The View From One of America’s Best Hikes: Mount St. Helens

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.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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.”

A permit is required for every climber above 4,800 feet on Mount St. Helens. It costs $15/person for the permit. For the quota season of April 1 through Oct. 31, there are daily limits on the total number of climbers permitted on the mountain. For each month during the quota season, permits go on sale at at 7 a.m. Pacific Time on the first day of the preceding month; for example, permits for hiking the mountain in July go on sale on June 1 at 7 a.m. Pacific Time. Permits for summer dates sell out very quickly. See for information.

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 See for information.

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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.

See a menu of all of my stories about family adventures at The Big Outside, and my “5 Tricks For Getting Tired Kids Through a Hike.”

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