Spirit Lake Memorial Highway  ends eight miles uphill from Coldwater Lake  at the 4,300-foot level and the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center (360/274-2140, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. mid-May through September, daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m. the rest of the year). This facility emphasizes the geology of Mount St. Helens and ongoing scientific research work and is named for Dr. David Johnston, the geologist who was working here in 1980 when the volcano erupted. His last radio transmission, sent out as the mountain gave way, still haunts anyone who hears it: “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”
This visitors facility peers directly into the lava dome—just three miles away—that formed after the eruption (encased in clouds 200 days each year). Step inside to find a large model of the volcano that shows how the eruption progressed, geological monitoring equipment, and displays on the landscape both before and after the explosion.
The highlight is a 16-minute film that re-creates the eruption in gripping, wide-screen detail. A half-mile Eruption Trail loops past a marker commemorating the 57 people killed by the 1980 blast.