Stay and Play in the Shadow of Mt. St. Helens

A highlight of any visit to Cowlitz County, Washington, is a trip to Mt. St. Helens. The infamous volcano not only tops the charts when it comes to scenic beauty, but it also offers a fascinating look at how Nature is transforming a once-devastated landscape. But did you know that while you are not exploring the flanks of the volcano you can enjoy the attractions in many of Cowlitz County’s small towns and cities? These include unique lodges, great dining, family-friendly festivals and more. Take a look at three of our favorite Cowlitz County towns.  


As you drive along I-5 passing through the town of Kalama, on one side you’ll get a glimpse of a lodge that looks like it was plucked right out of the Hawaiian Islands, and on the other side a historic town that climbs a steep hillside. The lodge is McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge, an homage to the Hawaiian heritage of Kalama’s namesake. True to all McMenamins lodge properties, Kalama Harbor Lodge features a whimsical embrace of local history and legends around every corner. The location on the bank of the Columbia River just adds to the appeal of this unique lodge. McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge makes a perfect homebase while exploring the rest Cowlitz County. If you plan your visit right, you can even catch a performance at the amphitheater next to the lodge.  

While you are in Kalama, pop in to one of the town’s many antique stores to hunt for that elusive treasure or simply to browse. When it’s time to eat, you can’t go wrong with the pub grub and libations at McMenamins – the top-floor tiki bar with a water view will transport you and your palate to Hawaii. Or head to downtown Kalama for big portions of scrumptious Chinese food at Lucky Dragon.  


The gateway to the southern access to Mt. St. Helens is the town of Woodland, which straddles I-5. Woodland is worth exploring for many reasons: a 19th-century grist mill turned museum, abundant floral gardens (best visited during spring bloom) and a downtown that’s fun to browse.  

The Cedar Creek Grist Mill has been operating since 1876. A walking tour of this working mill is a step back to the 19th century. The mill produces cornmeal, flour and cider on 100 percent water power. Cedar Creek Grist Mill is a fun and educational experience for both adults and kids.  

Tuck this tip away for spring: Every April visit to Woodland should include a visit to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens and to the Holland America Tulip Farm for strolling among the flowers and photo-worthy bloom shots.  


As Cowlitz County’s biggest city, Longview has much to offer visitors. Let’s start with the sQuatch Fest. Yes, this is Sasquatch country, and many locals take the legendary creature so seriously that they organize an event with expert speakers and fun goings-on. Whether or not you are a believer when enter the festival, you have some profound evidence to ponder when you leave. Traveler tip: Tuck this away for January; the family-friendly event takes place Jan. 27-28, 2023.  

Cryptozoology aside, Longview also celebrates the humble squirrel with Squirrel Fest (this year, on August 20). Fun for kids of all ages, this festival has a day-long lineup of activities, from live music, food and a beer garden to activities for kids.  

Longview is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with more than 300 acres of open space, including 18 parks and 10 miles of trails. Pay a visit to beautiful Lake Sacajawea, where you can stroll the Japanese Garden, fish in the lake, and even take a Solar System walk on a trail that represents the planets in relation to the Sun, all to scale.  

Learn more about exploring these and other Cowlitz County cities at 



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