What side of Mount St. Helens is best?
October 4, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

What side of Mount St. Helens would you go to on a day trip if visiting both wasn't an option?

Mrs. Lips and I are staying in Goldendale, WA this evening and the current plan is to visit Mount St. Helens tomorrow. But we can't decide what part we want to see!

We're open to any location for our stay tomorrow night, pretty much anywhere on the southerly route from Yakima to Portland, depending on the time itinerary.

It appears there's really two major Mount St. Helens options; coming in from the west and going to Johnson Observatory, or coming in from the east and going to Windy Ridge.

Visiting both does not appear to allow us much time to spend at any one site; Google says a round trip from Goldendale to each of the two sites, and back to Goldendale, is over 10 hours just in drive time. We'd at least like to get out and walk around, perhaps a little hiking (not too much), and take our time taking everything in. The shorter version of Ape Cave looks cool to me and would be an option if it can fit into our schedule.

If you were us, which way would you go / what would you do?
posted by SquidLips to Travel & Transportation around Mt. St. Helens, WA (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They're both great. Go with the one that saves time driving, and spend the saved time in the Ape Caves. Check the webcam for Johnston Ridge first; if it's too cloudy, you can't see anything at all, from either site. Bonus points: On a really clear day, you can see Mts. Rainier, Hood, and Adams from Windy Ridge.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:34 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I personally like the south. Ape Cave and the Lava Canyon hike are great. Last time I was there we stayed at this B&B in Cougar, just south of the mountain.
posted by ShooBoo at 2:40 PM on October 4, 2012

I've only visited from the south. The Ape Cave is the best non-limestone cave I've been in and Lava Canyon was pretty awesome too. You can't see the crater well from the south, though. I wish I had visited the west side instead.
posted by grouse at 3:09 PM on October 4, 2012

It depends a bit on what you're looking for. The west (Johnston Ridge) side is more popular, and has better views and visitor centers. If it's the only time you'll ever visit, I'd probably go that way, just so you can see the crater and the view that you've seen in photos.

The south (Windy Ridge) side is less traveled, and no less beautiful, but you won't get the classic photo. (My dad worked for the Forest Service in the district that included Windy Ridge, and joked that it was like seeing "the back side of Mt. Rushmore.") If that doesn't bother you, or if you think you'll make another trip a different time, then definitely consider it. Ape Caves and Lava Canyon are great, so if you go that route, definitely worth a stop.

You're right, it's pretty much a two-day trip to see both sides. I like Windy Ridge better, but if you're not planning on being back in the area again, I think I'd go to Johnston Ridge.
posted by yuwtze at 4:36 PM on October 4, 2012

Another vote for Johnson Ridge. Not only do you get a spectacular view and a good visitor center, but you also get a great drive on a nicely twisty but safe new road. You can also hike down to Spirit Lake in the blast zone from there.
posted by monotreme at 9:42 PM on October 4, 2012

I just did this last weekend with my son. Do the lava canyon hike, the ape cave and then windy ridge, exit to the north for the speediest way to I-5 via 12. the roads are in good shape, the crowds are small. be sure you take water, layered clothing and 3 sources of light to the cave. it's a great day with a lot of variety and terrific scenery.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:42 PM on October 4, 2012

Forest Road 25 and Windy Ridge are a bear to drive and Windy Ridge has no interpretation to speak of. Johnston Ridge is a much better choice for view and time efficiency. I know Google Maps uses NF-25 like a "regular" road, but it's really a mediocre Forest Service road.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:03 AM on October 5, 2012

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