One of my favorite day trips that J and I took this summer was down to Mount St. Helens. Johnston Ridge Observatory is on the north side of the mountain and provides a great viewpoint over the surrounding area.
There’s really only one way to get out to the observatory – Washington State Route 504 off of I-5. Make sure you stop at Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House either on your way out or way back! This restaurant has such a beautiful view
and the most amazing cobbler! It’s the perfect treat!
After a quick stop for lunch, we continued on our way out to Johnston Ridge Observatory. There are several Visitor Centers along the way, so we were able to get several different views of the volcano and learn about the eruption and development since 1980.
Here’s one of our first up-close looks at Mount St. Helens.
To be honest, I really didn’t know much about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens until this trip! I loved going through the exhibits at each of the visitor centers and learning more about it.
Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, triggered by a 5.1 earthquake. The northern side of the volcano collapsed, causing a landslide that buried the valley around it. President Ronald Reagan declared the site a National Volcanic Monument, and a 110,000 acre area around the volcano was set aside to re-develop naturally. There is so much research going on in this area, from monitoring volcanic activity to watching how the ecosystems evolve. It’s the first chance there’s been to do this kind of research, and it’s pretty fascinating! Just this morning I saw this article about deep magma chambers that they’ve discovered underneath Mount St. Helens.
Here’s the view from Johnston Ridge Observatory, where you can see the crater left after the eruption. We stopped to watch the 20 minute video about the eruption and life afterward. As I mentioned earlier, after the eruption, an area was set aside where no development was allowed; the area was allowed to recover naturally. It actually didn’t take long for new life to to return – animals that had burrowed deep underground weren’t effected at all. As soon as a few days after the eruption, some of them came crawling out through the ash and helped bring seeds back into the soil. Plants that were rooted deep into the earth managed to push their way through as well.
I loved this sign we found showing a picture from one day before the eruption and then several months after.
Mount St. Helens is still active, and we even saw some steam coming from inside the crater!
Obligatory selfie shot 🙂
We also could see Mount Adams peeking over the ridgeline to the east! I think this is the closest I’d ever seen Mount Adams before – until now I’ve just been catching glimpses from the plane window whenever we fly in and out of Seattle.
This shot was another one of the craziest parts for me – seeing all the trees that were completely flattened by the blast when it erupted. Approximately 150 square miles of forests were blown over.
Our last stop at the observatory was to see the memorial for those who died in the eruption.
It was a completely fascinating day. J and I both really enjoyed learning all about Mount St. Helens, the eruption, and the research and regrowth that is happening in this area. If you’re interested in learning more, I found an awesome site with tons more info about the ongoing research – check it out!
Johnston Ridge Observatory is about a 3.5 hour drive south of Seattle and is a perfect day trip! There are tons of hiking trails on both the north and south sides of the volcano, and I really can’t wait to come back and explore more someday soon.
Check out more of my favorite day trips from Seattle here!