Mount St. Helens’ Johnston Ridge Observatory is years away from reopening

A landslide took out the only road leading to and from the observatory in May 2023.

Looking toward a snow-capped Mount St Helens from inside of a large paned window.

Views like this one, taken from inside Johnston Ridge Observatory, are out of reach for the time being.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

It’s been nearly 44 years since Mount St. Helens last erupted, forever changing the surrounding landscape. Last spring, a new natural disaster rewrote the area’s composition and its effects are lingering.

The May 14 landslide washed away a chunk of Spirit Lake Highway at Milepost 49, causing major damage to the Spirit Lake outlet bridge and cutting off access and electricity to Johnston Ridge Observatory.

The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) built a temporary one-lane bypass providing administrative access, but a culvert failed in November and water eroded the roadway. Another temporary solution was considered but ultimately dismissed; WSDOT said another bypass would only increase the cost and timeline for a permanent, two-lane roadway and bridge fix.

As for that timeline… it’s a lengthy one. The goal is to complete repairs by late summer 2026, but it’s possible the observatory won’t reopen until spring 2027. In the meantime, visitors can access the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, and some hiking trails.

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