Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America at 2.5 miles. A 3/4-mile, paved family-friendly trail goes to the lower cave. For a bigger challenge, the 1.5-mile upper cave trail leads to a climb up an eight-foot rock wall and a scramble over rocks.
Both trails are popular with hikers, but they’ve been closed for more than a year due to restrictions from the COVID pandemic. But that isn’t lasting much longer. The trails are reopening on Tuesday, May 18, via a timed reservation system.
Reservations are available on Recreation.gov for a $2 service fee per vehicle. Reservations are in two-hour increments. To reserve a date time, you must register for a free Recreation,gov account.
If you go, bring two light sources, like a headlamp and flashlight. A cellphone’s flashlight is not bright enough. Also wear sturdy shoes with good tread, because the trail can be slippery, and warm clothing, even in hot weather. The cave’s temperature is a steady 42 degrees Fahreheight (5.6 degrees Centigrade) year-round. I recommend dressing in layers so that you can adjust to the temperature fluctuations inside and outside the cave.
Lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens created the cave approximately 2,000 years ago. A logger and his friends, who called themselves the Mount St. Helens Apes, discovered the cave in 1950.
Ape Cave is located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cougar, Washington. For more information, visit the Ape Cave Interpretive Site page.