Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens opens with plenty more coming this summer

Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens opens with plenty more coming this summer

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.comMay 4, 2014 

For visitors hoping to see something new this season at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, “patience” will be the key word.

The season at the famed volcano begins Saturday with the opening of Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Located at the end of state Route 504, the observatory sits in the middle of the blast zone from the 1980 eruption and is the closest visitor center to the crater.

Visitors to the observatory can take in the stunning views of the volcano, view interpretive displays, watch multiple films, listen to a ranger program take a hike and purchase souvenirs. The center is typically open until early October.

“It’s always great when visitors can once again come out after winter to marvel at the volcano from just 5 miles away at Johnston Ridge,” monument manager Tom Mulder said.

The biggest addition to the monument this year will be the completion of the Volcano View Trail near Ape Cave on the south side of the volcano.

“We are working on the finishing touches of the Volcano View Trail, about a mile long family friendly trail.” Mulder said. “We’re hoping we’ll see that open in July.”

Monument staff has been working with volunteers from the Washington Trails Association to build the trail. It will lead from the Ape Cave parking lot to a viewpoint.

“You used to be able to see the volcano from Ape Cave, but the trees have grown up. You can’t tell a volcano is there now,” Mulder said.

The plan to complete the trail by last October was stymied by a late-September storm and the federal government shutdown in October.

The trails group has multiple work parties planned this year to complete the bottom section of trail leading from the parking lot, including one work party May 31-June 1. To learn how to participate, go to

The other major work will take place on the east side of the volcano. The monument will begin a $700,000 project to build a new, but smaller interpretive building at Cascade Peaks Interpretive Site on Forest Service Road 99.

“We are removing the old building and will start the construction on a smaller, more energy efficient building. We’ll have interpretive displays, a retail space and potentially food,” Mulder said. “Construction on that will begin as soon as the snow lets us in there.”

The nearly 900-square-foot building will replace a triple-wide modular building that has seen better days.

“The old triple-wide was showing its age. Rather than spend money trying to refurbish it, we decided to go with a new building,” the monument manager said.

The new concrete and wood structure also will be more visible to travels coming up Road 99. The old structure, Mulder said, was hard to see amid the trees.


Another emphasis will be on programming at the various sites around the monument, especially the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater.

Last year, the monument created the learning center, open to the public on weekends, after rehabbing the former Coldwater Visitor Center.

The center is used mostly for programs run by the Mount St. Helens Institute. It also is available for meetings and school programs.

“It went very well. It was a slow increase in the programming,” Mulder said of the learning center’s first season.

The monument also has received a good response to its Junior Ranger program.

The monument offers three or four programs every day in the amphitheater at Johnston Ridge.

“It’s really hands-on. The parents can sit and watch from the amphitheater, while we involve the kids in experiments so kids can learn about volcanoes and tectonic plates,” Mulder said.

Also continuing this season will be Music on the Mountain, a series of summer concerts at the Johnston Ridge amphitheater. The bands scheduled to play this season are Science on June 28, Cody Beebe and the Crooks on July 26, and Daniel Kirkpatrick and the Bayonets on Aug. 30.

The concert series proved to be popular, Mulder said. He said attendance last summer, its first season, was about 300 people.

“Officially the seating in the amphitheater is 200, but we would have 300, with people sitting on all the walls and on the hillside,” Mulder said. “If there is this much demand, what else should we be adding to the venue, both in terms of seating and programming?”

The concerts are 6:30-8:30 p.m. and are free. For more information, go to

Also on the calendar is Arts of the Mountain. This community art event isJune 28-29 at the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater. For more information, go to


Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week.

Admission: $8 per person for ages 16 and older. Free admission days will be May 18, June 7 and 14 and Sept. 27.

Passes: There are multiple passes honored at Johnston Ridge Observatory. The federal interagency pass, once known as the America the Beautiful pass, allows the passholder and three immediate family members into the center. A Northwest Forest Pass, however, gets just the holder in.

Of note: The Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater will be open to the public 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free. Learn more about the programs offered by the Mount St. Helens Institute at

Information: Call the observatory at 360-274-2140 or go to You can call monument headquarters at 360-449-7800.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

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