Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Toutle, Washington

Hwy 504, 52 miles east of I-5

Johnston Ridge Observatory is the most popular destination for vistors to Mt. St. Helens Volcanic National Monument. It features views of the north side of Mt. St. Helens, including the crater and lava dome. The ridge was in the direct path of the debris that the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens pushed to the north, up and over the ridge, putting the Observatory in the heart of the blast zone.

In addition to its views, Johnston Ridge Observatory provides interpretive displays, ranger talks, films, souvenirs and limited hiking.

The Observatory was named for David Johnston, a volcanologist who was among those monitoring the site when he was killed during the eruption. He was the first to report the eruption, transmitting "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" before the blast swept him away. His remains have never been found.

mt st helens blast zone

Mt. St. Helens Blast Zone (P13A0208)
The Johnston Ridge Observatory provides a front row view of the blast zone created by the 1980 eruption. More than 200 square miles of trees were flattened, and debris was pushed across the valley and up and over Johnston Ridge. For scientists the blast zone provides a natural laboratory for studying how the land recovers from such disasters. For that reason, visitor access to the valley is quite limited so that the recovery can take its natural course.

mt st helens lava dome

Mt. St. Helens Lava Dome (P13A0212)
Since the major eruption in 1980, there have been a handful of much smaller eruptions that have led to the creation and growth of a lava dome inside the crater as Mt. St. Helens slowly rebuilds itself.


Wildflowers at Mt. St. Helens (P13A0219)
A weathered tree down by the 1980 eruption provides the backdrop for some Indian Paintbrush. Wildflowers, grasses and small shrubs began to reclaim the blast zone shortly after the eruption.

memorial to the victims

Memorial to the Victims of the 1980 Eruption (P13A0228)
The 1980 eruption killed 57 people, their names recorded on this memorial along a trail at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Among them were David Johnston, a volcanologist monitoring the site at the time of the eruption, and Harry R. Truman, the owner and caretaker of Mt. St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake who refused to evacuate in the days before the eruption.

More About Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

There are a number of great destinations related to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, with Johnston Ridge Observatory and Windy Ridge Observatory being the best ones for the most direct views of Mt. St. Helens, its lava dome and the blast zone.

Although Johnston Ridge and Windy Ridge are just a few miles from one another, there is no direct road connection. By road it's in the range of about 150 miles to get from one to the other. Johnston Ridge is accessed from I-5 between Seattle and Portland. Windy Ridge and the sites along the south and east of Mt. St. Helens are most easily accessed when driving out of Mt. Rainier National Park and from the Portland/Vancouver area.

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