The parking lot of the Johnston Ridge Observatory (JRO) is 52 miles
from I-5 at the end of SR (State Route) 504 on the North Side of Mount
St. Helens. SR 504 (Spirit Lake Memorial Hwy) is also called the West
Side Hwy because it approaches MSH from the west and takes you to the
blast zone, four visitor centers and the 234 square miles of forest that
suffered total destruction. Unfortunately, most of it runs through
private timber lands that were replanted after salvage operations.
Today those new trees are half way to harvest and hide the scarred land.
This explains the bewilderment of tourists who wonder, “Where are all
those toppled forests I saw in the pictures?”
It is the East
Side FR (Forest Road) 99 that passes through the standing dead forests
and vast stretches of fallen timber, although new growth is taking over
there also. FR 99 is accessed from US 12 or SR 503 and FR 25.
The Harmony Falls trail on FR 99 descends hundreds of feet to Spirit Lake.
FR 99 ends at the Spirit Lake viewpoint high above the lake where the enormous
floating log mat can still be seen.
The South Side highway
(SR503 & FR 83) features the Ape Cave lava tube, lahar and lava canyons
(sometimes blocked by landslide), the Trail of Two Forests, and the trailhead
for climbing MSH.
Our tours concentrate on the
West Side highway which offers the best view of the crater. Some
folks have time to stay extra days, so the information above is provided
in case you wish to explore the East and South Sides on your
own while using our services on the West Side. Visiting MSH
is truly a “Side Show.”
West Side features—more
than a day. It takes more than one day to enjoy all the West Side
features when they are all open during the tourist season from about May
18 through the middle of October. Some visitor centers, including ours,
are open during the winter on a limited basis – call before coming.
We plan all our tours keeping in mind that weather is a big factor here.
The mountain is only visible about 25% of the time. But don’t let
that discourage you. Even on bad weather days there is much to enjoy.
Flexibility is the name of the game.
say there is little chance of the mountain erupting explosively without
warning. Thousands of earthquakes preceded the 1980 event.
They signaled that magma was rising from deep in the earth. Of course,
this opinion presumes the pressure from below builds slowly. A vast
surge of pressure would probably blow southwest Washington off the map.
Historically, MSH is the most active of the 14 Cascade volcanoes with major
activity every hundred years or so.
The recent eruption was
a slow-motion event. Lava began oozing into the crater in October
2004 at the rate of a dump truck load every second or two. By 2008
the scientists thought this episode was over. But while active it
placed over 100 million cubic yards of lava in the crater, more than the
lava dome built between 1980 and 1986.