Home to one of the most significant volcanic events of the 20th century—the Mt. St. Helens eruption—Cowlitz County offers miles of diverse and scenic terrain, a number of historic towns and more points of interest than you can take in on a single road trip. And, along the way, Cowlitz County offers plenty of opportunities to get out of the car and enjoy the great outdoors.
Two of the most popular drives in Cowlitz County head to Mt. St. Helens: one on the north side of the volcano and one along the south side.
Castle Rock to Johnston Ridge
On the north side, a 52-mile drive from Interstate 5 on SR504 will take you to Johnston Ridge in the blast zone of Mt. St. Helens. This road trip can easily take a full day if you take advantage of all the points of interest along the route. First, check out the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center, located in Seaquest State Park, for an introduction into this dynamic region. Then, inside the volcano’s blast zone, stop in at the Forest Learning Center to learn the fascinating story of forest recovery and conservation efforts since the eruption. Along the way, stop at Coldwater Lake, a pristine body of water that was created by the eruption as it blocked the flow of Coldwater Creek. And, at the end of SR504, in closeup view of the mountain and its crater, you’ll visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory to learn the full story of the eruption and how it instantly and dramatically altered the landscape that surrounds you.
Woodland to Ape Cave
On the south side of Mt. St. Helens, SR503 takes you on a 38-mile scenic drive from the town of Woodland on I-5 to Ape Cave in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. On the way, in the town of Ariel, stop at Lelooska Museum to view its impressive collection of Native American artifacts from many Tribes and regions of North America. For a scenic hike with views of pools and waterfalls, take a break from your drive at the Lava Canyon Trail near Cougar. Also near Cougar, you can visit the Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site, a short interpretive trail that shows evidence of a 2,000-year-old eruption’s impact on an ancient forest. Continue the drive to end at Ape Cave, a volcanic lava tube with two separate cave hikes, one easy and the other more challenging; bring comfortable walking shoes, a jacket and lanterns or headlamps to explore the caves.
Where to Stay
If you are a camper or RVer, you will find campgrounds and RV parks along these routes. If you require other lodging, you will find options in Longview, Kelso, Kalama, Woodland, Toutle and Cougar. Plan your trip to Cowlitz County, Washington, at visitmtsthelens.com.
Cowlitz County is a year-round destination, so you can always plan your visit to coincide with one of its festivals or seasonal events. Find events at the Cowlitz County events calendar.