Explore the Ape Caves
Washington › Ape Cave
Added by Mitch Pittman
Walking around in lava tubesThe darkest dark you've ever experiencedMany other adventures nearbyOptions for many skill levelsExplore in any season
As if erupting volcanoes weren't awesome enough, ancient lava flows also left behind these giant, hollow tubes as they cooled. Spend all day exploring deep underground in this 2.5 mile cave.
To get there, head to the SOUTH side of Mount Saint Helens. You must pass through the town of Cougar to get here, DON'T go to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Now, let's explore some caves! It's a short walk from the parking lot to the main cave entrance. Take time to read about how the caves were formed, how they were discovered, and why they're called the 'Ape' Caves. I won't ruin it for you, but it's all interesting!
Descend into the lava tubes first down a stone staircase then a metal one. Make sure you have multiple light sources with fresh batteries. It is extremely dark down there and you don't want to run out of light down there.
The cave is divided into the upper and lower portions. The lower is easier, shorter, and must be done as an out-and-back. Follow the tube as it wiggles deeper into the ground, and pass features such as 'The Meatball' and the 'Railroad Tracks.'
The upper cave is more difficult to negotiate, with large rock piles to scramble over and an 8' lava wall to deal with. There is also a skylight and another entrance/exit at the top of the cave, with a path back to the main cave entrance.
This is an exciting adventure that can be paired with others in the southern Mount Saint Helens area, such as the Lava Canyon, Ape Canyon, or a hike up the south side of the mountain.
- Backup headlamp
- Warm, waterproof clothes
- NW Forest Pass for parking
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Are we missing something?Suggest an edit
ReviewsLeave a Review
This was a wonderful cave experience to say the least. It's super dark which is amazing for those of us that love that adrenaline rush. The easy lower section was a nice walk, but if you want a real hike I definitely suggest tackling the upper section too. There's quite a bit of scrambling throughout! Major downside is that there's quite a bit of trash in both sections and human feces in the upper, along with some graffiti which takes some of the fun out of it.
Explore the Darkness!
This adventure is something else and I think everyone should give this a go as I would describe it as an enlightening of the mind. Just like any place where your sight is hindered it enhances the other senses. Explore every corner and crack. There are beautiful rock formations including the meatball and train tracks. Also, if you look into the cracks you can see the red rock! Really encourage that you to go on this one! Ohh and start from the top of the upper part then go down from there.
Creepy and Cool
I'm kind of in love with the Ape Caves. Being a person with an active imagination, being in basically a natural subway tunnel of darkness and silence, my mind was blown. And my little headlamp was not enough...next time I'd go with a bit brighter than the average headlamp.
One Time Thing
Make sure you bring a BRIGHT lantern of some kind; it was super cool, but very hard to see. Definitely worth seeing, but I'd say it's a one time thing. We had the misfortune of going on a day when a junior high field trip was also exploring the caves, which made it a bit crowded than it might've otherwise been.
More Adventures Nearby
Backpack to Waptus Lake
Washington / Salmon La Sac Trailhead
Starting at the Salmon La Sac trailhead north of Cle Elum, the Waptus River Trail meanders ten miles through the spectacular Alpine Lakes Wilderness to reach the scenic shores of Waptus Lake.
Stargazing at Artist Point
Washington / Artist Point
A couple things must coincide for you to have a great time watching the milky way at Artist Point.