Ultimate Guide to Gardner Cave, Washington (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
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When you come to Gardner Cave, you will feel like you are in the center of the earth. It is a 500-million-year-old cavern that has rich geological formations. The 1911 Federal Land survey declared this cave a ‘natural wonder.’ It is the 3rd longest limestone cavern in Washington and offers easy access to visitors.
Gardner Cave, Washington
The striking feature of the attraction is that once the tour of the caves is over, you can walk for a quarter mile to the international boundary with Canada. You can live the experience of being at an international border before returning to the parking lot. So, if you are craving an adrenaline-packed day with cave tours and picnics, you can add this place to your itinerary.
History of Gardner Cave
History suggests that Gardner Cave was discovered by Edward E. Gardner around 1900, after whom the cave was named, but there are other discovery claims. Gardener Cave was reportedly found during a hunting expedition by the homesteader, farmer, and alleged bootlegger during the Prohibition. Gardener had homesteaded the adjacent land on the Pend Oreille River, but he was never the cave owner.
Noted businessman William Crawford operated a general store and acquired the ownership of about 160 acres of land in 1920, including the Gardener Cave. It was an investment opportunity for him as there was massive potential for timber and hardrock metals within the Metaline Mining District. However, this investment was short-lived as he deeded around 40 acres of land, including the cave to Washington State Parks in 1921.
A Federal land survey in 1911 assigned a length of 1100 ft to this cave which was then known as Little Mammoth Cave. Several other explorations have followed, and today the length of the cave is determined as 2072 ft with a depth of 295 ft. However, only the first 494 ft of the cave is open to public access.
Geological Cave Formations
Gardner Cave is a geological wonder where the walls and ceilings are decorated with formations like stalagmites, stalactites, rimstone pools, and flowstones. They had formed millions of years ago when the shells of various sea creatures were transformed into limestone. It also has a 7.8 ton column, which is the largest of all in the Pacific Northwest.
The unique feature is that these formations have been given different names such as Lopsided Wedding Cake, Soda Straws, Fried Eggs, Packrat Nest, and Christmas Cake. However, visitors are encouraged not to touch the cave formations as it can stop them from growing any further, and the formations may change from white to gray color.
Wildlife in Gardner Cave
Gardner Cave is housed within Crawford State Park, which has varied wildlife species like frogs, Sagebrush Lizard, Gopher Snake, and a wide range of birds, including American Coot. Gardner Cave has the usual share of small lizards and critters that you will come across in any cave.
Is Gardner Cave Haunted?
Gardner Cave is the 3rd longest limestone cavern in Washington and is not haunted.
How Big is Gardner Cave?
Gardner Cave has a length of 2072 ft with a depth of 295 ft.
Gardner Cave Tours
There is a paved walkway to the cave entrance covering 0.4 miles from the parking lot. Here the knowledgeable tour guide will tell you about the history of the cave, both geologic and human. One must put on their jacket before entering the cave for the hour-long tour.
You will descend for about 900 ft into the cavern, and you would love to dress up in layers as the inside of the cave is cold. Bring one or two sources of light and wear closed-toes shoes.
The cave floors and the ceilings are adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone. Flash photography is allowed inside the cave, so you can click pictures to your heart’s content. You can use a headlamp too to view the various geological formations.
Since it is one of the show caves of the state, the pathways of the cave are illuminated with lights. You can use a flashlight or headlamp to catch a closer view of these features.
The cave has a length of 2072 ft, but the viewing platform is only 494 ft. When you are at the end of the platform, you will be standing 90 ft below the earth’s surface. The tour guide will also turn off the lights at one time so that you can experience the natural dark within the cave depths.
Tour Prices and Discounts
There is no charge to enter Gardner Cave, but there is a small entrance fee for the Crawford State Park. Alternatively, you can use the Discover Pass for entry into the park. The cave tours are free and conducted at a limited capacity due to the pandemic. The tours occur at 10 am, noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm. The tours take place from Thursday to Monday, and each visitor must register online for the tours.
Is Gardner Cave Cold?
The air temperature inside the cave is between 39 to 42 degrees F throughout the year.
What to Wear?
When you come to Gardner Cave, wear a light jacket or sweater and carry a camera with a flash. Suitable hiking boots or walking shoes are highly recommended as you will be touring the caves and the surrounding area.
There are boating facilities, but the nearest boat launch is at the Boundary Dam campground, outside the park’s premises.
Gardner Cave Hours
The cave is open from May till September from 9 am to 6 pm. It remains closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
What to Do at Gardner Cave (Beside Tours)
After exploring the cave is over, you can use the facilities offered at Crawford State Park. The park has one picnic shelter without electricity, two sheltered and eleven unsheltered picnic tables. There is also a restroom which the visitors can use.
All these facilities are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The surrounding area has many other activities and events from time to time. One needs to contact the National Forest Service for more information.
Best Time to Visit
The park opens from May to September, and one can visit the Gardner Cave any time during these months.
How to Get to Gardner Cave
Gardner Cave is located 11 miles north of Metaline in the state’s northeastern corner. When arriving from Spokane, take Highway 2, go north to SR 211 and turn left. Continue on SR 20 and turn left so that you are heading north. At Tiger, you should continue to head north on SR 31.
There are signs that will take you to Metaline and Metaline Falls. Once you are in Metaline, follow the signs on the highway to proceed to Crawford State Park.
Hotels near Gardner Cave
Crawford State Heritage Park has no overnight camping facilities. Seattle City Light has a campground just 1 mile from the park. There are hotels within 15 km of the cave, such as the Historic Washington Hotel & Circle Motel.
Gardner Cave Fun Facts
- It is one of those rare caves that is illuminated throughout.
- It is the 3rd longest limestone cavern in Washington.
- Only the first 494 ft of the cave are open for public tours; the rest are off-limits.
- There are no fees to enter the cave, but you need to have a Discovery Pass or pay USD 10 to enter Crawford Park, within which the cave is housed.
Gardner Cave Details
- Length: 2072 ft
- Time Recommended: 2 to 3 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
- Kid-friendly: Yes
- Dog-friendly: Yes
- Fees: Free, but online registration of tours are mandatory.
- Hours: 9 am to 6 pm
Visiting Gardner Cave
Do you need more information before visiting Gardner Cave? Call (509) 238-4258 or for an information packet.
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