Volcano Camping Adventure at Mount St. Helens

Experience the majesty, awesome destruction, and amazing rebirth of the Pacific Northwest’s most violent volcano with fellow science writers on NSWA’s first-ever camping adventure. Hosted by the Mount St. Helens Institute, we’ll see parts of the national monument that few ever experience.

Friday, August 2 to Sunday, August 4, 2019
Windy Ridge Field Camp
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument [ map ]

Registration fee (includes camping fee and meals): $50
Pumice Plain hike and geology field seminar (Sat., 8/3): $40
Meta Lake & Ghost Lake hike and ecology field seminar (Sun., 8/4): $40

Due to capacity restrictions, this event
is limited to NSWA Members.


Expert-led day hikes and field seminars will take us into the blast zone and around lakes that propelled the regeneration of life after the 1980 eruption. Campfire talks by scientists will recount the day the mountain exploded and the insights that researchers have gained from the disturbance.

Your registration fee includes two nights of lodging and six prepared meals (Friday dinner through Sunday lunch) at MSHI’s Windy Ridge Field Camp, which is used by scientists who do field research within the monument. The camp is accessed via a gated road off Forest Road 99 in the east side of the monument. We will meet up between 5pm and 6pm on Friday at the Cascade Peaks Interpretive Station and then drive together to the camp site. Members who are able to camp for one night only may do so; a meetup time on Saturday afternoon will be determined later.


The field camp includes two military-style, canvas-walled tents, each of which includes 10 cots and a wood stove. You can reserve one of the 20 cots during registration. Up to 20 additional members can attend and sleep in their own tents, cars, or RVs. If you have additional space to share in your tent or RV—or are in need of a shared place to sleep—please indicate that during registration. The field camp has a composting toilet. No running water is available, but potable water will be supplied. Bring your own water bottles and towels. See the MSHI recommended gear list. Before departing on Sunday, all participants are expected to help clean the campsite so that it is ready for the next group.


A camp manager/cook from MSHI will use the outdoor kitchen and grill at the campsite to prepare meals for all who want them. Hot dinners will be provided on Fri. and Sat.; packed lunches on Sat. and Sun; and continental breakfasts on Sat. and Sun. You are welcome to bring additional food, but you’ll also need to bring a camp stove if you wish to cook, as the outdoor kitchen is for MSHI staff use only. Please indicate any dietary restrictions during registration; camp staff will make every effort to accommodate you. The cost of meals is included in registration and is non-refundable.

Adventures and activities

MSHI experts will lead day-hike field seminars on Saturday and Sunday. We will also have science lectures and other campfire activities on Friday and Saturday evenings. All activities are subject to change in the event of inclement weather or fire hazard. Due to limited capacity, members may register for at most one of the field seminars.

Pumice Plain Hike and Geology Field Seminar (Sat.): This geologist-led hike will depart Saturday morning and follow a 6- to 7-mile loop from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint down the Truman Trail and around the pumice plain in the blast zone of the 1980 eruption. We’ll pass extraordinary geologic features, Spirit Lake, Loowit Falls, and a freshwater spring.

Estimated time: 4 to 7 hours
Difficulty: moderate (600- to 900-foot elevation gain)
Cost: $40
Maximum capacity: 10

Hidden Lakes Hike and Ecology Field Seminar (Sun.): This ecologist-led adventure will depart mid-morning on Sunday and will drive to two trailheads for 0.5- to 2-mile hikes down to Meta Lake and Ghost Lake, where life that amazingly survived the eruption seeded the decades-long regeneration of the ecosystem. On the shorter, paved walk to Meta Lake, you can take a boardwalk to see a miners’ car mangled by the 300 mph wall of debris that slammed through the forest in 1980. On the longer hike to Ghost Lake, we’ll pass through elk and beaver habitat and arrive at a hidden lake where demolished and undisturbed forest meet.

Estimated time: 3 to 4 hours
Difficulty: easy
Cost: $40
Maximum capacity: 20

Self-guided Explorations (Sat. and Sun.): On your own or in groups, you can enjoy jaw-dropping views of Mt. St Helens as well as Mt. Margaret, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier from the Windy Ridge, Harmony, Cedar Creek, and Blast Edge Viewpoints. Put on your boots and dive into the extensive trail network branching off FS Rd 99, which leads into the blast zone, to the shore of Spirit Lake, and along Independence Ridge. Check out the USFS guide to the MSH east side for options, and get free topographic maps here.

Important details

No pets are allowed at the campsite. This part of the national forest has no cellular service. Due to the remote location and sometimes unstable terrain, all registrants must sign a waiver and provide emergency medical information. If you will be parking your vehicle in the monument outside the field camp (e.g. at viewpoints, trail heads, or interpretive centers), the U.S. Forest Service requires that each vehicle have a recreation pass, which costs $5/day or $30/year and is good at all USFS locations. Purchase your pass online here.

Cancellation policy: Registrants may cancel before July 4 by emailing campout@nwscience.org and receive a full refund of all fees paid. For cancellations received on July 4 or later, any field seminar fees will be refunded, but the registration fee is non-refundable.

Book soon! With a maximum capacity of 40 campers, this trip is likely to sell out quickly, so early registration is highly recommended.