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Ape Caves

On May 25th, 2019, Skip, Bandit, Sierra, Steven, and I packed up our campsite near Lewis Falls, Washington, and headed to the 13,042 feet long or (2.4 miles) Ape Caves Cougar, Washington, before heading home.

We had just spent two nights in the rain near Lewis Falls and enjoyed such a specular hike to three different waterfalls. But we did not want to head home just yet. We googled nearby places to visit, and Ape Caves was the number one result and only an hour away from where we were staying.

Ape caves were discovered in 1947 by a logger named Lawrence Johnson. Until the early 1950s, the Ape Caves were unexplored. When a group of Scout Troops, led by Harry Reese, were lowered down 17-foot overhang to the cave floor. They were the first group of people to leave footprints within. They named the caved after their sponsor, the St; Helens Apes. Later on, researchers discovered it had formed nearly 2000 years ago from lava streaming down from the southern flank of St. Mount Helens.

Directions to the ape caves

  • From I-5 exit 21, travel north and east on State Route 503 (Lewis River Road).

  • At 23 miles from the freeway, continue straight on Spur 503.

  • At 31 miles, Spur 503 becomes Forest Road 90.

  • Cross a bridge over a canal, then 2.6 miles later, turn left on FR 83. Travel 1.7 miles, then turn left on FR 8303.

  • Travel the final mile to the parking lot and Ape Headquarters Center.

The parking lot houses 50-60 vehicles that include buses and RVs as well. There are vault toilets and garbage cans, but no drinking water.

The cost of parking depends on the time of the year. April 1st- November 30th, there is a $5 parking fee. From December 1st- March 30th, you need a snow park pass, and you may have to walk an additional half-mile from the gates if they are closed. Click HERE to purchase you snow pass.

We only went for the day and stayed near Lewis Falls, but if you want to camp near the ape caves. Click HERE to reserve your campsite.

The Ape Caves are not a free for all activity. There is a facility and gift shop. There are rules you must follow or be asked to leave the premises. NO food, smoking, rock collecting, or climbing, and no animals allowed. We had to leave Bandit in our jeep, luckily it was not hot outside, and he loves sitting in vehicles. Please keep this in mind if you plan to take a trip, it is hot outside your animals will suffer.

Regardless of the temperature or sun exposure outside, the temperature in the caves is a constant 43 degrees, wet and dark. It is suggested to wear layers and bring a light source. We brought headlamps, which were perfect so we could keep our balance.

There are two routes that you can take once you climb down the staircase.

The Upper trail is a rugged 3 miles round trip that is physically hard and dangerous. It consists of rocks you must climb up and over, plus small spaces to climb through, and it is wet and slippery the entire time. I was in my second trimester, so needless to say, we skipped it and went with the lower route.

The lower trail is flat and spacious. Wet, but you do not need to climb up and over anything, so balance is good. This route is a 1.5 miles round trip, so it is doable even if pregnant. This route houses the famous geologic anomaly known as the meatball. It was neat to see all the bats and the formation of the lava tube you are walking within. In the end, it looks to be a small tunnel you can crawl through, but it is a dead end.

I am not a fan of caves; I'm not too fond of the wet, cold atmosphere that caves consist of. However, I can say this was such an excellent cave to explore and worth going and exploring.

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