Volcano Outdoor School: Overnight Trips

Bring your class or youth group to explore the mountain by day and by night with the Mount St. Helens Institute’s Volcano Outdoor School. Come face-to-face with geologic forces and discover the amazing stories of plant and animal life in the heart of the Mount St. Helens blast zone.

Schedule & Activities






Schedule & Activities

Activities selected for each Volcano Outdoor School program are selected based on the group’s learning objectives and needs.  Please communicate your learning objectives with a Mount St. Helens Institute staff member at learn@mshinstitute.org

Click HERE to view our 2018 Volcano Outdoor School Activity Guide.

Typical Schedule for a 1-night Volcano Outdoor School Program*


Activities on Arrival Day are typically located in or within short walking distance of the Science & Learning Center.
  • 2:00pm Arrival and Orientation
  • 2:30pm Activities
  • 4:30pm Hands-on Activities
  • 6:00pm Dinner
  • 6:30pm Hands-on Activities
  • 7:30pm Reflection
  • 8:00pm Night activities or group-led quiet time
  • 9:15pm Bedtime


Field Adventure locations are typically not within walking distance of the Science & Learning Center. These locations will require a short (<10 min) drive to the Hummocks Trail or Coldwater Lake. If you are not able provide transportation for your group these locations , please coordinate with MSHI staff at learn@mshinstitute.org.
  • 7:30am Breakfast
  • 8:30am Clean Up, Pack Up and Make Lunches
  • 9:00am Field Adventure – hike, field study sites or Coldwater Lake
  • 12:00pm Depart

*Please note that our staff may change the schedule at any time. This is a general schedule.


Science & Learning Center

  • The SLC is a re-purposed visitor center in the heart of the blast zone and just 10 miles from Johnston Ridge Observatory.
  • Site is wheel-chair accessible.
  • Learn more about the facilities at the SLC here.
  • View location of SLC in Google Maps.

Hummocks Trail

  • Some Volcano Outdoor School programs include a guided hike on the Hummocks Trail.
  • The Hummocks are the landforms which formed during the 1980 eruption as the top of Mount St. Helens fell apart in a giant landslide the pieces of the old mountaintop slowed and stopped downvalley. The Hummocks Trail is a 2.7 mile loop trail which winds up and down through the hummocks, passing habitat which established after the 1980 eruption.
  • The Hummocks Trail parking lot is about a 10-minute drive from the Science & Learning Center.
  • View location of Hummocks Trail in Google Maps.

Coldwater Lake

  • Some Volcano Outdoor School programs include a visit to Coldwater Lake to eat lunch, conduct an aquatic study, or otherwise explore this incredible lake which formed as a result of the 1980 eruption.
  • Coldwater Lake sits in the valley adjacent to the Science & Learning Center. The Coldwater Lake vicinity includes a picnic area, restrooms, and the 0.6 mile interpretive “Birth of a Lake” boardwalk trail.
  • Coldwater Lake is about a 10-minute drive from the Science & Learning Center.
  • View location of the Coldwater Lake Picnic Area in Google Maps.


Groups participating in Volcano Outdoor School may sleep either inside the SLC or outside at the SLC Field Camp.  Showers are not available at either site.


  • Volcano Outdoor School participants will either sleep on the floor amidst former visitor center displays or in one of our two bunk rooms.
  • Our two bunkrooms (with a total of 26 total beds), as well as numerous large rooms, accommodate separate male and female sleeping arrangements.
  • Nine (9) cots are available to increase the sleeping capacity of either bunkroom; an additional 2 people may sleep on a cot or on the floor in bunkroom #1 for a total capacity of 18.
  • For groups larger than 35 people, please come prepared with supplies to make sleeping on the floor comfortable and enjoyable. For large groups, visitors may sleep in cots or on the floor in the hallways/rooms adjacent to either bunkroom.
  • There are centrally located bathrooms with hot water but there are no showers.


  • The nearby SLC Field Camp is a five-minute walk from the Center. Field camp offers spectacular views of Mount St. Helens, Coldwater Lake, and the Mount Margaret back-country.
  • There are several picnic tables at the site and vault toilets in the parking lot.
  • The site has NO running water.
  • Cars are not permitted in this area and groups will need to carry their supplies in about 1/4 mile.
  • Camping gear is not provided.



  • 8-10 hours of activities and instruction for up to 40 youth
  • Lodging at the Mount St. Helens Science & Learning Center at Coldwater
  • Dinner, breakfast, lunch and snacks
  • Free admission to Johnston Ridge Observatory before or after your program


2019 prices HERE

Are you interested in staying overnight at the Science & Learning Center but you want to lead some of your own activities and cook your own meals? You can rent the Science & Learning Center overnight and add on Volcano Outdoor School activities in 2-hour sessions. Click here or email rent@mshinstitute.org to learn more.

Register Your Group

To register, email learn@mshinstitute.org with the following information and we will confirm dates, send you a registration form, and happily answer any other questions you may have about Volcano Outdoor School. 

  • Possible field trip dates (Available May 1 – October 31. See calendar for availability.)
  • Student ages
  • Number of students and adults
  • Learning objectives

You can review program policies HERE.

Prepare for Your Trip

Group Coordinator

Coordinator Guide: All the information you need to plan your trip in one document.

Teacher's Corner: Register your group's visit to Johnston Ridge Observatory before or after your program.


Chaperone Letter


Parent/Guardian Letter



Packing List

Code of Conduct

Weather Forecast

Driving Directions: Contact learn@mshinstitute.org for instructions on how to open the gate to the Science and Learning Center.


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