Monday, September 4, 2023

St. Helens Superbloom

 The things we photographers do to get the shot.

First views

Back in mid-July photos began circulating on some of my online hiking groups of a massive lupine superbloom on Mt. St. Helens' east side, near Windy Ridge.  Images of entire slopes colored purple with flowers got my attention.  Such prolific wildflower blooms don't come around very often, so naturally I wanted to go there and capture some photographs for myself.

Lupine fills the plain, except in the tire tracks

But the problem was reaching this side of MSH required a long drive.  The usual route from Portland, approaching from the south, was closed due to a large landslide on one of the Forest Service roads.  That meant anyone who wanted to travel here had to take a circuitous path.  I'd need to drive further north and then east to the Washington town of Randle, and then head south towards the Windy Ridge Trailhead.  Google maps estimated this would take 3 1/2 hours.

Paintbrush was thick here

The long drive made me hesitate.  Gas was expensive, and I'd need to find someplace to camp overnight if I went.  Seven hours round-trip was too much time to spend in the car.  Over the next two days I vacillated between wanting to go see the superbloom but not wanting to be in the car for so long.

A little flower garden

However, the lupine bloom photos continued to show up on my Facebook feed until finally I caved.  I couldn't miss this rare event!  Devising a plan to travel there after a morning doctor appointment, in order to break up the long drive, I decided to sleep overnight in my car.  

Paintbrush, up close and personal

So on a hot, sunny July mid-morning I started out from home towards Mt. St. Helens and that amazing wildflower show.  Along the way I ended up being delayed by not one, but two construction zones, pushing my drive time closer to four hours.  Finally at 3 pm I rolled into the parking area at Windy Ridge.  Access to the superbloom meant hiking from here to access a loop connecting the Boundary and Truman Trails near the mountain's north side.  Did I have enough time to hike the 9-mile round trip?  Or should I wait until tomorrow morning to visit the flower fields?

Spirit Lake (that red dot in the middle is a person)

Well, sunset wasn't until nearly 9 pm.  I had a headlamp and flashlight in my backpack.  And I could cover two miles in an hour (without photo stops, that is.)  I'd driven all this way, and didn't want to wait until morning.  So I decided to go for it.  

The beginning of the superbloom

So off I went, hustling down the 2-mile gravel road to access the flower trails.  Although it was a warm mid-afternoon I covered the boring road walk relatively quickly.  My excitement began to mount as I rounded a corner and got my first glimpse of MSH's flattened summit.

Looking towards the lava dome

As I approached the trail junction between the Truman and Boundary Trails, a younger man came up behind me.  Like myself, he was armed with a camera, and after a bit of chit chat I learned the guy was also after superbloom pics.  

Now, which trail to start first?  The man turned towards the Boundary Trail so I decided to go explore the Truman.

These flowers were dwarf lupine

The Truman Trail began on what appeared to be an old road.  Right away, lupine and Indian paintbrush blooms rose from the rocky soil.  The lupine flowers were small and close to the ground, a variety known as dwarf lupine.  There were also a couple of really large patches of bright orange paintbrush.

No, the mountain wasn't erupting - winds at the summit stirred up dust

I rambled along the trail, snapping copious flower pics, and admiring views of Spirit Lake that kept getting closer the further I traveled.

Field of purple

After about a mile of walking, I reached a junction with a short trail that would take me over to the Boundary Trail.  Although so far there was lupine blooming, the amount of it wasn't anywhere near what I'd seen in the online photos.  But beyond this trail junction was where I started seeing the massive purple fields of internet fame.

Purple as far as the eye can see!

Now I was walking towards Mt. St. Helens' open crater.  One could see the huge hole blown into the mountainside from the fateful 1980 eruption.  The mountain lost nearly 1400 feet of elevation in this single blast.  MSH now resembled a flattened pancake with a small dome rising in the center.

Superbloom and Spirit Lake

As I approached the Boundary Trail, the lupine show kept getting better and better.  Just past this trail junction I again ran into the young man I'd spoken with at the beginning.  Inquiring how the flower conditions were in his direction he smiled and said "incredible."

My flower-lined trail

And so it was - hiking along the Boundary Trail I traveled through the most amazing bloom of lupine I've ever seen anywhere.

