Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue June 16 2015

Opinion Home | Road Rules From the Road Trip Blogger

  • Michelle Bucher | June 16, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Mount St. Helens Makes A Magnificent Road Trip Destination

    Mount St. Helens Makes A Magnificent Road Trip Destination

    Photo via Panoramio, all other photos courtesy of Michelle Bucher

    This year is the 35th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption, making the Washington State volcano a popular road trip destination for many travelers this summer.

    We’ve visited this area twice now, once for a day trip to go spelunking in the underground lava tubes, and once to hike to the top of the crater. Both were amazing experiences, and it was remarkable to still see traces of volcanic debris from the most recent eruption.

    A Little History of the Volcano:

    It was May 18, 1980 when Mount St. Helens last erupted, and to this day the eruption is considered to be the deadliest and most destructive volcanic activity in U.S. history. I was of course not alive during the time of the eruption, but gleaned knowledge about the event from documentaries. One of the interesting facts that I took away from the documentaries was the fact that forest workers actually worked to replant the region so the forest would regrow over time, and logging would resume. Apparently volcanic rich soil produces some high quality timber.

    Road trip note: Mount St. Helens is located about 2 hours south of Seattle.

    Our road trip to Mount St. Helens:

    The first time we visited the volcano was on our way home from an east coast road trip. We spent a good 3 weeks road tripping in a car and figured an 8-hour challenging hike would be a great way to end off our adventure before heading home. 

    For those of you who don’t know, you can actually hike to the top of Mount St. Helens. You essentially stand on the rim of the crater at the top of the mountain, with a beautiful view down into the huge opening, and a 360-degree panorama view of the surrounding mountain ranges. From the top of the mountain, you can still see the “blast zone” resulting from the landslide down the mountain into the forest below.

    Scary fact: the crater inside Mount St. Helens still smokes to this day. We were standing on the rim of the crater, having just made it to the top of the mountain, when we noticed a few spots down in the crater steaming. I later learned that this is a normal occurrence. 

    Our second road trip to Mount St. Helens:

    We recently learned of the Mount St. Helens lava tubes, open for spelunking. Having such fond memories of our hike up the volcano a few years back, we chose to visit the region again and take an excursion beneath the ground.

    Ape Caves is a series of underground lava tubes, with various sections that give a vivid look at the forms of cooled lava. There are sections of the caves where lava cooled along the ceiling, and lava droplets have formed. Lava flow marks can still be seen in these caves, and there’s one section of the upper cave where the lava once flowed downward, making a waterfall like impression in the caves. This section of the cave you have to pull yourself up over the old lava flow before you continue trekking. There is also one section that is a huge boulder field that you have to climb over — resembling much of our Mount St. Helens hike through boulders and ash.

    Considering visiting Ape Caves? You should! We’ve road tripped to many places across the country, and have done some really cool things during our travels, but Ape Caves is by far one of the coolest things we’ve done.

    Other activities in the area:

    If you’re not much of a hiker, and aren’t interested in spelunking in the underground lava tubes, you can always visit the Johnson Ridge Observatory. Here stands a memorial for those who lost their lives from the volcanic eruption. You can also learn some interesting facts about the mountain, the surrounding region, and, of course, the day of the eruption.

    From the Johnson Ridge Observatory, you get a magnificent view of Mount St. Helens, the crater, and the surrounding forest area.

    Have you been to Mount St. Helens before? This makes a great day road trip for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. 

More Washington


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Michelle Bucher Road Rules From the Road Trip Blogger

Michelle Bucher Michelle Bucher is an avid road tripper, travel writer and social media marketer from Vancouver, British Columbia. Michelle has spent the past six years on various road trip adventures around North America. She's road tripped through 48 states, 10 provinces and several other countries. Michelle runs a fun travel blog,, showcasing stories from her random road trip adventures.
Journey on an Avalon River Cruise

Cruise Lines & Cruise Ships