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Ape Caves

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The primates that gave their name to two lava tubes found along this trail weren't monkeys-they were members of a 1950s outdoor club who found and explored the tubes. They called themselves the Mount St. Helens Apes, and the lava tubes became known as their caves. The tubes are long tunnels in the thick lava beds; they run roughly parallel to the surface of the land. Interpretive signs line both the trail through the forest and the tubes' mouths. The lower tube is the easiest (but still requires a certain amount of care) and the upper tube is larger. It is not possible to hike in the caves the entire length between the two entrances. Descending into the tubes requires a jacket-it's a constant, cool 42 degrees under the earth, regardless of what happens on the surface-and a powerful flashlight or lantern. The tube beds are rough and uneven.

Note: Powerful flashlights with well-charged batteries or a strong lantern are required for walking in the caves. Do not try to explore these spots without a good light.

A pleasant, flat 1.3-mile trail through the old forest links the two lava tubes and leads from the trailhead to these underworld entrances. This trail leads through wonderful old forests. About 1 mile out, the trail passes a small crack in the ground. This "skylight" allows hikers to peer into the caves and allows cave explorers to see a bit of sunlight. The trail ends at the upper cave entrance.
Driving Directions:

From Cougar, drive east on Forest Road 90 just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam, and turn left (north) onto FR 83. Drive 2 miles on FR 83 and turn left onto FR 8303. Continue for 1 mile on FR 8303 to the trailhead on the right.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 38 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Ape Caves — Apr 03, 2014 — Washington Trails Association
Day hike
Issues: Road to trailhead inaccessible
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As of April 2, the Ape Caves Trailhead is closed per WSDOT. The trail and caves are still accessible...
As of April 2, the Ape Caves Trailhead is closed per WSDOT. The trail and caves are still accessible, according to Mount St. Helens National Volcano Monument employees, via the Trail of Two Forests trailhead. We will update this information as we find out more about the Ape Caves Trailhead closure.
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Ape Caves — Mar 15, 2014 — noterminal
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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Roads were clear all the way to Ape Cave. A sign just after we exited I5 said the cave was closed bu...
Roads were clear all the way to Ape Cave. A sign just after we exited I5 said the cave was closed but we ignored it.

We had to park in a lot about 300 meters away from the cave entrance as the Ape Cave parking lot is still closed for the season.

The caves were wetter than usual but not impassable. 6 adults who were fairly well equipped and in moderate shape made it up and back through the upper cave in about 4 hours.

If you have waterproof hiking boots they might be helpful but I made it all the way through the cave with dry feet in tennis shoes. A raincoat is definitely necessary as it is raining inside the cave far more than it is outside.

The trail back was dry and passable. We had read a report of the trail being washed out but the stream in question was dry when we got there.

Have Fun!
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Ape Caves — Nov 23, 2013 — KatieMae
Day hike
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A group of grad school friends and myself decided to head down to the Ape Caves this weekend for som...
A group of grad school friends and myself decided to head down to the Ape Caves this weekend for some spelunking adventure. I had been once back in high school and had only done the lower cave, and everybody else was up for a bit of adventure so we headed for the upper cave.

It was a beautiful day - maybe a waste to spend it underground, but the caves are so much fun you forget about that. We started out by hiking to the end of the trail that leads to the far end of the upper cave. The trail was in good condition, but there were a lot of icy spots and frozen puddles due to the cold weather we've been having recently. But this was nothing difficult to walk around.

The hike out on the trail plus making our way through the upper cave took about 3 hours. We took our time, which some spots in the cave really call for (such as climbing down 5+ foot drops, which can be a bit difficult for those of us vertically challenged); another in our group was also having issues with her glasses fogging up with all the moisture in the caves.

