One of the craziest things we did on our road trip from Utah to Washington, Oregon, California and back again was the Ape Caves Washington. These Lava Tubes are so fun. These are located on the south side of Mt. St. Helens.
We came over here after staying the night in Rainier, OR. The day before we explored the Fork, Washington area and saw Ruby Beach, Kalaloch Beach, and the Quinault Rain Forest. This took us a few hours and then we headed over to the Columbia River Gorge area and saw Multnomah Falls and several other amazing places along the river that we will be sharing over the coming weeks.
You can get the directions to the Ape Caves here https://goo.gl/maps/McRxnwsMHHXcpKRaA.
HISTORY OF THE APE CAVES LAVA TUBES
Ape Cave was formed nearly 2000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens. As the outer edges cooled into a hardened crust, the inner molten lava was able to drain away before it hardened, leaving behind a tube.
After discovering the cave in approximately 1950, a logger told his spelunker friend. That friend explored the cave with his sons and their friends, who called themselves the Mount St. Helens Apes. Thus the name of the cave.
WHAT YOU NEED TO TAKE
Before you head out, be sure you have all the equipment you need.
- Jackets or sweaters for everyone
- Headlamps and flashlights for everyone that will be walking (it is pitch black and lots of things to trip on)
- Good hiking shoes (and preferably long pants)
Before you go, make sure everyone in your party is aware of the restrictions and conditions: No food, pets, smoking, or rock collecting. Do not touch the walls, which harbor cave “slime”, a food source in the cave’s delicate ecosystem. The temperature is a constant 42 degrees F. The ceilings are drippy, and there may be puddles. Bring 2 or 3 light sources and spare batteries. No cave can ever be considered completely safe.Get more information here
WHAT TO EXPECT
The road going up to the Ape Caves Washington is windy and not the greatest. It can also be a little tricky to find if you don’t have your GPS set, so be sure to know where you are going in case you lose signal.
The parking lot is big and made for trailers and RV’s which we appreciated since we were pulling our trailer. There are bathrooms and a fun gift shop at the trailhead. Use the restrooms since it is chilly in the caves and NO bathrooms lol.
You have to clean your shoes and do a short training before going into the caves. There is a stairwell that goes down into the caves and going south goes to the Lower Cave and north goes to the Upper Cave. We did the lower cave because we weren’t sure what to expect, but my kids wish we could have done both. Next time we go we will do the upper cave hike too. It was a lot of fun.
It’s a 1.5 rugged miles one way, requiring significantly more time, caution, and some physical agility. It is a more interesting route though, with the lava tube shape, size, and geology changing frequently. Not far from the staircase, the passage encounters its first of many rock piles. You must climb up, over, or around the abrasive rocks, taking care not to twist an ankle or, in some places, bump your head.
At about 0.8 mile is the narrowest part of the passage, and the crux move: a slick, wet, 8-foot lava fall. Some people need assistance scaling it, as there is only one significant foothold.
Beyond the lava fall are a couple of rock formations that require some physical ability to climb over or to squeeze around. Then at about 1.2 miles is the Skylight, a hole in the ceiling which allows in the first natural light since the entrance. The Skylight is neither a safe nor legal exit.
It’s a broad lava tube that descends gently to its end. The floor is flat (though a bit uneven at first), then sandy later on, from a mud flow that filled the lower portion centuries ago. The end of the cave now is where the sand has filled in to within a couple feet of the ceiling. The Lower Cave is an easy walk, for a 1.5 mile round trip, that houses a popular geologic anomaly known as the Meatball.
At 13,042 feet long (about 2.4 miles), Ape Cave is the third-longest lava tube in North America.
Ape Caves Washington
This was a fantastic experience and I am so glad that we took the time to go over there. It as quite a detour from our coast drive, but well worth it. Read about our other adventures on our HWY 101 Road Trip:
- Top 5 Favorite Things to Do at the Thunderbird RV & Camping Resort
- Thunderbird RV & Camping Resort Review
- Lodgepole Campground in Washington
- Grove of the Patriarchs
- Narada Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park
- How to spend 1 day at Mt. Rainier
- Salt Creek Recreation Area
- Cape Flattery Trail Hike
- Shi Shi Beach Trail Hike
- Klahowya Campground in Port Angeles, WA
- Ruby Beach in Forks, WA
- Kalaloch Beach (Tree of Life)
- Quinault Rain Forest in Washington