Guide to Mount St. Helens

Visiting the East Side of Mount St. Helens: Otherworldly Escape

Intrepid explorers head to a quiet region to score views of a hidden landscape, plus a chance to view remnants of the eruption.

By Allison Williams May 6, 2020

The view of Harry's Ridge from Windy Ridge Viewpoint at sunset, with Spirit Lake in the foreground. 

► Mount St. Helens’ east side is its least visited, so expect even fewer services than elsewhere. The closest town, Randle, has few hotels, so pack a tent for an overnight at Iron Creek Campground, open May–September. Anglers along the Cispus River flock to the giant, forested collection of sites (99 in total!), but be prepared for no electricity or perks beyond a fire pit and picnic table. 

Miner's Car after the eruption and now. 

► Follow twisting Forest Road 99 toward the entrance to the Monument, but pull over for a quick view of the sobering Miner’s Car Interpretive Site. A flattened Pontiac, damaged by the eruption, looks like the fallout of a rampaging Godzilla. Though no one was in the car at the time, the mangled vehicle serves as a sober commemorative for those caught in the blast.

► Climb to Windy Ridge Viewpoint—it takes longer than it looks on the map—the closest you can drive to the crater. Rangers give free talks during the summer. Take time to peer down at Spirit Lake; water in it was displaced in the blast and the aftermath, then refilled with snowmelt, larger than it was pre-eruption. A mat of logs, from trees blown over during the event, still floats on the surface, drifting en masse from one shore to the other.

► Pull out a bike for a rewarding ride along the east side of the mountain. The initial ascent up sandy ridges leads to the dramatic Plains of Abraham, a dusty expanse of pumice. Wait for a day with good visibility; you’ll be following rock cairns to stay on route. The ride is the state’s only International Mountain Bicycling Association Epic, a designation given to particularly stunning backcountry bike experiences.

The statewide Covid-19 response has affected planned Mount St. Helens anniversary events, temporarily closed businesses, and prohibited access to some roads, trailheads, visitor centers, and more. Be sure to check online or by phone for the latest updates before making plans. 

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