Do you know how many dormant volcanoes there are in the Cascade Range? (Hint: How old were you when you graduated from high school? Bonus points: Name the peak to the left.)
These stunning and dangerous mountains dominate our landscape throughout much of the Northwest. Want to know where to see as many at once as possible?
Best bet: Book a flight from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay Area during the later summer, when chances are best for clear skies on the Left Coast, and get a window seat. (Hey, then you get to be in San Francisco, too!) I always get excited spotting and naming all the volcanoes up and down the coast on this flight, from Lassen in the south to Baker in the north. Once we flew so close over Mount Shasta it looked like an easy jump down into the creamy white bowl of the summit crater.
Second best bet: Climb a volcano near mid-range (Mount Rainier or Mount Hood) for optimum viewing north and south. This is also great incentive to get in good shape!
More realistic bet: Take the gondola or Rainier Express (REX) chairlift to the top of Crystal Mountain on a clear day for the awesome views of most of the Washington peaks. In Oregon, take the Summit chairlift at Mount Bachelor. They say on an exceptionally clear day you can see all the way to Shasta in northern California, although I wasn’t so lucky when I was there last.
So this is really a roundabout way to talk about another fantastic day spring skiing at Crystal Mountain over the weekend, when Cascade (and Olympic Mountain) viewing was incredible. This cloudless day was so overdue because even us mossbacks need occasional glimpses of sunshine and blue skies. (Oy, what a chilly damp spring we’re having!)
From this vantage point at the top of REX we get the rare treat of being able to see every major peak in the state except Glacier Peak, which is hiding behind the non-volcanic Stuart Range on the northern edge of Alpine Lakes Wilderness to the northeast. We’re far enough east here that the summit of Mount Saint Helens is visible peeking up behind the eastern flank of Rainier. (Look carefully, it's in the shot below.)
To the southeast is Mount Adams, the second-highest peak in Washington at over 12,000 feet. (Adams is a relatively easy, nontechnical climb up the south side. You need to be in good shape, though.)
Way up north we can see the more graceful, conical summit of Mount Baker, one of the youngest volcanoes in the range. And over to the west beyond Puget Sound are the Olympics, formed by uplift as the Juan de Fuca plate subducts under the North American continent.
I snap a few photos—not nearly enough. But I don’t want to keep my ski buddies waiting while I fiddle with the camera. I prefer moving with my viewing.
When You Go
If you’re not a skier, you can still take these chairlifts in the summer, or hike up. I’d love to hear your suggestions for optimum volcano viewing! Just leave a comment below.