Nature’s Resilience at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument



For our last few days in Washington, we developed night terrors about the “dangerous sleeping giants” that lurk here, then took a wonderful hike to a tranquil waterfall to calm our nerves. We are a little sad to leave, but excited for the next adventures of the road trip. One more state park and national monument, three more national parks, and six more states are all coming up!

Road Trip Map Last Month

Active Volcanoes… What? Where?

With the peaceful and beautiful scenery in Washington, it’s easy to overlook the fact that at any minute we could hear the words, “The mountain is going to blow!” Let’s be real people: we are surrounded by active volcanoes! There are five to be exact: Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Glacier Peak, and Mount Baker.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Okay, so we didn’t completely freak out. But I’ll admit, it came as quite a surprise to me that Washington has one quarter of the total active volcanoes in the lower 48 states. Needless to say, I wanted to know what was going on and see with my own eyes the devastation caused by an eruption. So we headed over to Mount St. Helens.

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Do you know where you were on May 18th, 1980 when Mount St. Helens finally blew? I have no recollection as I was still a baby in diapers, but most of the people we met or overheard at the monument knew exactly where they were when they heard the news.

After lying dormant for 123 years, the mountain first displayed volcanic activity in March with minor earthquakes and cautionary spouts of steam. When the 5.1-magnitude earthquake shook the area months later, it triggered a vicious eruption that propelled the top 1,313 feet and north face of Mount St. Helens right off. The eruption caused one of the world’s largest recorded landslides causing 150,000 acres of forest devastation. 57 people lost their lives and many more were affected by the catastrophic event.

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Nature’s Resilience

After reading the overwhelming statistics and hearing the stories associated with the eruption, we expected the area to be a barren wasteland. The last thing we expected was to find beauty and growth. It is almost inconceivable that after such a horrific occurrence that nature could rebound so quickly. It hasn’t recovered to its original appearance, but a new and different landscape is now in its place. The area was designated Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument by Congress in 1982. I’m glad we took a side trip from Mount Rainier to visit the monument and surrounding area. So what do you do when you discover you are in the middle of an active volcanic range? Take a hike!

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens (12)

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Monument

And so our epic 80 day summer road trip continues – 12 U.S. states, 2 Canadian province and 13 national parks. For the upcoming months, I will be sharing with you our highlights, lowlights, adventures, favorite spots, best tips and our thoughts on three months of road tripping and living in a pop up.  I’ll try to answer any and all of your questions too!  You can also follow our journey via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Miles Driven: 564

Total Road Trip Miles Driven: 7,942

Average Gas Price per Gallon: $2.69

State: Washington & Oregon

All States Visited: Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia & Alberta Provinces

If you would like to see our full itinerary, start at the beginning here. And Start at Day One here.

Silver Falls Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

I know an eruption is not likely and it would never have kept us from visiting, but it is interesting to learn about the geological destructive forces of nature. After we were enlightened that an immediate threat didn’t exist while hiking around the area, we headed back to Mount Rainier National Park.

We met up with Rob from the 2 Travel Dads blog and had a great time hiking the Silver Falls Trail with him, his friend and family. Silver Falls Trail is an impressive, relatively flat 2.7-mile hike in the Ohanapecoch area that packs a lot in a short hike. You’ll find a beautiful cascading waterfall with clear blue water surrounded by lush green vegetation. Read more about our day here.

On the Road Again

The next day, we took down the pop up and headed south to Baker City, Oregon. I was in a state of pure bliss at the thought of a few hotel stays in my future.


Mount St. Helens – Know Before You Go

  • Access to the monument is limited; local roads lead to overlooks and visitor centers.
  • Local roads are only open late May or early June to late October depending on weather.
  • Hiking trails are accessible in the area, permit required.
  • Johnston Ridge Observatory (open 10am – 6pm, May – October) is the closest to the crater and provides panoramic views. A 16-minute video and interpretive exhibits present the past and present story of Mount St. Helen.
  • Monument Pass is required for developed sites and visitor centers: Ages 0 – 15 free, America the Beautiful Pass and Federal Recreation Passes are accepted.
  • The line may be long, but if you already have a pass you are allowed to move forward instead of waiting.

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Next: Twin Falls in Idaho

Have you ever visited an active volcano? What was your experience like?

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

20 Responses

  1. Vickey McCue

    Pictures are beautiful again today! Glad you are enjoying your adventure.

  2. Kath

    Such an amazing place. We visited several years ago and it was amazing to hear about how fast everything was destroyed from the eruption. Your pictures are beautiful!

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks Kath! We were amazed with the speedy recovery too. We weren’t sure we would have time to take a side trip to see the area, but I’m so glad it worked out…unique thing to see!

  3. Kaylene

    Wow, gorgeous photos! I’d really love to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Road trips across the US are so fun, and they’re the best way to see this country!

  4. Theresa

    These photos are stunning, and a great reminder about how quickly nature recovers from a catastrophe–much quicker than humans, it turns out. Beautiful!

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks Theresa! It’s almost unbelievable when looking back at the devastation the eruption caused. The recovery has been quicker than I thought, but I don’t think as fast as humans!

  5. Nathan

    Amazing photos! This looks like the perfect way to spend a day. The bridge shot w/the mountain the background is my favorite. I would love to go hiking here.

  6. Jo

    Oh jeez 80 days on the road sounds like a dream vacay 🙂 Btw, are you blogging real time? Thats so amazing. Being on the road AND getting work done – so damn cool. I am following your adventures through US and totally digging the pics from national parks – I DO intend to visit one day!

    • Dang Travelers

      Hi Jo! Yes, we were at the time blogging as we went. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have remembered all the details. We finished the road trip in September. It was a lot of hard work so for our next big trip this spring I may try to do it as weekly updates. Thanks for following!

  7. Tara

    One of my favorite areas to explore! Your photos make me miss Washington so much. I am being patient though – my son will be heading out there to live next year. I see lots of Washington hiking and road trips in my future.

  8. Brianna

    I remember learning about the Mt. St. Helens eruption in school, but I was actually not even born when it erupted 😛
    But it is truly incredible to see how lush the land around the volcano is, despite once being affected by the eruption! What a cool place to go visit 🙂

  9. Bethanny Sudibyo

    This is such an amazing blog post! I love your photos. You must have had a superb time during this adventure.

  10. Nicola Hilditch-Short

    Wow, these colours are beautiful, I love the contrast between the white, blue and the vibrant flowers. We have only visited Vesuvius in Italy that was an active volcano, would love to visit more!

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks Nicola! The beauty surprised us since we expected an area of destruction. We visited Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius as well. What an experience!

  11. Jess

    Looks like so much fun! I’d love to do a road trip of the US, preferably in one of those huge bullet like camper vans although I’d have to win the lottery first!

    • Dang Travelers

      LOL Jess Wouldn’t that be great… the lottery and a huge camper van! We road tripped in a pop up camper that we borrowed from my in-laws. It was quite the experience since we had never done anything like it before. We learned we would much rather have a van of sorts that doesn’t need to be set up each time. Hopefully one of those will be in both of our futures!

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