In March 1980, a minor earthquake signaled geologists that Mt. Saint Helens – the most symmetrical and arguably the most picturesque volcano in the Cascade Range – had awakened… Three months later, in the most-witnessed, most-studied and most-photographed eruption in human history, Mt. Saint Helens went from being the 5th highest mountain in Washington State, to a most-modest standing of 30th. Along with 1300 feet of the top of the mountain, the once-crystal clear waters of Spirit Lake were gone, replaced by a slurry of logs, mud, and ash. Perhaps most-tragic of all: one of the last remaining and largest contiguous old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest was gone as well.
Forty years later, forests are returning; wildflowers blanket the open landscape in summer. Elk and mountain goats roam the ridges and lower slopes of the volcano. Witness how these local ecosystems are reemerging and evolving after the famed eruption. Nowhere else demonstrates the true resilience of nature quite like this rebounding environment!
The 2-day tour itinerary is much the same as our TripAdvisor ‘Hall of Fame’ daytrip from Portland, just longer. We explore both the forested southern slopes of the Mt. Saint Helens as well as the blast zone and crater on the north. Having two days allows you to enjoy more time at the destinations and go for longer, more in-depth hikes. It also allows you to enjoy an evening on the shores of the mighty Columbia River at McMenamin’s acclaimed Kalama Harbor Lodge!
Day 1: Canyon, Lake and Cave
Lava Canyon. June Lake. Ape Cave.
The forested southern slopes of the volcano reveal much of the mountain’s history through its past eruptions. Begin with a short, 1-mile excursion into Lava Canyon, where beneath a canopy of towering forests churning waters of snowmelt have carved a deep channel through ancient basalts. For our picnic lunch we head to tiny, shallow June Lake on the lower flanks of the volcano. Formed 2000 years ago when a lava flow blocked a small creek, the lake is kept filled by a 70-foot waterfall. The sounds of this natural fountain echoing off the cliffs contributes to the magic of the shoreline’s park-like setting. In the afternoon we don our headlamps and an extra layer before heading into the cool darkness of Ape Cave, the third-longest lava tube in North America, to do a little spelunking… in search of the geologic anomaly known as the “Meatball”. If time allows, we will stop at Trail of Two Forests, where two forests whose ages differ by 2000 years – collide. In any case, we certainly don’t want to miss celebrating the day with a handcrafted ale to go with the sunset view from McMenamin’s Kalama Harbor Lodge on the shores of the Columbia River!
Walking Distances: June Lake: 3 miles; 450’ gain; 2700-3200’ elev.
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Day 2: The Blast-Zone and Crater
Coldwater Lake. The Hummocks. Johnston Ridge. Spirit Lake.
To the natives Mt. St. Helens’ spirit was “Loowit,” a lovely maiden, but she was also referred to as Louwala Clough, “smoking mountain”. Today we head straight up the Toutle River valley toward the epicenter of the 1980 eruption to witness and explore this latter facet of the mountain’s split-personality – the devastating potential of her power.
You expect to see miles upon miles of landscape completely erased and transformed overnight; countless acres of mighty, towering old-growth trees blown down like straw; massive remnants of logging equipment strewn about the landscape… And you will not be disappointed there.
What you are surprised to see is… so much LIFE!
Visit the Coldwater Lake and the fascinating Johnston Ridge Observatory before setting out on a hike out the ridge toward Spirit Lake. The trail offers constant views of the mountain and the interior of the crater. Below, you can see the Hummocks – massive pieces of the top of the mountain reduced to small hills at the bottom of the valley. It is a great hike for wildlife viewing as well. Mountain goats, elk and deer are easy to spot on the unforested hillsides.
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Mt. St. Helens Overnight Tour Details
- Tour Highlights
- Is This Tour for Me?
- Tour Inclusions
- Accommodations & Food
- Customizations for Your Family or Group
- Additional Information
- Tour Preparation
Enjoy the night at McMenamin’s Kalama Harbor Lodge on the banks of the Columbia River.
Visit Mt. St. Helens 40 years after the eruption!
Explore the diversity of the area by hiking on the north and south sides of the mountain.
Naturalist guides connect you to the story behind the scenery.
If you want to do more than just hike and see the sights, our naturalist guides will help you connect with the story behind the natural wonders of this diverse region.
This tour is suitable for all hiking abilities.
- Naturalist tour leader
- National Monument entry fees.
- Overnight accommodations – all included
- We will pack our trail lunches from fresh, local, organic (where possible) ingredients.
- Full breakfasts – all included
- Full dinners – including appetizers. Alcohol at restaurants is not provided. One dinner on your own.
- Transportation fees to and from Portland (or Seattle)
- Snacks, water, sparkling water, local wine, local beer, etc.
- Overnight at McMenamin’s Kalama Harbor Lodge on the banks of the Columbia River.
- These accommodations were selected to provide you with the best experience the area has to offer.
- McMenamin’s establishments are well known for their excellent dining as well as their handcrafted ales.
We offer the following ideas for creating a different experience for your group. We are happy to discuss these and other possibilities with you!
This tour is arranged to start from Portland, OR, but we can also pick you up in Seattle, if preferred. Driving times would be greater in this case.
The hikes are easily customized to meet both the interests and abilities of your group.
We recommend avoiding the busier weekends for a better trail experience.
Add or replace one of the existing tour days with a trip to amazing Windy Ridge and Norway Pass (see Tour Overview).
Combine this overnight tour with another tour (or tours) in the region to create a longer and more diverse Northwest wilderness experience! Options include:
- Olympic National Park 3-day, or 6-day tour.
- Rainier National Park 3-day, or 5-day tour (the 5-day tour includes a trip to Windy Ridge at Mt. St Helens).
- Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood 3-day, or 5-day tour.
You may choose to pay for breakfasts and dinners on your own.
SEASONS (What to expect):
The high-country trails around Johnston Ridge Observatory and on the south side of the mountain usually open by late May. Windy Ridge may be snow-covered until mid-June, depending on the year. Summer is an ideal time to visit.
September weather is cooler, but generally still nice. Fall colors may begin to appear around mid-September, but usually don’t reach their peak until early October or so.
National Parks and Monuments
Below is a suggested list of items that you may want to bring on your upcoming hiking tour. When packing, remember that the weather can offer surprises, especially in the mountains. Plan to dress in layers and carry extra clothing every day for lunch and rest stops.
- Hiking pants or convertible pants
- Casual clothes—jeans, shorts, sport shirts
- Dinner clothes—nice casual attire is fine
- Hiking boots suitable for rocky trails
- Casual shoes
- Hiking socks (no cotton) and casual socks
- Sweater or light jacket
- Waterproof jacket
- Bathing suit for hot tubs and spas
- Camera, extra batteries, charger, and memory cards; dry bag (optional)
- Daypack with hydration system
- Driver’s license
- National Parks or Federal Recreation Lands Pass (optional; bring it if you have one)
- Reading material
- Ball cap for sun protection
- Sunglasses – dark enough for snow and bright sun
- Insect repellant of choice
- Toiletries and blister kit
- Vitamins and / or prescription drugs
- Extra set of glasses or contacts
- Small headlamp or flashlight
- Trekking poles (collapsible)
- A spirit of adventure
Additional Items for Cooler Seasons and High Elevations
- Baselayer shirts and tights
- Long sleeve fleece or mid-weight jacket suitable for active hiking
- Warm jacket for mornings and evenings
- Fleece or wool hat
- Winter gloves
- Thermal socks
- Wool sweater
- Waterproof rain gear