Last weekend we packed up the car for a quick camping trip and made the several hour drive from Seattle to the secluded forests of Mt. St Helens. I had heard a lot of things about Mt. St Helens in the past decade I’ve been living in Washington State, but I’d never been. Most folks just referenced the destruction of the eruption or how eery and empty the landscape was. When I said we were planning a trip there, a lot of folks raised a quizical eyebrow. The common belief is that there’s not much to see up there anymore. Devon, despite growing up the PNW, had never been either, nor our good friend Thomas, who came with us. (Fun fact time: Neither of us had ever been camping before he dragged us out on a camping trip in Deception Pass State Park waaaay back in high-school. Devon was excited, I was skeptical, but we both fell in love with it. So Thomas is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the both of us hiking & camping & shooting in the outdoors today. For that and other reasons, we love him a lot.)
The road up to the mountain is lonely, windy, quiet, and through miles of incredibly dense forest. The nearest real town is hours away, and the bustle of a distant Seattle might as well be a different planet altogether. The only downside is that the drive-in campgrounds in the area are far and few between, and they’re situated at least an hour’s drive from the end of the road at the mountain itself. When we arrived, the mountain was shrouded in clouds, so we hiked around the surrounding area, treating ourselves to a great view of spirit lake and watched a herd of elk grazing on the hillside before settling into our campsite among old growth trees. After a long day of hiking & driving, we were almost ready to call it quits, but I could tell that the sunset was shaping up to be spectacular and the clouds were clearing, so I convinced everyone to pile back into the car & make the drive up to see the mountain at sunset.
Just the road up itself has got to be one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever been on. When we arrived, we braced ourselves for the typical weekend crowds we’ve come to expect at any large national park or monument. But despite it being gorgeous weather on a Saturday evening, we were one of maybe 5 people total at the viewpoint. The whole place was quiet, and it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. After climbing up a steeeeep set of stairs set into a hillside, we were treated to 360 degree views like I’d never seen before. (Thomas nicknamed the trail stairway to heaven and I’ve got to say, it’s really more apt moniker than the official trail name).
Mt. St Helens is beyond words, really, but I’ll try my best. The sunset light turns from yellow to gold to an actual pink hue right before dipping down over the mountains behind Spirit Lake. The surrounding hills are an other-worldly vibrant blue, and Mt. Adams juts out of the horizon, seemingly just next door. Off in the hazy distance are Mt. Hood & Mt. Rainier, and right in front of you, so incredibly close you feel like you can reach out and grab it, it Mt. St Helens. The wildflowers were in full force while we were there, and thanks to the massive power of the eruption which cleared out all the trees surrounding the area, you can see for forever.
The next day, we opted for an all-day trek along the base of the mountain through the blast area to a gorgeous waterfall. It was a long, sunny 9 mile trek, but the elevation gain was pretty minimal, so it was not as hard as we were all anticipating. The open expanses of wildflowers and ever-changing views of Mt St Helens was more than worth the pay-off at the end of the trail, although viewing a giant waterfall cascading through a canyon of blasted, volcanic rock was pretty cool itself. We saw a herd of mountain goats on our way back, although I didn’t have a telephoto lens on me, so you’ll have to take my word for it (is there ANYTHING more adorable than a baby mountain goat??).
Mt St Helens absolutely stole my heart. It was so much more rugged and stunning than I was ever anticipating. There’s nothing else quite like it in Washington State, and it is now our top favorite volcanic peak in the state, just because you can see so much without having to hike long distances over steep terrain to get up above the tree line.
I love this area so incredibly much, and I am dying to get back and introduce our couples to this gorgeous, surprising PNW gem and photograph an elopement, a wedding, or a couple here. If you’re looking for a quiet place to elope in full view of the mountains, you love the high alpine, if you want to feel like maybe you’ve been transported to the rugged, treeless landscapes of Iceland, or if you just want to have your socks knocked off by something new and completely different, Mt. St Helens is absolutely for you.