Special Places

Mount St. Helens is a Very Special Place

Mount St Helens 30th Anniversary, staff onsiteMount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a very unique and exciting place to visit. Within the Monument area there are key recreation sites including visitor centers, interpretive areas, and various other sites of 'special' significance. See the highlighted places below and visit the recreation landing page for more detailed information.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Picture of Autumn ColorsDid you know the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest? Many available recreation opportunities such as camping, hiking, and biking are available to the east and south of Mount St. Helens in the surrounding forest area within the Mount St. Helens Ranger District. Gifford Pinchot National Forest Website: www.fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot.

Highlighted Areas

Sno-Park: Marble Mountain

  • Winter Climbing Route to Mount St. Helens Summit (Worm Flows Route)
  • 49 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails
  • 130 vehicle capacity area
  • Dispersed camping

The shelter burned to the ground during the 2010-11 season, and has not yet been rebuilt. Please inquire with Mount St. Helens staff to learn how to help construct a new shelter.

Marble Mountain Ski Trail Map

Windy Ridge Interpretive Site

Learn about the eruption that challenged the imagination of volcano watchers at this starkly beautiful site over looking Spirit Lake towards the volcano and the Mt. Margaret Backcountry. Eruption Talks are offered daily at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 during July and August.  Additional talks are given at 11:30, 12:30 and 4:30 as staffing allows.  A short but steep trail leads up an adjacent hill for more expansive views. There are bathrooms and an amphitheater for presentations.

Please note: This site is inaccessible much of the year due to weather conditions.

Accessible Adventures Video

Ape Cave Interpretive Site

Ape Cave Headquarters is closed for the season.

Ape Cave sits among a mixed-species forest stand. A short, paved trail leads from the newly remodeled and accessible parking lot with visitor center and facilities to the caves lower entrance and interpretive area. The trail continues on to the upper entrance, though it becomes more steep and rough.

Accessible Adventures Video


Ape Cave Information

  • The Third Longest lava tube (13,042’ long) in North America
  • Be sure to practice “Leave No Trace” ethics
  • Cave temperature is 42°F/5.6°C year-round
  • Apes’ Headquarters provides:
  • Be sure to bring:
    • Two sources of light per person
    • sturdy shoes
    • warm clothing

Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site

This trail loops through two forests that stand side by side, but are separated in age by 2000 years. One forest is old-growth Douglas-fir and western red-cedar and the other is a young forest that was originally engulfed by lava flows from an eruption of Mount St. Helens over two millennia ago. This forest encompasses three-dimensional imprints of trees in the old lava beds called lava casts. The boardwalk trail loops through the two forests, and is kid friendly.

Accessible Adventures Video

Johnston Ridge Observatory

Johnston Ridge Observatory:
Mount St. Helen's Crowning Jewel

Located at the end of State Highway 504 (52 miles east of Castle Rock), in the heart of the blast zone, the observatory hosts interpretive displays that tell the biological, geological, and human story of Mount St. Helens.  Visitors to JRO can enjoy multiple award-winning films, listen to ranger talks, observe the landscape, purchase souvenirs, set off on a hike, or get a light lunch from the food cart.  Check the MSH hompage for information on the annual summer Music on the Mountain series held throughout summer at the JRO outdoor amphitheater (in partnership with the Cowlitz County Economic Development Council and the Mount St. Helens Institute).

Take Care of Your Pet and Help Protect the Monument

A Big Brown Dog on the MonumentTo protect plant and animal life and provide for visitor safety, pets are prohibited at all recreation sites and trails within the Monument’s restricted area (yellow shaded section of map available on the Maps and Publications page of this site). Pets are permitted only in designated pet areas and must be on a leash. Lack of shade and summer heat can endanger pets left in cars. For the safety and comfort of your pet, please arrange to leave your pet at home. Contact any Forest Service office for information on where it is safe and legal to bring your pets.

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Monitor Ridge Climbing Route

Permit Information

The Monitor Ridge Climbing Route is the primary route used by climbers during the summer. It is a nontechnical scramble, gaining 4,500 feet in 5 miles. Most climbers complete the round trip in 7 to 12 hours.

Science and Learning Center at Coldwater

In 2012, the Forest Service was pleased to announce the opening of the Mount St Helens Science and Learning Center.  Previously managed as a visitor center, this facility is now a great resource for schools, education and science groups interested in taking field trips and doing research at Mount St. Helens. The Sceince and Learning Center is available as a rental facility for special events like family reunions and conferences.

This beautiful facility is located at milepost 43 on State Highway 504, approximately 10 miles west of Johnston Ridge Observatory.  For more information please call the front desk at 360-274-2131.

Visitor Information Station: On the weekends, the Science and Learning Center is open to the general public. Stop in to get information about exploring the monument, learn about education programs offered, or shop in the purchase souvenirs offered by Discover Your Northwest bookstore.

We also have two trails near the building perfect for exploration. Adjacent to the Science and Learning Center is the accessible Winds of Change Trail, a 1/4 mile paved path leading through a part of the Blast Zone. A pet rest area is located within the Coldwater Lake area.

  The Elk Bench Trail starts near the building and connects with the Lakes Trail, providing stunning views of Coldwater Lake and frequent elk sightings along the way.  Once connected with the Lakes Trail you are able to head north along the shore of Coldwater Lake and begin your exploration into the wild and prestine Mt. Margaret Backcountry.  

Rentals:  The Science and Learning Center has conference rooms available for rental, as well as some rustic or primitive overnight accommodations. We also host special events, including conferences, family reunions and weddings. To find out more please visit http://www.mshslc.org/

Educational Programs: The Science and Learning Center is hosts to schools and provides in-depth and extended education programs to groups visiting the volcano. holding programs. We offer overnight stays in the Science and Learning Center for education programs as well as hands-on education in the Volcanic Monument. Our programs vary from 2 hours to multiple days of educational activities and experiences. For more information on educational programs please visit http://www.mshinstitute.org/

The Monument and Mount St. Helens Institute are currently seeking volunteers to help assist at the Science and Learning Center. 

For more information on volunteering or partnerships with the Science and Learning Center, visit the Mount St. Helens Institute's website or contact 360-449-7883.

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Lava Canyon Interpretive Site

Discover more about Mount St. Helens eruptive past in this much more stark, higher-elevation setting. Stroll along a barrier-free trail and explore a mudflow-scoured canyon with views of a waterfall plunging over an ancient lava flow. Opportunities exist for more challenging hiking experiences with rewarding views. 

Accessible Adventures Video