There’s no doubt that Mt. St. Helens is an enticing destination: this active stratovolcano south of Seattle teaches visitors about geology, geography and the forces that form our planet. Below are a few highlights sure to please visitors of all ages.
When you think of volcanoes, you probably think about lava flows, ash and rocks, but the area surrounding Mt. St. Helens is actually a great place to enjoy many different aspects of nature.
As described in a recent article in the Seattle Times, the flowers growing from the gray earth are pioneers in the process of ecological succession. With each generation, flowers that grow and die enrich the earth to make it more suitable for larger plants, increased biodiversity and a more developed ecosystem.
Go on a 3-mile hike around June Lake with your family to take in the beauty of lupines, violet penstemon and beardtongue, then enjoy the lake and waterfall at the top. Bonus fun: bring a picnic!
- Diverse forests
The Trail of Two Forests hike takes you through two forests: one with old-growth Douglas fir trees and one that was engulfed by lava from Mt. St. Helens over two millennia ago. See three-dimensional prints of trees in the old lava beds.
- Lovely lakes
Hike the ridge around Coldwater Lake and enjoy stunning views of its crystalline waters. Walk through a willow forest, see old logging machinery and keep an eye out for wild elks if you’re hiking in the spring.
You can explore a lava tube and crawl through a small lava tube when you visit the Ape Caves at Mt. St. Helens. The route is interesting and involves scaling a rock pile, climbing down a lava fall and squeezing around rock formations.
The Lava Canyon trail is broken into three parts. The first is an easy hike to see a waterfall, the second includes crossing a 125-foot suspension bridge over the canyon and the third involves fording the river through a water crossing with help from a cable.
Throughout your trip, keep track of the animals you see – Cowlitz County is home to many animals including Blacktail Deer, Roosevelt elk and an array of birds.
Wonderful learning opportunities
- Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center
Functioning as a gateway to the mountain, the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center educates visitors about the surrounding landscape before and after the latest major eruption. See a large, step-in model of the volcano, read a functioning seismograph and watch a video detailing the 1980 eruption.
- Forest Learning Center
Visit the Forest Learning Center to learn about forest recovery, reforestation and conservation as it relates to the aftermath of the 1980 eruption. Enjoy the outdoor playground, learn about local wildlife and explore interactive kids’ exhibits.
- Johnson Ridge Observatory
At the Johnson Ridge Observatory, visitors can learn about the biological, geological and human story of Mt. St. Helens. Watch one of several award-winning films, listen to ranger talks or start out on a hike.
Plenty of adventure
In Cowlitz County, you’ll also find other opportunities for adventure. Take a zip line adventure at Treehouse Island on Silverlake. Take a kayak trip around Silverlake & Coldwater Lake and tidal estuaries on the Lower Columbia. Still feeling antsy? There are plenty of other outdoor activities to satisfy your thirst for adventure.
Beyond the majesty of Mt. St. Helens, Cowlitz County has tons of fun attractions that give families a chance to make joyful memories together. To learn more and plan your adventure, go to visitmtsthelens.com.