Ape Caves- 2.8 miles there and back, 350 feet elevation gain
Pass-Northwest Forest Pass (you also need a flashlight or a lantern, if you don’t bring your own you have to pay to use one of theirs.) Difficulty-1/5 Rating-5/5
This Labor Day we decided to leave town and head south! I have been wanting to see Mount St. Helens since I learned about the eruption in elementary school. Before I learned about Mount St. Helens I thought volcanoes erupting were prehistoric… dinosaur age! I thought it was crazy that not long ago a volcano erupted in the continental US! I knew one day I would go!
Now I live in the land of valcanoes! I’ve been anxious to go to Mount St. Helens since we’ve moved here. The problem is I want to go to all the places here!!! We’ve gone camping now 3 times since we’ve lived here ( twice tenting and once cabining). Everytime I look at camping spots, Mount St. Helens always makes the list. It’s also one of the further places on my list and for some strange reason we always go camping last minute. Like we literally decide the day before we leave. This time we decided on camping about a week before. I had more time to research the area and we decided we could go a little further. We were more prepared and we were excited to go.
Mount St. Helens is a mountain. It’s big. There’s a lot of different areas to see, lots of things to do. As much as I was dying to see the hole blown off the mountain I wanted to do something that my kids would get excited about. We decided to go to the Ape Caves! Sadly I have yet to see the hole in the mountain, but I will one day!!!
We left early in the morning and we stopped for donuts! I have had such a hard time finding good donuts here. We finally found a great donut shop that we’ve been to several times now. The Donut Factory in Lynnwood!
We were planning on making it to the Ape Caves that day, then going to our campsite. Somehow we got way off schedule. We stopped for gas, then we stopped for lunch in Kelso. We needed to get a camping stove (so we can eat good food when we camp) from Sportsman Wearhouse. We went to one, but they were closed for a remodel. The next closest one was in Portland (about a half hour out of way.) We decided that we really needed the stove and Portland is in Oregon and Oregon has NO sales tax! We ended up saving about $40 at Sportsman’s since we didn’t have to pay tax. (We got several extra things there.) We needed a propane tank for our grill so we stopped at Home Depot for propane and decided to get a few things for our home remodel there since again no sales tax! We ended up saving a decent amount on tax there as well. I’m sure we’ll make another Portland trip for home stuff as well!
The drive from Portland to our campsite was STUNNING. One of the prettiest places I’ve been! We drove along the Columbia River, we drove by Beacon Rock. Everything was stunning! Huge pine tree covered cliffs and mountains on one side and a huge beautiful river on the other!
We stayed at the Paradise Creek Campground. We weren’t sure if we’d get a spot because we didn’t make reservations and it was labor day weekend. We pulled up and we got the last spot! (If we didn’t get a spot we would’ve gone back to Portland and gotten a hotel.) We set up camp, had dinner, had smores, put the kids to bed.
One of my favorite things about camping is after kids are in bed Chris and I get to sit by the fire and talk. No distractions just the two of us. I always feel closer to him and my family after a camping trip.
The kids slept great! I didn’t sleep awesome. We were on a decline and I move around a lot at night. In the morning I was way off my pad at the feet of everyone. But we were ready for a fun day and I had my Dr. Pepper so I was set!
I used the new stove Chris got me and we made egg burros for breakfast. Beats the poptarts we’ve had in the past. While I was cooking Chris cleaned up and the kids played. We headed out fairly early because we were ready to go cave exploring!!!!
The drive to the Ape Caves was beautiful as well! We were driving along another river and winding through the mountains. Seriously stunning! We got to the parking lot and it was semi filled up. We were glad we got there when we did because when we were leaving it was packed!!!! (We got there around 11:00 am and left around 1:00 pm).
The Ape Caves are amazing! If you are in the area go!!!! Bring a light (although you can rent a lantern for 5 bucks there.), good shoes, a jacket and go. It’s free (as long as you have a Northwest pass or a temporary $5 pass).
It’s called the Ape Caves for an old boy scout troop that first explored it (they called themselves the apes.). It also is a rumored Sasquatch (Big Foot-big hairy ape) sighting area. Sadly (or luckily) we didn’t see big foot!
The cave is made out of old lava flow. About 2,000 years ago there was a lava pool at the top of Mount St. Helens. Over time the lava flowed down, just like water would do. As it flowed the top part formed a crust, over time the lava got absorbed into the ground leaving the cave. (We ran into a park ranger at the cave and she told us how they were formed.) So these caves were not formed during the most recent eruption. The eruption didn’t disturb these caves either.
The cave is split into two areas, the lower (shorter, easier) and upper (longer more difficult) sections. Since we had our two kids with us we decided on the lower section. It is about 3/4 miles to the end so about 1 1/2 miles total. It is damp, chilly (it was 42 degrees when we went. It was actually perfect for hiking with a jacket and it didn’t feel overly cold.), and pitch black. I thought the kids were going to be nervous or scared of the dark, but they did great! Ryan was nervous the lava was going to come back, but we explained that we were safe and the lava came a long time ago. He was good to go after that.
The ground was bumpy and it could be easy to trip, but the kids did good watching where to go. This cave also looks more like a tunnel than a typical stalagmites and stalactites in caves. Almost at the end, there is what’s called the meatball, it’s a huge lava rock stuck in a crevice in the ceiling of the cave.
We made it to the end and there was a small crawl space tunnel. I knew I wasn’t up for belly crawling (I am hugely claustrophobic) but Ryan was up for it. Chris went with Ryan and they army crawled the last hundred feet to the very end! I was proud of Ryan for being so brave!
We loved the Ape Caves and I would love to go back. I can’t wait until the kids get more sure footed and we can do the whole thing!
After the caves we headed home from our weekend of camping! We loved every second of it!