Found by a large group of Washington Boy Scouts in 1950, the Ape Caves were rightfully named after the troop in 1952. At about 2.4 miles, Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America. It is sometimes referred to as Ape Caves (plural) because the main entrance is between its two ends, referred to as the Lower Cave and Upper Cave. The caves formed nearly 2000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens. As the outer edges cooled into a hardened crust, the inner molten lava was able to drain away before it hardened, leaving behind a tube.
Before you go, make sure you're aware of the restrictions and conditions: no food, pets, smoking, or rock collecting. Do not touch the walls, which harbor cave “slime”, a food source in the cave’s delicate ecosystem. The temperature is a constant 42 degrees so be sure to wear plenty of jackets and gloves if you have any, a helmet may also be a good idea for anyone in your group that's on the taller side!
Heading into the Upper Cave is a 1.5 rugged miles one way, requiring significantly more time, caution, and some physical agility. It is a more interesting route though, with the lava tube shape, size, and geology changing frequently. Not far from the staircase, the passage encounters its first of many rock piles. You must climb up, over, or around the abrasive rocks, taking care not to twist an ankle or, in some places, bump your head.
At about 0.8 mile is the narrowest part of the passage, and the crux move: a slick, wet, 8-foot lava fall. Some people need assistance scaling it, as there is only one significant foothold.
If the Upper Cave sounds a little to strenuous for you, make sure to visit the Lower Cave instead! There is still plenty of rock climbing, but not near as much scaling and only about 1.5 miles round trip. for people interested in hiking both, I suggest doing the Lower Cave first, and once you come back to the staircase simply pass it to continue onto the Upper Cave.
The hike above ground, once you're done hiking through the Upper Caves, is a beautiful view of Mt. St. Helens all around you. On the way back through town, I definitely suggest stopping for a dip in Yale Lake, it might be freezing- but the view and the cool-off is worth it! Click on the map below from your computer or smart phone to get directions to the Ape Caves entrance, get out there and explore!!
*some mileage and info found on www.wta.org