking trails, as well as at the visitor center.
The visitor center, perched on a hill scorched by fiery ash and the force of the blast, is a stunning place to see the recovering mountain, see smoke still venting, and learn about the eruption and the aftermath. The visit center is only 62 miles, about 1 hour – 30 minutes from Portland. A movie shown in the visitor center is something everyone has to see, as well as the surprise that follows.
- Grab a ride-share car.
Follow I-5 N to WA-504 E/Mt St Helens Way NE in Castle Rock. Take exit 49 from I-5 N52 min (56.4 mi). Turn right onto WA-504 E/Mt St Helens Way NE and follow it 5.2 miles to the Visitor Center and overlook.Note: seniors with national park passes are free.