In the crater, pasty lava oozes, piling pancakey slabs into a new 920-foot dome. Pink and purple lupines—gateway flowers for a healthier ecosystem—stud the pumice plains. Small mammals, sheltered by burrows during the blast, grow in number and invite back bigger creatures. Cougars now prowl here again, alongside bears, elk, mountain goats and black-tailed deer.
This “living laboratory” has become the world’s most studied volcano, but the innovation doesn’t stop with Mother Nature. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument keeps finding fresh activities for visitors to enjoy beyond the horseshoe-shaped crater and 8,365-foot slopes. Only 100 climbing permits are issued each day, often selling out months in advance.
The U.S. Forest Service debuted an open-air amphitheater at Johnston Ridge Observatory with hopes to expand from rock concerts to weddings. Meanwhile, the Washington Trails Association is grooming a new route near popular Ape Caves, where hikers can already explore one of the continent’s longest lava tubes. The new path, which opens this summer, will wind among vine maples and silver firs to an outlook revealing a dramatic mountain vista.
Sightseeing continues on after sunset. The 110,000-acre monument is one of the region’s most accessible stargazing sites, with field seminars run by Mount St. Helens Institute. Indie clubs also gather here, including the Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers (VSA).“All the stresses of life press on us, but stargazing gets us away from the distractions,” says Stan Seeberg, VSA’s founder. “Especially when the stars look like diamonds on black velvet from the mountain.”There are plans to eventually build accommodations, making the magical night skies more accessible. But in the meantime, even beginners can head out with binoculars and star maps to enjoy the sight during the peak season: April to early October.