Cave Guides
Ultimate Guide to Ape Cave, Washington (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Ultimate Guide to Ape Cave, Washington (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

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Ape Cave is the 3rd longest lava tube in the US, and it has moderate to difficult terrain. People visiting the cave should be prepared for pitch-black conditions, cold temperatures, and slippery surfaces. The cave gets heavily crowded on weekends from 11 am to 3 pm, and many people face parking issues. 

Ultimate Guide to Ape Cave Cover Image
Photo Credit: The Mountaineers

Ape Cave, Washington

Ape Cave is a popular destination for visitors in summer. When people come here in the warm months of summer, they feel they have stepped into a giant refrigerator. However, in the late fall and winter season, when the air temperature in the surroundings drops to the 20s, the interiors of the lave tube feel cool and comfortable. 

History of Ape Cave

Ape Cave was formed more than 2000 years ago when a huge lava flow (8 miles long) known as Cave Basalt poured down the Southern flank of Mount St Helens. As it continued to flow, parts of the lava began to cool down, forming a hard crust. An insulated tube got created which still had the molten lava inside. Scientists estimated that the lava inside the tube continued its movement for at least a year.

Eventually, the last drop of molten lave drained out from the tube, leaving the interior entirely empty. Various sections of the hollow tube collapsed from above throughout the years, thereby creating multiple skylights. The entrance is the largest collapsed section of the tube. The cave takes its name from the 1950s outdoors group that explored the area called themselves as ‘The Mount St Helens Apes.’ 

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Geological Cave Formations

The cave has many geologic features that have been given unique names. There is a large boulder named ‘The Meatball,’ It sits suspended over a passageway, and ‘Railroad Tracks’ is a levee formed alongside the moving lava. As the lava dripped off from the hardened ceiling of the cave, it left behind stalactites known as lavacicles. 

Wildlife in Ape Cave

Ape Cave does not get many bats, but lava tubes usually act as hibernacula. So, there is a huge potential to get a good bat population. 

Is Ape Cave Haunted?

Ape Cave in Washington is not haunted, but there have been various reports of sightings of sasquatch, which is also known as Bigfoot. 

How Big is Ape Cave?

Ape Cave has a length of 2.5 miles. 

Ape Cave size
Photo Credit: Exploration America

Ape Cave Tours

Ape Cave is hugely popular with summer visitors, but it can be visited any time of the year. It is pitch dark inside the cave, so we recommend headlamps or a Coleman-type lantern. The headlamps are the preferred choice as, in the upper cave, you will be climbing over lava boulders, and it feels nice to have your hands free. 

Though it is a continuous underground lava tube, there are two entrances – a lower and upper cave. The lower cave is flat and smooth, but it varies in height and width. The large boulder, known as Meatball, can be found in the southern end of the lava tube.

However, the route through the upper cave is more challenging. Apart from the elevation, the cave has many twists and turns and requires a bit of scrambling on hands and feet up the steep pitches. It is highly recommended that you wear leather gloves to climb over large and rough boulders. 

People are advised not to touch the cave walls or the ceiling. Touching the cave walls would kill the slime, which is the food for the tiny creatures that live in the caves. 

Tour Prices and Discounts

There is a charge of $5 per vehicle per day. 

Is Ape Cave Cold?

The temperature inside the cave remains at 42 degrees F throughout the year. 

What to Wear?

When you are visiting, you should bring two light sources per person because the light from your cell phone will not be bright enough. You should also wear sturdy shoes and warm clothing. You should carry warm clothes even if the weather is warm as the temperature inside the cave remains cold. 

Ape Cave Hours

The cave can be visited between sunrise and 6 pm. 


What to Do (Beside Tours)

Apart from exploring the lava tube, there is nothing much to do here. But there are places close by worth visiting, such as Lahar Viewpoint and Lava Canyon Trail. 

Best Time to Visit

The best time to come to visit is from March to October. 

How to Get to Ape Cave

When coming from Cougar, drive on Forest Road 90 in an east direction for just 1 mile beyond the Swift Dam. Here turn left onto Forest Road 83. Drive for 2 miles and then turn left on to Forest Road 8303. Continue for 1 mile on this road to the trailhead, which would be on your right side. 

Provide a safe bat habitat
Provide a safe bat habitat!

Hotels Nearby

There are campgrounds and hotels in Cougar where you can put up in case you want to stay overnight. Cougar RV Park & Campground and Lone Fir Resort are good options for staying. 

Ape Cave Fun Facts

  • It is the 3rd longest lava tube in North America. 
  • It is impossible to get lost as it does not have junctions. 
  • The cave was formed 1900 years ago, and, initially, it was the longest known lava tube in the US. 
USA Cave list

Ape Cave Details 

  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Time Recommended: 2 to 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Kid-friendly: Yes, Lower Level
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Fees: USD 5 per vehicle per day
  • Hours: Sunrise to 6 pm 

Visiting Ape Cave

Do you need more information before visiting Ape Cave? Call (360) 449-7800 for an information packet. 

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