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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Road to Johnston Ridge now open, visitor center plans mid-May reopening


LONGVIEW — People looking for a closer view of Mount St. Helens can now drive up to Johnston Ridge Observatory, after the upper portion of Spirit Lake Memorial Highway opened Wednesday.

The visitor center remains closed and is set to open May 15, said Gala Miller, U.S. Forest Service spokesperson.

Drivers should be aware facilities won’t be available and parking may be limited, as the Forest Service was notified of the road opening Tuesday and has not fully prepared the site, Miller said.

“There’s still quite a bit of snow,” she said.

The Washington State Department of Transportation closes the upper portion of the state Route 504 each winter because of dangerous weather conditions. This season, it closed Nov. 10.

“Because of the unpredictability of winter weather and the unique location of the highway, we’re always faced with new challenges,” said Kent Palmer, state highway maintenance worker, in a statement. “This winter was no different. Our crews have been hard at work the past several weeks plowing snow, clearing downed trees, and removing debris from ditches and culverts in hopes of minimizing springtime repairs and closures and reopening the gates this week.”

The department typically reopens the road before mid-May to ensure it is open in time for the anniversary of the May 18, 1980 eruption, according to the press release.

Last year was the first time the Johnston Ridge Observatory fully opened since 2019 because of pandemic-related closures.

Parking at the site is free. Admission to Johnston Ridge Observatory is $8 per adult, 16 and older. America the Beautiful Passes are accepted.

Other national forest openings

Other recreation sites in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest will open in the coming weeks and months as weather conditions improve.

Ape Cave Interpretive Site will reopen for the season on May 18, weather permitting. Visitors must reserve timed tickets, available at www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10086990.

To park at Ape Cave, visitors must have a Northwest Forest Pass, America the Beautiful Pass or purchase a $5 day pass on site with cash or check.

Lewis River Recreation Area visitors must also reserve parking tickets during peak visitor season from June 15 to Sept. 6. Tickets are available at www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10087203 and printed prior to arrival. Currently, 80% of the reserved tickets are available, and the remaining 20% of the tickets will be released on a rolling basis, two days in advance of each calendar day.