The Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center consists of actually three different world-class, exhibit-filled visitor centers. While it's free to visit the Mount Saint Helens Forest Learning Center, other sites and visitor centers around Mount Saint Helens require visitors to pay a small fee. The Northwest Forest Pass is needed for visitors to explore Windy Ridge, Lahar Viewpoint, Lava Canyon, and the Ape Cave. This pass is valid for both the Washington and Oregon National Forests, and is a "vehicle pass."
The Northwest Forest Pass is good for the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, North Cascades National Park, Deschutes National Forest's River Caves, Echo Ridge Nordic skiing in the Wenatchee National Forest, and Willamette National Forest's Terwilliger Hot Springs. There are several sites near the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center that require visitors to have a monument pass to visit. Such sites include the Johnston Ridge Observatory, Ape Cave, Loowit Viewpoint, Lava Canyon, Windy Ridge, Lahar Viewpoint, Cedar Creek, Smith Creek, Meta Lake, Donneybrook, Harmony Falls, Bear Meadows, and miners car.
The Forest Learning Center at Mount Saint Helens is considered to be the best exhibit located on the mountain, and is free for visitors to visit. Kids can have fun playing in the center's playground, in addition to pretending to fly around Mount Saint Helens by climbing aboard a helicopter. Another great experience, especially for children, is the eruption chamber. The Learning Center also includes the best gift shop, which is open every day, along the highway. Visitors can also explore a life-life replica of a forest, as well as learn about forest reforestation, recovery, and forest resource conservation.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory is named after David Johnston, who was a volcanologist who was camping on the ridge when Mount Saint Helens erupted. He observed the eruption, and his final words are known to be "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it." His body was never found. The observatory contains several exhibits, as well as offers some amazing views of the area. The site is open to the public from the month of May until around the month of October, dependent on if there is snow.
The Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake is a great stop for visitors on their journey back down the mountain. This visitor center can be found Mile Marker 5 along State Route 504. Silver Lake is, constructed in 1993, is the original visitor center at Mount Saint Helens. As such, the exhibits within the center may be a bit dated, but they can still be interesting to see if visitors have time on their way down the highway. It's recommended to visit the other centers on the mountain first for an ideal experience.
Located in Castle Rock, the Castle Rock Exhibit Hall is situated right off of Interstate 5. A visit to this center will give visitors the impression that they've stepped back in time. This exhibit hall doesn't feature any special, over-the-top displays, just ordinary photographs that were assembled by residents and survivors of the Mount Saint Helens area. This display shares their first-hand experience with the region.
3029 Spirit Lake Highway, Castle Rock, Washington, Phone: 360-274-0962