An amazing sight with a visitor's center that describes the full details of the volcanic eruption that happened on May 18, 1980.
This active volcano is extraordinary and has a long history behind it. It takes about 2 hours to drive from the Portland airport to the Mount Saint Helens visitor's center, and about another hour driving up the Spirit Lake Highway to reach the observatory. This highway has a lot of switchbacks and takes a very scenic route through the Toutle River Valley.
In the visitor's center, you can see a model of Mount Saint Helens, view a functioning seismograph feed of the volcano, explore the timeline leading up to the 1980 eruption, and watch a 30-minute program that depicts what occurred on that tragic day. You will also learn about the survivors of the eruption and watch actual footage that was captured on that day. There are a lot of souvenirs you can buy at their gift shop. If you want to explore nearby the visitor's center, you can take a hike along the boardwalk trail to Silver Lake. You will be able to see wildlife such as waterfowl along these wetlands. It is very inexpensive to pay for admission to the visitor's center and its hours are mainly from 9 am to 4 pm daily throughout the year.
The observatory is run by the Forest Service and allows you to get a clear view of the volcano along with great photography opportunities. If you want to get an even closer view, there is an option to take a 1/2 mile hike along the eruption trail. This hike allows you to see the volcano's lava dome and crater along with landslides and the surrounding landscape that has shaped the area. If you want a guided tour, trained volunteers can take groups of people up to approved areas. Having a tour guide means you can take the opportunity to ask questions and learn even more about this natural phenomenon.