As you continue east on Spirit Lake Highway from Silver Lake, the road slips past the trailer homes of Toutle at the juncture of the South and North Fork of the Toutle River, and then up along the North Fork into the mountains. Much of the route is on private timberland, with Weyerhaeuser tree plantations lining both sides of the road. A few miles west, signs point to the famous buried A-frame, another place to purchase souvenirs.
Continue east through the Weyerhaeuser tree farms to Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center (360/274-7750 or 800/752-8439, May–Oct. daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.) at milepost 27. Owned by Cowlitz County, this timber-frame building houses two gift shops, a demonstration glass blowing studio, and a restaurant (June and Sept. daily 11:30–5 p.m., July–Aug. 11:30–6 p.m.) whose menu lists barbecue, burgers, and home-style blackberry cobbler among its other treats.
Eat inside and enjoy the picture-window panorama, or outside on the patio overlooking the North Toutle Valley and Mount St. Helens. A picnic area is also available, with telescopes to watch the several hundred elk below and the mountain above.
Hillsboro Helicopters (360/274-7750 or 800/752-8439, www.hillsboro-aviation.com) sends scenic helicopter flights from Hoffstadt Bluffs over the dramatic crater and Eco Park Adventure Trails (360/274-7007, $30 per hour) offers horseback adventures within the blast zone around the bluffs.
Accommodations and Food
Stay as close to the mountain as you can get from the west side at Eco Park at Mount St. Helens (just past mile marker 24, 360/274-6542). Owned by the same family who once ran the Spirit Lake Lodge in pre-eruption days, Eco Park offers the only accommodations inside the blast zone. The resort has summertime basic cabins ($100–125 d), yurts ($75 d), and campsites ($17.50) in a remote area on the northeast side. RVs are accepted on the site, but there are no hookups.
Toutle Diner and RV Park (5037 Spirit Lake Memorial Hwy, Toutle, 360/274-6208) offers full hookups ($21), some sites with cable TV. The diner (Sun.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 8 a.m.–10 p.m.) offers typical roadhouse fare, along with espresso and free Wi-Fi. The property also has shower and laundry facilities.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition