Things to Do & Lodging Near Mt. St. Helens | Featured Region

June 7, 2023

Mount St. Helens is one of the most famous volcanoes in the continental United States. The volcano sits among the gorgeous Cascade Range in southwestern Washington. It stands out from its surroundings due to its snow-covered appearance and cratered peak. The many things to do at Mt. St. Helens include visiting amazing outlooks, hiking through the surroundings and venturing through lava flow caves.

10 Fun Facts About Mount St. Helens

Here are some fun facts about this fascinating mountain:

  1. Mount St. Helens is the most active volcano in the Cascade Range, with eruptions as recently as 2008.
  2. Before its large 1980 eruption, the volcano was the fifth-highest peak in Washington, reaching 9,677 feet.
  3. Native Americans named the mountain Lawala-Clough, which means “smoking mountain.”
  4. The volcano received its current name in 1972 after the British ambassador to Spain, Baron St. Helens.
  5. The May 18, 1980, eruption of Mt. St. Helens spread ash as far as the central United States in one day and across the globe within two weeks.
  6. The lateral blast from the May 18 earthquake destroyed 230 square miles of the forest — only plants buried by snow or soil survived.
  7. Crater Glacier, housed inside the crater of Mt. St. Helens, is the youngest glacier in the world, formed after the 1980 eruption.
  8. Most of Mount St. Helens is younger than the Egyptian pyramids, having existed for 3,000 years or less.
  9. Today, Mt. St. Helens is popular for many outdoor activities, including rock climbing and hiking.
  10. Future eruptions might be more destructive than historic ones, though the volcano is not expected to erupt soon.

View of Mount St Helens sunset from McClellan Viewpoint in Gifford Pinchot National Forest Washington. Dormant volcano covered in snow sits above low cloud cover amidst a pink sunset.

Things to Do Near Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens is a beautiful area with many learning opportunities and natural wonders. As you plan your vacation to Mt. St. Helens, here are a few exciting activities to add to your itinerary.

Forest Learning Center

This learning center sits inside the blast zone of the May 18, 1980 eruption. Inside, you will find exhibits detailing the history of the eruption and current recovery efforts. Outside, children can play on the outdoor playground, and visitors can glance over the Toutle River. The valley often has elk herds moving below.

Mountain Viewpoints

As you enter Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, you will encounter several viewpoints offering glimpses of the volcano. Castle Lake Viewpoint shows the landslide debris and provides a view of Castle Lake. Elk Rock Viewpoint marks the entrance to the monument and shows the crater and the Toutle River Valley. One of the closest observation areas, the Windy Ridge Viewpoint, gives a close look at the mountain and Spirit Lake.

Johnston Ridge Observatory

This location offers a stunning view of the crater and features many exhibits inside telling the history of Mt. St. Helens. You can hear stories from survivors and view a model of the mountain. Visitors can also hike the half-mile eruption trail outside to see how the 1980 eruption changed the landscape.

Coldwater Lake and Coldwater Peak in Washington State in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Coldwater Lake

Visit a lake formed by the 1980 eruption and enjoy beautiful views of the water and surrounding mountains. A short, accessible boardwalk trail stretches around part of the lake and explains how it was formed. Many visitors also kayak in the water.

Boundary Trail

Many hikers appreciate the volcanic views found on the Boundary Trail. While the full path stretches over 50 miles, those seeking views of the volcano can take the trail from the Johnston Ridge Observatory and hike 4.6 miles toward Mt. St. Helens and back. You will spot young foliage growing and might also glimpse herds of elk along the path.

Lava Canyon Trail

Another popular destination for hikers is the Lava Canyon Trail, which features gorgeous views of pools and waterfalls along the Muddy River. The first portion of the trail is paved and includes interpretive signs explaining the canyon’s geography and how the eruption led to the canyon as it looks today.

Ape Cave

This exploration area includes two caves hollowed by lava flows around the volcano. The lower cave is easier to navigate, and the upper cave is more strenuous, with climbs over rock piles and an eight-foot rock wall. Make sure you bring lights and warm clothes to navigate the caves.

Helicopter Tour

Exploring the summit by air is an excellent way to get an up-close view of Mt. St. Helens. Several local tours circle the mountain, giving you stunning views and history lessons about the volcano and the local area.

Summit Climb

Adventurous mountaineers can get close to the volcano’s mouth with a climb to the summit. The Monitor Ridge Route takes climbers to the rim, allowing visitors to peer into the crater. The five-mile trail gains 4,500 feet of elevation, making it steep and rugged, primarily suitable for people in good physical condition. All hikers must get a permit to do the climb.

Trail of Two Forests

Hike this trail to see two forests standing side by side yet differing in age by 2,000 years. The path is entirely boardwalk and passes over a lava flow that destroyed parts of the forest 2,000 years ago. The path includes tree wells formed as lava solidified around the trunks. Along the way, you can read interpretive signs to learn more about the event. You can also climb into a tree well and see the bark impressions inside.

Places to Stay Near Mt. St. Helens

Mount St. Helens is an excellent place for a fun trip from the surrounding area. Kampgrounds of America has several camping options throughout Washington within a few hours of Mount St. Helens, perfect for a day trip. Here is an overview of where to stay near Mt. St. Helens:

  • Bay Center / Willapa Bay KOA Holiday: Explore a gorgeous tidal bay along the Pacific and get amenities like on-site clamming and beach access.
  • Ellensburg KOA Journey: Experience amenities like river fishing and a pool at this central Washington campground along the Yakima River.
  • Pasco / Tri-Cities KOA Journey: Float down the Columbia River, visit vineyards or play a round of golf near this excellent KOA Campground.

Book Your Stay at KOA

Mt. St. Helens is a fascinating active volcano in the Cascades. Visitors love learning the geologic history and seeing the giant cratered mountain. Planning to visit? Stay at a conveniently located KOA Campground for comfortable lodging near Mt. St. Helens in Washington, and take a day trip to see the volcano and explore the surrounding area.

About the Author: Kampgrounds of America

Kampgrounds of America is the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world, with over 500 locations across the United States and Canada. Founded in Billings, MT in 1962, KOA’s family of campground brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – today serve more than a million camping families each year. KOA is dedicated to “connecting people to the outdoors and each other” by providing people with a variety of camping experiences and the information they need to make the most of their camping trip. Read more of their camping and travel resources by visiting

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