From what I remember, the lower cave is much easier and much more family friendly than the upper. Remember to bring your rain jacket because the water does drip on you quite a bit. I'd also recommend everyone also have 2 sources of light. We all had our head lamps, and a few of us also had an additional flashlight which was really helpful when trying to climb down stuff in the dark, or when we wanted to look around at our surroundings and really see the caves. We saw a few people carrying lanterns and I can't imagine how they did all that scrambling with a giant lantern in their hand - those are perhaps more suitable for the easier lower cave.
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Ape Caves — Nov 10, 2013 — Milepost167
Day hike
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We stayed at a cabin near Mt St Helens for the weekend, and on the way home, visited the Ape Caves. ...
We stayed at a cabin near Mt St Helens for the weekend, and on the way home, visited the Ape Caves. Pretty drive, though much of the fall color is on the ground now. Easy to find and toilets near the parking lot. Short walk up a paved path to the entrance to the (shorter) lower cave. Great hike for any type of day, hot or cold, sun or rain. Lots of metal stairs down (and up) and we were really glad we were prepared. It was a free day so we didn't need to use our Forest Pass.

There are two caves, the lower is the easier of the two and is 3/4 mile down and back (1 1/2 miles total) and the upper cave is 1 1/2 miles and is more difficult (3 miles total). You return above ground on a trail if you do the upper cave. When I lose weight I want to go back and do the more difficult cave!

Here's what made a comfortable hike:
-water-resistant coat (lots of dripping in the cave and about 42 degrees F)
-good solid footwear (I wore Keen-type sandals, but wish I had my hiking boots for ankle support)
-the best part was our lighting (we each had a mini flashlight...this was vital for seeing where I was stepping, the large lantern and flashlight really didn't do much to light our path, thought we could see parts of the walls and ceilings, but there's really no way to light up the entire cave so you can walk in "daylight"...we really benefited from the individual flashlights...and loved having the camera flash to see the walls and ceiling!)
-empty your bladder before the hike!

My 13 year old son didn't have any trouble navigating his way, but as an overweight 45 year old mom, I found it a little hard on my knees and ankles. We were very slow compared to other groups we encountered...we spent about 45 minutes each way. I can't believe we hiked a mile and a half in the dark! This was a great experience! We'll never look at caves the same way again!
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Ape Caves — Aug 17, 2013 — tris
Day hike
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We woke up early-ish to make the trek to Ape Caves... piled the kids in the car, stopped for coffee...
We woke up early-ish to make the trek to Ape Caves... piled the kids in the car, stopped for coffee and doughnuts and enjoyed a quiet three and half hour drive while the kiddos caught up on their Zzzzz-s. It was around 11 a.m. when we got to the Ape Caves trail head and the parking lot was filling up fast. We paid our $5 fee to park and headed up the trail with flashlights and jackets tied around our waists.

Instead of diving right into the lower cave, we took the trail to the back side of the upper cave. The trail was easy and entertaining with small little lava holes along the way for the kids to crawl into.

We crawled into the back-side of the upper-cave in awe of our surroundings. The caves truly are amazing. We were hiking/climbing/crawling against the flow of traffic, of which there was quite a bit. But, every once in a while we'd hit sections of the cave where the crowds were far enough ahead or behind to make it feel like we were alone.

There are two steep descends coming from the back of the cave, or climbs if you are going with the flow of things - that were a little tricky for out littlest (7yrs) but with dad's help it wasn't a problem. The caves do narrow at these spots and it gets pretty blocked up coming both ways. I am sure a med-week meander through the caves would be a much more pleasant experience. But, even with the crowds and slow downs - the whole experience was awesome.

When we got to the beginning of the upper cave there was an exit up some metal stairs. We chose to make our way back up to the sunshine as the kids were freezing after the 1 and half mile adventure in the upper cave. But, we could have gone another 3/4 of a mile through the easier lower cave.

We piled back into the car for our trek home with snacks in hand. The kiddos were asleep again by the time we hit I5 leaving us to enjoy to another quiet ride home. So thankful for four car sleeping kids who love a little adventure. The caves were definitely worth the trip, although I would highly recommend visiting during the week or after school starts to experience them with few less people.
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Descent into the Ape Cave - Janice Van Cleve.jpg
The hand-over-hand descent into the Ape Cave lava tube. Photo: Janice Van Cleve
WTA worked here!
2012
Location
Ape Cave (#239)
South Cascades -- Mt. St. Helens
Statistics
Roundtrip 2.6 miles
Elevation Gain 200 ft
Highest Point 2475 ft
Features
Old growth
User info
Good for kids
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
South Cascades
Green Trails No. 364 Mount St. Helens

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  • Trail Work 2012
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