The Ape Cave – A Long Walk in Low Light


The Ape Cave: A Long Walk in Low Light

The Ape Cave is a must see if your traveling through southern Washington. Its dark, its damp and its damn good fun. Theres something for everyone here, from toddlers and retirees to weekend warriors and adventure seekers. Anyone can enjoy this place in comfort.


The Ape Cave is actually just one long lava tube, running about two miles under ground. No worries though, the lava is long gone, and cave is pretty safe to check out.


After an easy two mile hike over lava rocks and through beautiful forests we arrived at a small hole in the ground with a ladder leading into the cave. There is main entrance at the begging, but I suggest heading in from the back and working your way through the ape cave to the front. This way you wont be stuck with too many crowds in the smaller parts of the cave.



Once you descend the ladder, you find yourself in one of the few chambers that is illuminated by the sunlight creeping through the hole skylight above.


The ape cave widens and shrinks in different spots. Some areas are only a little over 6 feet high and 8 feet wide, while other areas range up to 50 feet high and 50 feet wide.


The terrain of the cave is a mix of sandy runways and piles of giant boulders, making navigating pretty sketchy in some areas but just take it slow. (you can rent a propane lantern at the ranger station if that interests you, but carrying a 5 pound swinging torch over rocky outcroppings didn’t interest me)


After about 3/4 mile walk you come to another skylight and a break from the claustrophobic darkness.



History of The Ape Cave

The actual date of the discovery of the cave is not known. Estimates range from 1946 to 1951. Sometime in those years, a logger from Washington was the first man to find the cave.

Lawrence Johnson was in the area of the main entrance when he noticed a tree growing at an odd angle. When he investigated, he found a large sinkhole that opened into a dark tunnel.

Johnson walked into the tunnel, tossing pebbles ahead of him until he found himself at the edge of an overhang; ahead was a large, pitch black, echoing cavern. When his day’s work was finished, Johnson returned to the cave with the rest of his logging crew, as well as all the lights and tackle they had with them. They reached the edge of the lip, but no one was willing to lower himself into the darkness.

Johnson contacted Harry Reese, a local community leader and an avid caver: a few days later, Reese and his sons (members of a local boy scout troop who called themselves the Mt. St. Helens Apes) were the first to explore Ape cave.

These young men extensively explored the cave throughout 1952. Interestingly enough, they found no evidence of previous human exploration.



The rangers warn of bats throughout the caves but even after searching the entirety of the cavern, we found no sign of any bats.



The caves stay a cool 42 degrees (F) year round, so if you’re planning on visiting, even in the dead of summer, bring a sweater of some sort.


A little over two miles and two hours climbing through the cave you arrive at the main (tourist) entrance. The cave continues down for another 3/4 mile in other direction. This part was extremely easy hiking, a sandy path to the end. This is why most tourists and visitors only “explore” the bottom portion of the cave

I highly suggest you experience the entire cave, I know it was worth it for me.

The Ape cave is perfect for a day trip if you live in the area or are passing through. The whole experience can last from 30 minutes and up to a few hours depending on your thirst for adventure.


Resources for Traveling The Ape Cave


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  1. Wow Fabulous. I love caves and go into them whenever I get the chance which isn’t very often.
    I also love your lead and last photo – I’d really love to attempt a painting from it if you would give me permission. I’ll try it using my texture and my hard edge methods. Please let me know if it’s okay to use the photo image.
    I too have many great pics of caves and also of Hawaii’s lava tube at Kilauea volcano.

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