By Michael Lanza
Nearly four decades after it erupted, Washington’s Mount St. Helens has become one of the most sought-after summits in the country—for good reason. Hikers on the standard Monitor Ridge route, on the mountain’s south side, emerge soon from the shady, cool, temperate rainforest onto a stark, gray and black moonscape of volcanic rocks, pumice, and ash, with little vegetation and sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains, including several other snow-covered volcanoes. The views could steal the breath from God.
If you want to hike Mount St. Helens this year, the online process for applying for a permit begins tomorrow, March 18.
From atop crumbling cliffs at the crater rim, hikers look out over the vast hole—2,000 feet deep and nearly two miles across—created by the 1980 eruption that decapitated St. Helens. Ice-capped volcanoes dominate three horizons: Rainier, Adams, Hood, and Jefferson. Scroll down to the photo gallery below from my family’s three-generation hike up St. Helens, and you’ll see why I consider it one of “The 10 Best Family Outdoor Adventure Trips.”
Dayhiking 8,363-foot Mount St. Helens is so enormously popular—nearly 14,000 people attempt it every year—that you can’t spontaneously decide to do it. From April 1 to Oct. 31, every climber above 4,800 feet on Mount St. Helens must have a permit that is one of the hardest backcountry permits to get on U.S. public lands.
Permits for climbing St. Helens between April 1 and Oct. 31 go on sale online March 18, at 7 a.m Pacific Time. It costs $15/person for the permit plus a $6 fee for the reservation. All of the limited permits issued per day (100 permits/day from May 15 to Oct. 31, and 500 permits/day from April 1 to May 14) sell out quickly—by early spring or sooner. Apply early at recreation.gov. See fs.usda.gov/detail/giffordpinchot/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fseprd528670 for information.
If you fail to get a permit for your desired dates through the online application process, get on the waiting list at purmit.com. Because people reserve months in advance, there are always permit holders interested in selling, and rules prohibit selling permits for any more than the regular price of $15.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
Read my story “Three Generations, One Big Volcano: Pushing Limits on Mount St. Helens,” about my family’s three-generation hike of Mount St. Helens, with more photos, a video, and tips on how to pull it off yourself.
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