After winding up a narrow forest service road for a while, the blasted remains of Mount St. Helens comes into view. At the first viewpoint, you’re still surrounded by trees and plant life. That changes as soon as you cross the boundary into the National Volcanic Monument (which I’m calling the “park”, to keep things simple).
These trees are in the “singed” area. When the mountain erupted in 1980, the blast of hot, toxic gas knocked down trees for miles. On the outskirts of the blast zone, trees were only burnt.
Scroll to the right to see the entire picture. This is the lower portion of Spirit Lake, which is still filled with floating logs. The trees were knocked down in the initial blast, and over the years, washed into the lake.
There are better views of Spirit Lake ahead, ones where you can actually see the surface of the water.
The final stop along Forest Road 99 is the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. You’ll likely find park rangers or USGS experts on hand, giving occasional talks about the eruption, and the mountain’s current state.
There’s one other thing you can do here: hike up 361 steps to the top of Windy Ridge.
Here you can see the parking lot, the restroom facilities (pit toilets inside a fancy building), and that long staircase leading up the side of the hill.
Mount St. Helens is part of the Cascades, a chain of ancient volcanoes. From the Windy Ridge viewpoint you can see some of St. Helens’ sister snow-capped peaks, including Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood.
Here’s another view of Spirit Lake, from the Windy Ridge viewpoint.
Some small plant life now grows inside the blast zone, but life is fragile here, so be sure you stay on the trail.
Near the Windy Ridge Viewpoint
You can see the signs of the catastrophic 1980 eruption everywhere. Some hillsides still look like they did then, when the blast of hot air knocked over trees like they were toothpicks.
The park has preserved a car that was tossed across the road in the blast. The man who owned it was killed during the eruption, along with 56 others.
Note: This trip was first published in 2004.