This trip gives a wonderful view of the mountains from two different perspectives: one that gives an amazing view into the crater of Mount St. Helens, and another that gives views of at least 5 mountains on a clear day. Plan on setting aside a whole day for this one, and trust us: it’s worth it, and you’ll want to bring your camera.
From Centralia or Chehalis, set out on Interstate 5 and head south until you reach Exit 68, then take a left to head east. You’re going to want to hit Randle, and as you drive you’ll be able to see the Cascades come closer and closer into view.
The city of Morton is on the way, and it’s a perfect place to stop for fuel, a quick break or a bite to eat on this trip. Take some time and head north on Highway 7 until you reach the four-way blinking light, then take a left. Check out the Cody Cafe for lunch, the Bean Tree for coffee…there are options in Morton!
Once back on Highway 12, continue heading east to Randle. Once in Randle, turn south on State Route 131, which enters the Gifford Pinchot National Forest rather quickly and becomes Forest Road 25. You’ll be heading for Windy Ridge in northern Skamania County.
Windy Ridge is about 35 miles from Randle, but the trip is well worth it. You’ll wind through vast stretches of prime forest land for about forty-five minutes, but once you make that right turn onto Forest Road 99 and enter the blast zone, the landscape changes dramatically.
Before you know it, you’ll be at Windy Ridge, and you can get out here and stretch for a bit. Don’t rest for too long, because you’ll want to take the winding steps close by to get up higher and take a gander directly into the crater of Mount St. Helens. This view is probably the best glimpse you can get, short of hiking in the Mount Margaret area, at the destructive force of the 1980 blast.
Spend as little or as much time as you wish at Windy Ridge, then hop back in the car. At this point, you have two options: head back into town, or head into another part of the Gifford Pinchot to see one of the most majestic views Lewis County has to offer.
Head back down Forest Road 99, then turn left on Forest Road 25. But this time, just before you reach Randle, you’re going to take a right on Cispus Road and follow the signs to Cispus Center.
Once you’ve reached Cispus, continue on Forest Road 76 and take a left on Forest Road 77. Follow the signs and keep ascending with the road toward Burley Mountain, and make sure you hit the dirt road of Forest Road 7605. From there you can either hike to the fire lookout that stands more than 5,000 feet above sea level, or drive up if the spur road is open.
PLEASE NOTE: Many areas of the road are rutted and require a four-wheel drive vehicle to navigate successfully, especially past the intersection of 76 and 7605. Hiking is an option; it's about another mile and a half up 7605 by foot to your destination.
Once you’ve reached the lookout, gaze all around you: to the north is Mount Rainier, to the east is Mount Adams, to the southwest is Mount St. Helens, and way off in the distance in the south is Mount Hood. The landscape of the Cascades, Goat Rocks Wilderness and more come into a glorious 360-degree view at a place that was once an important fire lookout, now restored by volunteers.
Again, you’ll want to allow all day for this road trip, but when you’re done, you’ll have quite the experience and the photos to prove it.
And if you want to spend more time in East Lewis County, check out our other East County Road Trip as well as some of our Lodging Opportunities for the Morton region and beyond.