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Mount St. Helens, Washington: An American Volcano

Mt. St. Helens from afar
Mt. St. Helens from afar

Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located near Washington State's southern border – 96 miles south of Seattle and 50 miles northeast of Portland.

On May 18, 1980, the eruption changed more than 200 square miles of rich forest into a grey, lifeless landscape resembling a moonscape. Instead of erupting upward, Mount St. Helens blew sideways. A 650-mile-per-hour blast of gas, rock and ash swept over a 230-square-mile area, killing nearly everything in its path. The 600˚ F eruption vaporized the forest near the volcano and left other trees standing but scorched to death.

See the remains of the trees that were destroyed where they stood as the blast arrived. Some vegetation has returned to the slopes around the volcano, but it will be years before the forest itself returns.

The first (and least impressive) exhibit you'll approach is the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Seaquest/Silver Lake on mile marker 5 on State Route 504 off Interstate 5. It’s somewhat outdated; save it for a stop on the way back down if you have time.

The Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center at mile marker 33 is free. This is undoubtedly the best of the three exhibits on the mountain. There’s a playground for children and a helicopter to climb into and pretend you're flying around the mountain. The eruption chamber is an experience you can't miss.

At mile marker 52, Johnston Ridge Observatory has an awesome view with great exhibits.

The Northwest Forest Pass is required to visit the sites around Mt. St. Helens. This is a vehicle pass for $5 a day/$30 per year and good in both Oregon and Washington National Forests.

Check the Mount St. Helens websites before planning a visit between October and February, as many times all roads are closed once snow begins in the winter months.

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Mt. St. Helens from afar
Mt. St. Helens from afar

Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located near Washington State's southern border – 96 miles south of Seattle and 50 miles northeast of Portland.

On May 18, 1980, the eruption changed more than 200 square miles of rich forest into a grey, lifeless landscape resembling a moonscape. Instead of erupting upward, Mount St. Helens blew sideways. A 650-mile-per-hour blast of gas, rock and ash swept over a 230-square-mile area, killing nearly everything in its path. The 600˚ F eruption vaporized the forest near the volcano and left other trees standing but scorched to death.

See the remains of the trees that were destroyed where they stood as the blast arrived. Some vegetation has returned to the slopes around the volcano, but it will be years before the forest itself returns.

The first (and least impressive) exhibit you'll approach is the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Seaquest/Silver Lake on mile marker 5 on State Route 504 off Interstate 5. It’s somewhat outdated; save it for a stop on the way back down if you have time.

The Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center at mile marker 33 is free. This is undoubtedly the best of the three exhibits on the mountain. There’s a playground for children and a helicopter to climb into and pretend you're flying around the mountain. The eruption chamber is an experience you can't miss.

At mile marker 52, Johnston Ridge Observatory has an awesome view with great exhibits.

The Northwest Forest Pass is required to visit the sites around Mt. St. Helens. This is a vehicle pass for $5 a day/$30 per year and good in both Oregon and Washington National Forests.

Check the Mount St. Helens websites before planning a visit between October and February, as many times all roads are closed once snow begins in the winter months.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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