Rocked by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the north face of this tall symmetrical mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche. In a few moments this slab of rock and ice slammed into Spirit Lake, crossed a ridge 1,300 feet high, and roared 14 miles down the Toutle River.
The avalanche rapidly released pressurized gases within the volcano. A tremendous lateral explosion ripped through the avalanche and developed into a turbulent, stone-filled wind that swept over ridges and toppled trees. Nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing.
At the same time a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, turning day into night as dark, gray ash fell over eastern Washington and beyond. Wet, cement-like slurries of rock and mud scoured all sides of the volcano. Searing flows of pumice poured from the crater. The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.
A vast, gray landscape lay where once the forested slopes of Mount St. Helens grew. In 1982 the In 1982 President Reagan and Congress created the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for research, recreation, and education. Inside the Monument, the environment is left to recover naturally from the eruption.
Scientists and visitors follow the changes in the landscape and the volcano. Surviving plants and animals rise out of the ash, colonizing plants catch hold of the earth, birds and animals find a niche in a different forest on the slopes of Mount St. Helens.
The volcano continued to erupt until 1986, violently at first, then quietly building a lava dome. Thick pasty lava eruptions oozed out, each one piling on top of the next, like pancakes in a sloppy pile. The lava dome is now 920 feet high. The United States Geological Survey scientists continue to monitor the volcano for earthquakes, swelling, and gas emissions.
In summer of 2004 Mount St. Helens became active again with rapid dome building. A series of steam and ash explosive events temporarily closed access to some parts of the monument. Eruptions have continued into 2005 with plumes as high as 36,000 feet.
Numerous viewpoints and miles of trails have been created for you to explore by car and foot. During the summer Forest Interpreters lead a wide range of activities, from short walks to amphitheater presentations, to help you understand and enjoy this area. Discover the wonder of winter at Mount St. Helens, where many cross-country ski and snowmobile trails have been created for you.
Each year thousands of climbers make the journey to the crater rim. Permits are required above 4,800 feet year-round. Click here to obtain more information about the climbing program.
You can now travel on the east, south and west sides of the mountain. On the west side of the mountain, State Road 504 allows access to five Visitor Centers.
- The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Visitor Center at Silver Lake is located at mile post 5 on highway 504. This visitor center shows the eruption on May 18, 1980, and talks about volcanoes in general.
- The County owned Visitor Center at Hoffstadt Bluffs is located at milepost 27. This visitor center has a unique gift shop offering merchandise hand crafted from Mount St. Helens ash and a variety of other unique items from around the area.
- The Forest Learning Center, located at milepost 33.5, is operated by Weyerhaeuser in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. This Visitor Center leads you through the steps that were taken to salvage the downed lumber and reforest the area. It is possible to take a look through telescopes mounted at the top of their interpretive trail and have the chance to see any elk that may be in the vicinity.
- The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center is located at milepost 43. This Visitor Center is operated by the Forest Service and is used as an educational guide showing how change come about after an eruption. There is a short trail, "Winds of Change" that is self-guided and shows what happened on May 18, 1980.
- Johnston Ridge Visitor Center is opened in May, 1997. This is the closest Visitor Center to Mount St. Helens and you can look into the Crater and see the dome. The Visitor Center has been closed at times in 2004-2005 due to increased eruptive activity.
- In April 1996 Congress passed the Omnibus Rescissions and Appropriation Act establishing the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program. This law authorized the Forest Service to test collecting, retaining, and reinvesting new admission and user fees at up to 50 selected demonstration areas around the country. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was selected as one of 10 pilot areas in the Pacific Northwest Region.
Click here for info about one of the Pacific Northwest's other volcanoes, Mount Rainier.
The Pacific Northwest Shop sells many products made from Mt. St. Helens volcanic ash. Check out our Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Ash Art Glass.