The late evening sun made for spectacular lighting

Small purple flowers covered every inch of the broad plains north of the volcano's crater.  It looked as though someone had taken lavender paint and coated the entire landscape.

Paintbrush mixed in with the lupine

Traveling along the Boundary Trail, the hour was approaching 7 o'clock and the sun was dropping fast.  The low angle sun made for some most excellent light on the lupine fields.  But it also meant nighttime was coming fast, and even though I was prepared with flashlights, I didn't really want to hike out in the dark.

Colorful slope

So I kind of hustled through the last mile of the lupine bloom.  In hindsight, I really wish I would've taken more time.  But the thought of hiking out in the dark was a great motivator.  Arriving back at the trail junction near the gravel access road I met at least two groups of people and one lone woman who were all hiking in at this late hour.  It appeared they all planned to capture the sunset.

Downed trail marker

Once on the gravel road, I covered the two miles of uphill and then a steep downhill in record time.  I arrived back at my car just past 8 pm with the sun low on the horizon, but still lighting the sky.  Although my original plan was to spend the night in my car and drive back the following day, I started reassessing things.  The thought of sleeping in my cramped car didn't seem like sch a good idea anymore.  My cozy bed at home was calling.  And I still felt very much awake.  Leaving now meant less traffic and no waiting at both construction zones.

Lavender fields forever.....

So that's how I ended up driving back home that same evening.  The trip back wasn't as bad as feared.  I put in a couple of podcasts and they occupied my mind as I navigated first the winding Forest Service roads, and then highways of increasing size and traffic.  I pulled into my driveway just before midnight, jazzed that I'd actually pulled off the long drive and hike to see the lupine superbloom!  It might have been a crazy trip but I now had some amazing images to show for my hard work.

Final look as I puffed up the gravel road

Those of you who admire the pictures we photographers share now have an idea of the effort that goes into getting these amazing scenery shots.  It often involves long drives, late nights, early mornings, hikes in the heat or cold, and time spent sitting waiting for the sun to rise or set.  It also requires large investments in camera equipment and photo editing software, as well as lots of time spent learning how to use both.  Finally, with every photoshoot comes hours of post-processing - sorting and choosing the photos to edit, and then spending more time editing each image until it becomes the amazing final product you enjoy viewing.

So please, please don't copy any photographers images without permission.  We work very hard to create these works of art.  All photographs are the property of the person who captured them (and are often copyrighted).  I enjoy sharing my pictures online and hope they bring joy to those who view.  However, if you are interested in obtaining one of my photos, please ask!  


  1. ...I visited a few years after the eruption and it was mighty barren. Mother Nature has done her magic.

  2. Hello,
    Your photos are beautiful, I love the mix of the Paintbrush and Lupine together. Pretty views of the lake and Mt St Helens. I hope you have not had any of your photos stolen. Have a great day and week ahead.

  3. Awesome photos, Linda. My daughter and I went camping up there back in 1990. The area looks so much different today. I believe Spiirit Lake, back when I was there, was covered with trees that were blown down. The area looks so pretty through your photos. Amazing that nature nourished the area back. It took awhile but she did it. Have a wonderful day.

  4. Thank so much for this wonderful post. We always go to Johnston RIdge for our wildflower fix, but the state highway was washed out just past Coldwater Lake, and will remain closed until next years annual opening. Age prevents us from accomplishing what you did, and this post was the next best thing. THANKS.

  5. That was quite a "day" trip! But you did it! The photos are wonderful. I'm sure the hike was way better!

  6. I have never seen such a sight! Absolutely beautiful! While reading about your adventure, when I came to the part where there were two groups going up as you were coming down, I was expecting you to say you ended up joining them and going back up to watch the sunset. Your determination is inspiring!

  7. A totally euphoric visit! Magnificent mauve vistas! No wonder the adrenaline allowed you to safely drive home. Would we have walked any of that trail back in 2016?

    1. No, this is on the opposite side of where we hiked (we hiked on the west side, this is on the east side)

  8. What an amazing bloom! That evening light on the fields of purple is wonderful...nice work!

  9. A collection of beautiful photographs made in this natural and wonderful área. These natural places are great.

  10. I'm so glad I stopped by your blog. Some of the prettiest superbloom photos I've ever seen! Thanks for sharing them.

  11. You got some amazing photographs! I know what you mean about people using photos. I used to watermark all mine I had the right software to do that, but not anymore:(


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