Best Hiking Trails in Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

Overview

Mount St. Helens is one of the five active Cascade volcanoes of Washington state and the most active. Mount St. Helens is famous for its 1980 eruption losing roughly 1,300 feet of elevation in one of the most memorable United States volcanic eruptions. Visitors come to see the blast zone and regrowth of the surrounding national forest.

In 1982, Congress passed the protection of the 11,000 acres around the volcano forming the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Since the eruption, the ecosystem has been left to naturally revive itself. Best seen from the north, visitors can view the Mount St. Helens volcanic crater, lava domes and other landscape changes. Learn more about the eruption here.

Getting Started

Mount St. Helens can be accessed from various directions. For more information, go here.

Visitor and Interpretive Centers

Located at the end of State Route WA-504, Johnston Ridge Observatory provides a unique view of the blast zone. The observatory hosts interpretive displays illustrating the biological and geological impact from the event. In addition to the observatory, various learning and interpretive centers, like the Forest Learning Center, are scattered throughout the monument where you can learn more about the eruption and ecosystem.

Recreation

Camp, hike, backpack, run, or mountain bike the many trails within the National Monument. Hummocks Trail from the west provides a relatively short loop hike good for families. Starting from the east, Loowit Trail circumnavigates Mount St. Helens. Allow three days to hike the 28-mile trail. Also on the east side, Norway Pass to Mount Margaret is a long backpacking trip that provides beautiful views of the volcano. The trail also provides views of other Cascade volcanoes in the area.

Discovered in the late 1940's, Ape Caves were formed by a basaltic eruption over 2,000 years ago, which is rare for the Cascade Mountain Range and more commonly seen with Hawaiian volcanic eruptions. As the lava flowed and cooled, the surface hardened but molten lava beneath continued to flow, causing thermal erosion to the pre-existing rocks and soil. It's North America's third longest lava tube at 13,042 feet long. Today, visitors explore the lava caves by climbing down stairs and ladders to enter and walk within the lava tube. Ice Cave Picnic Area near Mount Adams is another popular geological gem.

Fishing and non-motorized boating allow visitors to enjoy the water around the volcano, like the Coldwater Lake Picnic and Boating site.

Climbing

Every year, thousands of climbers make their way to Mount St. Helens' crater rim and summit. Climb to the summit taking the Monitor Ridge Route in the summer after the snow has melted at the Climbers’ Bivouac trailhead. Mountaineers and skiers attempt winter and early spring summits on the Worm Flows Route, where climbers ascend to the summit starting at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park.

When to Go

The best time to visit is in the summer months for the views and access to hiking trails not covered by snow.

Permits

Mount St. Helens is located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the management of permits varies depending on wilderness areas. Johnston Ridge and Coldwater sites require an entrance fee per person. A Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Annual pass will grant entry for one person. The Forest Learning Center is free.

Backcountry permits are required year-round for hiking and camping.

Mount St. Helens Institute manages the permit system for required climbing permits above 4,800 feet, which are limited to protect the fragile ecosystem. Learn more here.

From December 1 through March 31, Sno-Park passes are required at trailheads, but the recreational passes aren't needed. Learn more here.

Dog Info

To protect the revival of the vegetation and wildlife, pets are not permitted within the recreational area sites and trails except where stated. However, the surrounding Gifford Pinchot National Forest welcomes dogs on leash. Check out this page for more information.

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