The Forest Learning Center (Spirit Lake Memorial Hwy. milepost 33, 360/414-3439, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily May–Oct., closed in winter, free) highlights some of the differences between public management and that of Weyerhaeuser Company, with emphasis on Weyerhaeuser’s salvage and recovery efforts after the eruption. The center sits on a 2,700-foot-high bluff over the North Fork of the Toutle River.
Elaborate exhibits take you through a diorama of the forest prior to the 1980 eruption, an “eruption chamber” where a you-are-there multimedia program surrounds you, and then past additional exhibits extolling the salvage, reforestation, and recovery efforts, plus the benefits of private forestry practices and conservation.
The Forest Learning Center is especially popular with families; kids can climb aboard a toy helicopter or play in the seven-foot-high rubber volcano outside. Telescopes provide a chance to watch elk in the valley below, and a one-mile trail descends into the valley. Other facilities include a gift shop and picnic area.
Be sure to stop at the Elk Rock Viewpoint at the entrance to the Mount St. Helens National Monument for magnificent views of the crater to the south and the deep river valley below, filled with a 700-foot-deep layer of rock, ash, and debris. Don’t forget to look below for Roosevelt elk.