Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center 

Where were you when the mountain blew? 

If you’ve lived in Washington State very long, you have no doubt been asked this question. For those of us who lived here on that day 38 years ago (yes, it’s really been that long) we can answer that one easily. A major volcanic eruption tends to be the kind of thing that sticks in your memory. My wife and I had been planning for years to take our son down to see Mount Saint Helens, but didn’t actually get around to it until this Spring. It’s worth the trip.

Mount Saint Helens has known for its natural beauty for as long as humans have lived in this region, and that is still true today. But that beauty was forever changed on May 18, 1980. Today, you won’t see the evidence of the eruption as easily as you could back in the 1980s, but it is still apparent if you think about it and look closely. Not sure if it’s just me, but I always find myself getting tense when driving near the mountain, remembering the power of the main eruption so long ago. Silly, I know, but it’s always there in the back of my mind like a ghost.

 

Our trip had us leaving I-5 at Castle Rock and heading East on State Route 504, and enjoying the rolling hills and forests immediately. The Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center is next to Seaquest State Park, and on the shores of Silver Lake. It boasts a beautiful view of the mountain as you walk up to the main building. There are hiking trails you can take for better views along the lake if you want to take more time. The main attraction of the visitor center for me were the displays that put everything in perspective for my son.

There is a $5 charge for adults and young people between 7 and 17 get in for $2.50. The exhibits are a bit dated, but still very interesting to spend time learning. I highly recommend sitting through the movie presentation, which is less than 20 minutes in length. Kids will likely be impressed with the footage captured during the eruption. My son was even chuckling over how low resolution the video was in places, until I told him that was state of the art for 1980 and what we watched on TV every night.  I don’t have to bother with the stories of walking five miles uphill each way to school, I just have to show him that we had to watch everything in 480p if we were lucky.  

 

You won’t be required to have a special pass to park at the visitor center, but you will be asked to pay the fees to walk through the museum portion of the center. There are activities for kids throughout the warmer months of the year, and be sure to visit the gift shop.