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Driving from Portland to Mt. St. Helens | The Best Way To Get There & Things To Do

Fly Around Mt St Helens

Driving from Portland to Mt. St. Helens | The Best Way To Get There & Things To Do

When you’re in Portland, Oregon, if you’re downtown and look to the Northeast on a clear day, you’ll see Mt. St. Helens. And it looks close, and if you were a bird and flew straight there, it’s only about 50 miles  (80 km) away, versus Seattle which is 97 miles (157 km) away. So, while it is in fact in Washington State, it might feel a little bit more like an Oregon mountain. At any rate, the drive from Portland to Mt. St. Helens is not quite as quick as it may seem. In fact, it takes up to 2 hours by car and is 109 miles to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. But, don’t let that deter you from a little volcanic exploration! This guide will provide you information on great places to stop along the way to make a full day of exploring. And, if you’re not up for a road trip, drive to 20 minutes east of Portland to Troutdale and fly with Envi Adventures on the Volcano air tour with a birds-eye view of inside the crater of Mt. St. Helens. More on that later…

Here Are The Best Ways to See Mt. St. Helens

Driving to the South Side of Mt. St. Helens from Portland, Oregon

Driving to the Crater Side of Mt. St. Helens from Portland

Driving to Mt. St. Helens from Portland, Oregon

When you search Google for directions to Mt. St. Helens, you need to be careful because it will take you to Mt. St. Helens, but it’s the south end of the mountain. If you’re wanting to see the explosive side, or the crater side of the mountain, you’ll need to search for something different. However, the south side of Mt. St. Helens has a lot to see and explore also, so read on for stops you can make along the way on your way to this famous (and active!) Pacific Northwest mountain!



Main Points of Interest (from Portland to the south side of Mt. St. Helens)

Lake Merwin and Yale Lake

Lake Merwin and Yale Lake are reservoirs that are very popular for camping, boating, and outdoor recreation! They also provide excellent views of Mt. St. Helens while out on the water.

portland to mt st helens

Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site

The Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site is an easy walk between two forests that stand next to each other. It’s called the Trail of Two Forests because one of the forests is 2,000 years older than the other! On one side is an old-growth forest filled with Douglas Firs, while the other is a younger forest that had been swallowed by lava flow from a volcanic eruptions thousands of years before! This trail is family friendly and wheelchair friendly!

drive to mt st helens


Ape Cave

This place is cool, but you should also be prepared for it, because it is a cave and there are risks associated with that! If you were to explore the entire cave length, it is nearly 3 miles in length. But you should go prepared and be aware of the rules for visiting this amazing natural feature. Visitors are required to have a reservation if visiting between May and October which can be made at

You also don’t have to explore the entire cave. The Lower Cave is larger with a flat floor that turns into sand from a centuries old mud flow. This is an easy walk that lasts about 1 1/2 miles roundtrip.

Needless to say, visiting any part of the Ape Cave requires preparation and following set rules:

  1. No food
  2. No pets
  3. No smoking
  4. No rock collecting
  5. Do not touch the walls of the cave as they have a “cave slime” which is important for the cave’s ecosystem

To prepare, be aware that:

  1. The cave is a constant 42 degree F
  2. The ceilings drip and there are puddles
  3. It is pitch black, so bring light sources with spare batteries
  4. Caves are never completely safe

Lahar Viewpoint

The entire point of driving this direction is to see Mt. St. Helens, right? The Lahar Viewpoint is one of the best spots to see the south side of Mt. St. Helens and is called the Lahar Viewpoint because during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the Shoestring Glacier liquefied from the heat of the eruption. All of this melted snow and ice mixed with rock and ash speeding down the mountain at 100 miles per hour creating this once barren landscape.

best views of mt st helens

Best Views of Mt. St. Helens

Lava Canyon Trailhead

At 5 miles, this amazing rugged canyon trail with three different sections each with varying levels of difficulty. With thunderous waterfalls, a 125-foot suspension bridge, and volcanic geology, this hike is a great place to explore during the summer months visiting Mt. St. Helens.

portland to mt st helens

Driving to Mt. St. Helens from Portland, Oregon

Now, if you’re wanting to see inside Mt. St. Helens, this is the way to go! With an almost constant view of the destruction caused by the 1980 eruption, the jaw dropping sights toward the observatories will stay with you forever!

Main Points of Interest (from Portland to the crater side of Mt. St. Helens)

Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center

The Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center is a FREE visitors center that has some of the most interesting exhibits at Mt. St. Helens. Located outside the 1980 blast zone, there’s volcano and forestry exhibits, playgrounds, picnic tables, wildlife viewing, and a gift shop.

Castle Lake Viewpoint

From here the view of Mt. St. Helens is jaw dropping. You’ll be able to see Mt. St. Helens, Castle Lake, and debris from the massive landslide that occurred during the 1980 eruption.

Best views of Mt. St. helens


Johnston Ridge Observatory

Typically the last stop on a visit to Mt. St. Helens, the Johnston Ridge Observatory sits in the heart of the blast zone with a direct view into the crater from ground level. With hiking trails, interpretive center, and amazing views, the observatory is a great place to go during a Mt. St. Helens visit. Please note that it is closed until 2026.

Mt St. Helens from Portland


Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best time of year to go?

If you want to see Mt. St. Helens, summer time is the best time to go. During the winter, snow will make many locations inaccessible and dangerous. Also, since it rains in the Pacific Northwest a lot in the winter, clouds could, and likely will, obstruct the view of the mountain.

Mt St Helens helicopter tours

With the observatory closed, is there any other option?

While Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed, the southern route is still open as is Castle Lake Viewpoint and the Forest Learning Center. However, if you want to see inside the crater of Mt. St. Helens, Johnston Ridge Observatory would be the best option, but it’s closed. You can also fly above and around Mt. St. Helens with Envi Adventures to see this magnificent mountain in a truly unique way.



Is it worth driving to Mt. St. Helens?

If you’re up for a day of exploring, then yes. With so many different activities, varying in difficulty, there’s something for everyone. But plan for a long day, because the drive is long and time consuming, so bring plenty of food and water, because there aren’t many places to stop to fill up!

Why would I drive to Mt. St. Helens?

Driving isn’t for everyone. If you like stopping and exploring then it’s a great way to go. If you’re pressed for time, but still want to see it, then consider a private flight tour of Mt. St. Helens with Envi Adventures. They have flights available daily from Portland to fly above and around the mountains.