Even though I grew up under the shadow of Mt. St. Helens as a child, this was my first time to visit the East Side of the mountain. It is a long drive and it is missing visitor centers, but it gets one into the heart of the mountain with some of the best views. And maybe that is what makes this drive so worth it. There isn’t a food truck serving up lattes in a paved lot, there are no movies being shown, no gift shop. What you get is a very, very long drive into the heart of mountain and so much quiet. Do the drive. The roads are usually in decent shape in season.
The first stop is Bear Meadows. You won’t keep going – suddenly the mountain is in your face. You can see the road far across as well. Be sure to wander the short paths at the rest area. There are bathrooms and picnic tables to stretch the legs at. It is also considerably less windy here for lunchtime.
Alistaire and Walker loving seeing the big mountain.
One last look and back on the road.
From high on the ridge, in the open areas the views of the Cascade Mountains go on for what feels like forever.
My parents always had promised to take me to Spirit Lake as a little child. When Helens blew in 1980 I was 7 years old. I had never seen Spirit Lake in person till we drove up to it. There are trails down to the lake, to see it up close.
The great collection of dead trees still sits at the end of Spirit Lake, but the lake itself is blue and mostly clear 3.5 decades after. When the mountain erupted and Spirit Lake was destroyed the thought was it would never come back. But it does. Just ever so slowly. And the forest returns with every decade.
The pano of the mountain and plains at Windy Ridge. And yes, it is very, very windy here. Sunglasses are a must and even in summer you may feel cold. From the higher parts you can see all the way across to the other side of the Monument, and see the visitor center at Johnson’s Ridge.
From the parking lot, and end of the road, the top of Helens peeks out.
End of the road and a trail to climb up high on, with a stellar view of Spirit Lake and the mountain if you go up.
Mount Rainier in the distance.
Looking across at Helens, high enough to see into the open side finally.
A peek at Rainier.
Pano across at Helens.
The boys enjoying the hike the trail of a million stairs.
Once I got them exhausted, we made our way back and soaked in the views.
As we drove down, we stopped at Meta Lake. Meta was frozen over during the eruption, which saved the fish and frogs under it, all tucked in for winter.
Meta Lake was high water levels, and the observation deck at the end of the trail was flooded. A little snake was swimming in the water.
It’s a pretty lake, the hillsides were bare of trees for a long time, but a few trees are coming back.
From the Meta parking lot there is a trail that leads to the site of the crushed miners car. The car was destroyed during the explosion that sadly took the lives of 4 men staying in a cabin nearby.
The hillside is recovering, slowly, the trees are starting to gain finally.
It’s hard to explain destruction to young children, but it is worth taking them to see what nature can do – and how nature will come back on its own.