Over Memorial Day weekend we joined up with our friends who have Camp-Inns (and a few others who just wanted to camp with us) and headed back to our favorite group site at Mossyrock Campground. One of the days we decided to do a group trip out to Ape Cave which is part of the Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument. The drive is a manageable distance from Mossyrock (about 106 miles each way). The drive is shorter from Portland, but we were with our friends and it was fun.
The cave is split into two sections, but everyone comes in the same way as seen above. At the bottom of these stairs is where you can either go into the Upper Cave, which is longer and more challenging or the Lower Cave.
The Lower Cave is a 3/4 mile round trip hike that will take around an hour to do. There are a few spots where you need to climb down or around boulders, but it is relatively easy. There are a couple of features to the lower cave that are remarkable. The first is the “Railroad Tracks” which are the remnants of a smaller collapsed lava tube that formed inside this larger lava tube. Another is the “Meatball” which is easy to see as you are walking down the cave, but not as easy to find on your way out. Keep looking up for what looks like a boulder welded to the sides of the cave. It was a lava ball that broke off the ceiling of the lava cave, floated on the lava for a bit, and then got stuck and “welded” into it’s current position.
The lower cave is great for families with younger kids. The ground is pretty flat for walking, it is short, and the incline is minimal. We felt like this was the best option for the Lad this year. Next year he will get to do the Upper Cave.
The Upper Cave is much more difficult. It is a longer hike at 1.5 miles and requires climbing up an 8′ high lava fall and over 27 large breakdown boulders. A surface trail returns you to the main entrance. They estimate it will take around 3 hours, but my husband did it much quicker than that.
A few tips about caving:
– If you have been other caves, make sure you have decontaminated your clothes and shoes. White Nose Syndrome can be passed between bats as well as between bats and humans. The decontamination can save entire populations. Below I have included pictures of the Exploration Guide which will give you resources to help with this.
– Make sure you take multiple light sources with you (extra batteries are a good idea too). If you don’t have headlamps or flashlights with you, you can rent Coleman Lanterns from the Visitor Center.
– Cave temperatures tend to stay pretty constant. The Ape Caves temperature stays around 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Bringing a jacket or layers with you is an excellent idea. The cave also has water constantly dripping (especially the time of year we went), so be prepared for that. You aren’t going to get really wet, but it is good to be aware of. We also brought warm hats with us too.
– Wear shoes that have good traction on rocks and will protect your feet. Footings can be uneven, so boots that cover ankles can be a good idea too. We had good sneakers with “outdoor” traction and did just fine.
– Same as any hike or outdoor adventure, make sure people know where you are and when you will be back.
– Most importantly, have fun! That is what this is about.
This was such a fun adventure and we would recommend it to everyone. Parking can be challenging on holidays and weekends, so get there early!
The cave lays within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and based on Google Maps is also quite close to Big Cedars Campground as well. Check it out!