South Cascades — Mount St. Helens
2.8 miles round trip (Lies see below)
Other Helpful Info.
There is a 5 dollar parking fee. Cash or check accepted.
Let’s address the lies that all the website stated on the mileage. Washington Trails Association said 2.8 miles round trip. All Trails say 3.1 miles. MountStHelens.com the upper caves are 1.5 miles. Lies all lies every website lies!!!!!! I clocked on my Fitbit over 6 miles round trip. That started from parked car to parked car. I wish I would have taken a picture of my blaze before we left but I didn’t think of it. So aside from what I thought how long the hike was and how long it really is. It was totally worth it. Would I do it again? Probably but its gonna be a while!
The Ape Caves are located in Gifford Pinchot National Forest to the south of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. They formed over 2000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens. While the outer edges of the lava stream cooled in to harden crust, the inner molten lava was able to drain forming a tube before it hardened. There is an upper and a lower cave you can hike through. The upper cave is a difficult hike that has 27 rock piles you climb over. The lower cave is a little uneven walk with wide open cave to explore.
There are a couple theories of why the lava tubes got their name of Ape Caves. One is that the first explorers called themselves Mt St Helens Apes, and that is where the name came from, and the other is Sasquatch. Only in the PNW would we name caves after Big Foot.
The kids loved and hated it. As I mention before there is an upper and a lower cave. The lower cave is an easy walk, we went in this one first. Make sure that you have ankle supportive footwear if you have weak ankles. It’s so dark in there it’s easy to miss your step and roll your ankles. This cave is great if you bring a lantern to light up the whole cave. You can also rent one from the little hut before the entrance to the cave. At first, my daughter was very nervous but she got over it after a little bit.
The upper caves, this is the more difficult hike. There are 27 boulder piles. If you have kids that love to climb and crawl this is a great hike for them. The most difficult part is an 8-foot high lava wall, with only 1 good foot hole. It was at this point that I wanted to turn back and go out the way we came, but my husband was determined to finish. I wanted to cry. But we got over those 27 rock piles, with only 1 break down from my daughter, one almost break down from me, a son who secretly loved the hike but claims he doesn’t, and triumphed husband who didn’t want to go in the first place.
Cash or check for parking
Headlamps with extra batteries. My headlamp was getting pretty dim by the end of the hike. My husband didn’t want to take a headlamp and used a flashlight, he had to change the batteries twice. I recommend a headlamp instead of a flashlight in the upper cave because you are going to have to crawl over rocks and you need both hands.
Extra Batteries. For reasons I stated above.
Water. Lower caves not as needed. If you hiking the upper caves definitely needed.
What to Wear
Layers! The temp is a steady 42 degrees. At first it will seem pretty chilly but about half way through you be shedding your layers.
Small Back Pack. There are some places that are a tight squeeze.
Shoes that grip and provide ankle support, if you need it. I actually saw a guy in flip flops, I’m sure he was not happy by the end of the hike.
Pants! All four of us slipped, adds a little extra protection.
Fitbit. This is to prove my point about the mileage, not really necessary.
Tip: I wouldn’t wear jeans if your thigh touch. Just sayin.