Johnston Ridge

  • Easy (to great viewpoint)
  • 3.8 miles round trip
  • 400 feet elevation gain
  • Open early June through October

  • Moderate (to Harrys Ridge)
  • 8 miles round trip
  • 1000 feet elevation gain

  • Difficult (to Coldwater Peak)
  • 12.8 miles round trip
  • 2000 feet elevation gain
  • Open July through October

When Mt. St. Helens unexpectedly aimed its 1980 eruption toward this ridge, David Johnston, the Forest Service observer stationed here, had time to radio just five words: “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” Today the most popular drive in the national monument leads to an observation building atop Johnston’s ridge. The view of the volcano is both chilling and inspiring. But the panorama actually gets better the farther you hike from the visitor center: 1.9 miles to a bluff, 4 miles to Harrys Ridge, or 6.4 miles to Coldwater Peak.

Mt. St. Helens has steamed quietly since its latest dome-building phase ended in 2007. Future eruptions are expected, but are unlikely to be as violent as in 1980.

To drive here, take Interstate …

Patches of snow linger until mid-summer on this steep, switchbacking path, but it’s also a place to find vibrant alpine wildflowers: beargrass plumes and pasque flower anemones. Coldwater Peak’s summit, once the site of a fire lookout, now has a small collection of antennas and solar panels. The dizzying view extends from Mt. Rainier to the Pacific.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington.