Travelogue: Hiking the Boundary Trail to Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

The weather here in the Pacific Northwest was absolutely gorgeous yesterday, so I traveled to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and took full advantage of it.

I drove from my home in Lewis County to the Hummocks Trail parking area, a trip of roughly an hour and 15 minutes covering 60 or so miles. I set out on the Hummocks Trail before taking an eastward turn on the Boundary Trail to reach my end goal, the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Bear in mind the Observatory is closed until mid-May each year, but hikers are welcome to come on through and utilize the trail system.

I spoke with a friendly staffer from the U.S. Forest Service when I reached the observatory’s parking lot, who noted the extreme lack of snow at a place that normally has a few feet well into May. He and I chatted for a bit and he told me some good routes to take if I ever wanted to hike beyond the observatory. I will within a couple months and will post photos of it when I do.

All in all, the hike was a 12-mile round trip that climbed about 1,800 feet. I took the closed State Route 504 back, with the Forest Service staffer’s permission, which added 2 miles on the return trip. My feet were sore when it was over, but it was well worth it, as you’re about to see.

Here’s the activity summary from Strava:

Photos after the jump!

The adventure begins on the Boundary Trail, a half-mile from the Hummocks Trailhead.
The adventure begins on the Boundary Trail, a half-mile from the Hummocks Trailhead.
The trail is very narrow and winds through some low-level prairie areas for a short time.
The trail is very narrow and winds through some low-level prairie areas for a short time.
It isn't long before the trail begins to climb a bit. Get ready for a workout.
It isn’t long before the trail begins to climb a bit. Get ready for a workout.
A look behind at the Hummocks area reveals a landscape turning to spring.
A look behind at the Hummocks area reveals a landscape turning to spring.
Mount St. Helens decided to wear a hat of clouds for most of the day.
Mount St. Helens decided to wear a hat of clouds for most of the day.
The trail continues up through the blast zone, where dead wood from the 1980 eruption still sits scattered across the landscape.
The trail continues up through the blast zone, where dead wood from the 1980 eruption still sits scattered across the landscape.
Mount St. Helens is visible for most of the Boundary Trail hike.
Mount St. Helens is visible for most of the Boundary Trail hike.
A close-up shot of the trail with the mountain dominating the landscape.
A close-up shot of the trail with the mountain dominating the landscape.
Yet another uphill hike. The Boundary Trail gains 1,800 feet in elevation between Hummocks and Johnston Ridge.
Yet another uphill hike. The Boundary Trail gains 1,800 feet in elevation between Hummocks and Johnston Ridge.
A final look back at Hummocks and the Toutle River valley.
A final look back at Hummocks and the Toutle River Valley.
This is  where I needed to start being very watchful of my steps. Lots of dropoffs are ahead.
This is where I needed to start being very watchful of my steps. Lots of dropoffs are ahead.
Another view of Mount St. Helens on the way up the Boundary Trail.
Another view of Mount St. Helens on the way up the Boundary Trail.
The trail continues to narrow and begins to traverse a rockfield.
The trail continues to narrow and begins to traverse a rockfield.
Here's a fresh rockslide that completely blocked the trail. The only way through was over and around on a difficult portion of the trail.
Here’s a fresh rockslide that completely blocked the trail. The only way through was over and around on a difficult portion of the trail.
Very little snow was present, which was surprising for it not even being May on the mountain yet.
Very little snow was present, which was surprising for it not even being May on the mountain yet.
A look back at the Boundary Trail westbound.
A look back at the Boundary Trail westbound.
After a brief food break, it was time to continue on the Boundary Trail from the Loowit Viewpoint. It would not be far to the observatory.
After a brief food break, it was time to continue on the Boundary Trail from the Loowit Viewpoint. It would not be far to the observatory.
Made it! The observatory is closed until May, but hikers can still set foot on the property to continue on the trail.
Made it! The observatory is closed until May, but hikers can still set foot on the property to continue on the trail.
Reflection shot from the outer window of Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Reflection shot from the outer window of Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Mount St. Helens, still dominated by clouds, decided to let its crater peek out for a bit.
Mount St. Helens, still dominated by clouds, decided to let its crater peek out for a bit.
Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Time to head back on State Route 504. It's closed until May, but I utilized it for the return trip.
Time to head back on State Route 504. It’s closed until May, but I utilized it for the return trip.
It's a long way to Tipperary.
It’s a long way to Tipperary.
A final shot during my hike of Mount St. Helens from the Hummocks Trailhead.
A final shot during my hike of Mount St. Helens from the Hummocks Trailhead.
And the final shot of the mountain for the day, as seen from Elk Rock Viewpoint along State Route 504.
And the final shot of the mountain for the day, as seen from Elk Rock Viewpoint along State Route 504.