On a clear, cloudless day, we can see Mount St. Helens from the Portland area. The 1980 eruption greatly diminished the peak, but it’s still a mighty member of the Cascade Range. And oh man, does it have stories to tell.
If you want to give your kids a healthy respect for Mother Nature, take them to one of three operating visitor centers for this volcanic neighbor:
- Johnston Ridge Observatory: This center is at the end of highway 504, with an incredible view of St. Helens. There are several interactive exhibits (many kid-friendly) and a large theater with shows impactful enough to leave my sensitive 4-year-old in horrified tears. True story. There are also outdoor trails and an amphitheater used for a cool Music on the Mountain series in the summer. (Open mid-May to October, admission is FREE for kids under 15, $8 for adults).
- Forest Learning Center: This location is within the 1980 blast zone, and is provided by Weyerhaeuser Company. It includes extensive information on the eruption and the recovery of the forests and animal life, and includes kids exhibits. There’s also a FREE eruption movie and an exterior playground. (Open end of May to October, FREE admission)
- Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake: Located at mile 5 on Highway 504, it’s the original Visitor Center built in 1993 and the gateway to the mountain. It’s farthest from St. Helens and a bit dated, but it’s closest to I-5 and includes a movie and a scenic walking trail along the lake. (Open year-round, admission is FREE for kids under 6, $2.50 for kids 7-17, $5 for adults, or $15 per family).
Sadly the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, just 8 miles from the crater and a powerful memory for me as a kid, closed in 2007 due to budget restrictions. Boo!