Mount St. Helens, itself just southeast of Lewis County, offers a variety of winter recreational options that are unique due to its landscape.
The mountain, just a hair taller than 8,000 feet as a result of its 1980 eruption, is the centerpiece of a portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that more resembles a barren land. In the winter, however, the sights of hummocks and more give way to snowy undulations, and trails traveled by hiking boots in summer become well-worn by snowshoes.
The wide-open nature of the mountain appeals to many, and although the main visitor center, Johnston Ridge Observatory, is closed, you can still snowshoe there if you wish. The trails are wide open, and in wintertime, fewer people on those trails mean you have a lot of time and expanse to yourself.
Sledding on the hills adjoining the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is popular this winter, as the highway ascends to well over 3,000 feet in elevation at spots. The old runaway truck ramp a few miles east of the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater is a very popular spot for sledding, but many other intrepid families have carved out their own spots, as you’ll likely see on the way there.
If you just want to learn about the mountain and get some really cool photos of the volcano as you stare into the crater, the previously-mentioned Science and Learning Center at Coldwater is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It’s always implied since you’ll be heading to higher elevations in the winter, but we have to say it anyway: bring tire chains or traction devices, some food and warm clothing. And be prepared for any weather!
If you’re coming from the north, you’ll be driving through Lewis County in order to get to the mountain. We recommend exiting Interstate 5 at Exit 63 and making a stop in Toledo on the way over.
You’ll shave miles off the trip and get a good glimpse of what you’re about to see if you take the less-traveled route. State Route 505, which runs through the small but charming town of Toledo, later links up with the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, which provides direct access to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Stop in to any of Toledo's restaurants: sit a spell at Betty’s Place for a shake, Sandy’s Pizza for a slice or the new Chimis Mexican Restaurant for some south-of-the-border cuisine. Fill up your car’s gas tank and your cooler at the local gas station and grocery store, and you’re on your way!
If it’s a clear day, several spots off the highway will allow for some nice photos of Mount Rainier in the distance. Find a good spot to pull aside and shoot away!
If you’re bringing an RV or want to find somewhere to camp overnight, there are several places to stay overnight. Find one here!
Allow about 45 minutes to an hour from Toledo to get to the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, possibly more if you encounter snow or heavy traffic on the road.
PLACES TO SEE
We’ll delve further into these in future posts, but we’ll create a small bulleted list for you to check off:
• Hummocks Trail: Access to this trail is open year-round, providing a great family-friendly hike through fields of hummocks — huge mounds of rock, ash and more that were deposited by the 1980 eruption. The trail loops 2.4 miles through some changing terrain and is a pleasant hike. Bring a pair of binoculars and be prepared to see some pretty cool critters of nature. More information here.
• Science and Learning Center at Coldwater: Open through a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the Mount St. Helens Institute, this center is open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It’s the visitors’ center to see during the wintertime, as it offers great views of the snow-capped volcano and several interactive exhibits. Restrooms are available here too. More information available here.
• Lakes Trail: Grab a pair of snowshoes and hit this trail around Coldwater Lake. The mountain goes into and out of view, but the real show here is the lake that was formed as a result of the 1980 eruption. The beautiful scenery and possibility of seeing wildlife surrounding the lake is worth the trip on even the cloudiest of days. More info here.