America's Scenic Byways

Spirit Lake Memorial Highway

54 miles - Take 1-2 hours to drive this byway.

Spirit Lake Memorial Highway takes travelers through land shattered by Mount St. Helens’ eruption in 1980. Because the valley floor is now so unstable, the highway is cut into the tops of the hillside and offers sweeping views of the surrounding area. The highway concludes after 54 miles at Mount St. Helens National Monument with the dramatic spectacle of Mount St. Helens gaping crater.

Early in the century Spirit Lake Memorial Highway began as an uneven wagon track. In the 1930s the road was paved and ended at the pristine, serene Spirit Lake, the highway’s namesake. The life-changing eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 annihilated the upper half of the road and mudflows devastated miles of the lower portion. The highway was rebuilt and reopened in 1992. Despite the highway’s name, the road now ends high on Johnston Ridge before the visitor has a chance to get a good look at Spirit Lake, but allowing a striking view of the volcano itself.

This scenic byway is truly a memorial to its surroundings. Visitors will not lack for sights and activities to keep them busy at the five visitor centers that line the highway. Each center covers different aspects of Mount St. Helens eruption, from the events that led up to the blast to the recovery of trees and animals. The spectacular, sometimes stricken landscape surrounding the highway reminds visitors of the raw energy the earth can unleash.