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TRAILHEAD: Johnston Ridge Observatory. Take I-5 N from El Paso and I-5 S from Seattle to exit 49 (Castle Rock/Toutle), turn toward Mount St. Helens Visitor Center on WA-504 E 50 mi to the end at a very large parking lot (110 mi, 2 hours from El Paso; 155 mi, 3 hours from Seattle).

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Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens command your attention on the wildflower-covered trail near the summit of Coldwater Peak.

ROUTE: El Paso Begin up and over the hill on the trail past the first major viewpoint from the observatory, or better yet start the long hike from the far NE corner of the parking lot near another kiosk on the easier, paved Boundary Trail 1. The trail turns to dirt after the spur to the right (which leads up to the viewpoint and observatory). Follow great signage the entire way as Mount St. Helens is definitely the focus and there will be plenty of other eye candy to distract you as well. Bright red paintbrush and other wildflowers (late June into July) blanket the foreground as you work SE down and up the wide path past some scattered low flora.

Stay on the main trail as it narrows and requires your attention around a point to the junction with Truman Trail 207 (to Windy Ridge) at less than 1/2 mi from the TH. Continue left (NE) up Boundary Trail 1 without difficulty less than a mile above the valley (possible elk or deer sightings) to the saddle and intersection with Harry’s Ridge Trail 208, which heads to the right a mile to one of the better views above Spirit Lake. Hike left instead from the wide saddle up the pumice path as the wind begins to pick up. See the sizable Spirit Lake coming into view with Mount Adams behind. Move up 2 switchbacks, then steeper and narrower on a steady traverse around left. After the third switchback, see Mount Hood above Harry’s Ridge left of Mount St. Helens. After the seventh switchback, cross to the E side of the ridge passing old tree trunk bottoms with the tops completely missing or in the lakes. Soon you’ll see St. Helens Lake (also partially covered with old trees floating since May 18, 1980), the top of Mount Rainier, and Coldwater Peak!.

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