We made a family day trip up to Mt. St. Helens. I'd never been, and Jeff hadn't been since he was Hayden's age, so it was like new for all of us. We did a lot of research online to help us whittle down which places to stop and which places to pass since we only had the day.
Though the mileage on the drive can seem daunting for a day trip, it's actually perfect. The turn off for the mountain is only 45 minutes out of downtown Portland. Once you make the turn at Castle Rock, there are places to stop every ten miles or so, ending with the Johnston Ridge Observatory 45 minutes in.
We opted not to pull off at any of the look out spots since we knew we'd get a great view at Johnston Ridge. This saved a ton of time, since there are about a dozen of them!
We began at the Mt Hood Visitors Center about ten minutes off the freeway. Admission was $3 and there was a short movie about the history of the eruption. The kids sat through the movie, and liked going through the volcano underground walk through...but that was about it. They weren't interested in the exhibits since most were reading and not exploratory. Grace liked screaming in the volcano walk through...not sure if the other people packed down there enjoyed it as much as she did. (For reference, it's roughly the same asthe underground animals step down at the Forestry Center).
From there we went all the way to Johnston Ridge, about a half hour. It is $8 for adults at the Observatory, but it was worth it. They had a video - similar to the one at the Visitors Center - huge viewing windows of the mountain, a model that lit up showing how mudslides affected the area, a seismograph where the kids could make their own earthquake, an explanation of how scientists have used the Mt. St. Helen's eruption to explain other volcanic mysteries (like the hills around Mt. Shasta), and lots of other things.
Afterward, we took a great hike that was very well designed. each resting point along the trail gave you a different view of the mountain and the lava dome. What looked like a cloud from one angle, actually turned out to be steam coming off the lava dome! I think Bayley & Jeff would have taken the hike all the way down to the lake if not for Hayden and my gimp foot holding them back! Maybe next time...
A snack was required after our hike, and then we headed down to the Forest Learning Center - another great place for the kids. Outside there was a great playground and a short hiking loop showing lots of different ways the forest has fought back against the devestation of the eruption.
Throughout the day we saw lots of animals - a friendly squirell that reminded me of our time at U of O, a herd of elk, butterflies, hawks...and an unidentified fuzzy thing. It was far away and though Bayley thought bear and Hayden thought skunk...Jeff & I were pretty sure it was a lone elk.
We had a great time and will definitely hit Johnstons Ridge and the Forest Learning Center on our next trip up...probably when Grace is old enough to remember it!