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Ape Cave Lava Tube

Listed under Caves & Caving in US West Coast, United States.

  • Photo of Ape Cave Lava Tube
  • Photo of Ape Cave Lava Tube
  • Photo of Ape Cave Lava Tube
Photo of Ape Cave Lava Tube
Photo by flickr user Qfamily
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According to the U.S. Geological Survey website, this is the longest lava tube in the conterminous US, at 3.9 km, having formed "about 2,000 years ago." The cave is well posted, being a unit of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, just east of Cougar, Washington, on the southern flank of Mt St Helens (there is a 5 dollar fee to park).

The upper and lower caves are quite different, but are entered via the same steel stairway. The upper (uphill) segment is more rugged, and lengthier, involving hiking over shifting breakdown slabs, and ascending lava falls (about 2 meters high). At its upper end there is a ladder and a surface trail back to the parking lot, but at night you would almost certainly get lost in the woods along the faint trace. The lower cave is for the more casual experience, along a sandy trail, and contains the "Meatball," a suspended lava ball, as well as lava gutters, and other lava formations. In both segments there are pockets where the walls of the lava tube have collapsed, revealing the reddish, pre-lava flow valley fill. Allow several hours for both.

There is a substantial chimney effect breeze blowing downhill thru the cave, so also dress warm. Bring bright lights to fully appreciate the immense size of some of the rooms.

Along the access road to Ape Cave there are also some tree molds that you are invited to explore, with their own parking area and signage. Here, large-diameter primeval trees were engulfed by the lava flow and subsequently rotted away, leaving intersecting tunnel-like spaces to crawl through.

Written by  Greg Brick.

Other expert and press reviews

“Ape Cave”

Ape Cave in Washington was formed by the only known basaltic eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s. The cave was discovered in 1947 but wasn’t explored until a scout troop entered the cave in the 1950s. Ape Cave is divided into two sections: the upper … Read more...

Written by  katie_f.

“Ape Cave”

This incredibly long lava tube survived the cataclysmic 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. There are more interesting lava caves in the region but this one is easily accessible to the public. If you are hungry after hours of exploring this somewhat monoto… Read more...

Written by  Mike Lyvers.

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