Spirit Lake Memorial Highway beside Washington's famous volcano winds through 52 miles of the rejuvenated blast zone.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, leveled roughly 150,000 acres of trees, sent a massive plume of hot ash 15 miles into the sky, and killed 57 people. Today, you can safely journey into the now rejuvenated blast zone on the 52-mile-long Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (Highway 504), with its five enlightening interpretive centers devoted to the story of Washington State's most famous volcano.
First up is the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, which chronicles events surrounding the blast and presents exhibits detailing the mechanics of a volcano.
Next, enjoy a bite to eat at the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center while you soak up views of the Toutle River Valley, where an enormous mudflow plowed through after the mountain exploded. Thrill seekers can climb aboard a helicopter for a ride up to the crater.
The Forest Learning Center focuses on efforts to restore the landscape, including the replanting of more than 18 million fir, pine, and cottonwood seedlings. Some of those tiny sprouts now stand as tall as 70 feet. In the Eruption Chamber you can experience a multimedia simulation of a volcanic burst.
The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center overlooks Coldwater Lake, a body of water created by the explosion.
The road comes to an end at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where scientists continue monitoring the still rumbling volcano. From here it's a mere five miles to the reemerging lava dome, so be sure to bring your binoculars.
WHERE IT IS An hour north of Portland, off I-5.
WHO WILL LIKE IT Forest lovers, shutterbugs, and would-be vulcanologists.
WHEN TO GO Late May to October. The road beyond Coldwater Ridge closes in winter. information: (360) 577-3137, www.visitmtsthelens.com/ .
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in September 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.