It’s been about five years since I last made the trip to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and hiked the Ape Cave. The Ape Cave is about 2 and a half miles long and is considered one of the longest lava tube caves in North America – which was formed by an eruption on Mount St. Helens about 2000 years ago.

You Will Be Required to Squeeze and Climb Your Way Through Some Spots

The trip to the Ape Cave will take you about 4 to 5 hours from the Tri-Cities and once you arrive the hike will take you about the same amount of time (if you plan to hike both the lower and upper caves). When it comes to hiking experience, the lower cave is pretty easy, even for kids. The upper cave is very challenging and not recommended for young children, for anyone who is afraid of the dark, afraid of bats or is claustrophobic. Some areas of the upper hike will require you to work your way through rock piles, wiggle through tight spaces, and scale a 6-8 foot wall (a connected rope was provided when we went).

A Headlamp is Highly Recommended – Not a Handheld Flashlight

You’ll want to purchase a headlamp and stock it with fresh batteries (take some spares just in case). A handheld flashlight will work against you because you will need your hands to climb and feel your way around.  It’s extremely dark and as you can imagine, if your headlamp fails, you’ll be stuck until another hiker comes along.

Photo: Paul Hinkson
Photo: Paul Hinkson - headlamps
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We turned our lights out to experience the darkness and trust me, it’s absolutely pitch black with no lights - it would be truly frightening without light and almost impossible to get out without it.

Wear Clothing Designed to Keep You Dry and Warm

We actually ran into a young couple who were not dressed properly (it’s very damp with a constant drip from the ceiling) – their hair and street jackets were dripping wet. The temperature stays at a steady 42 degrees – no matter what time of year. So, even in the warmer months, you’ll want clothing that will keep you warm and dry.

Photo: Paul Hinkson
Photo: Paul Hinkson - rain jackets
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Eat and Use the Restroom Before You Enter

No food or drink (except water) is allowed in the cave and there are no restrooms down below – well at least no approved restrooms. We ran into a few areas where hikers obviously had to…well…you know.  Go before you go and you won’t have to worry about it – there are public restrooms and information about the cave in the parking area.

Tight Squeeze
Tight Squeeze
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How Was the Ape Cave Named?

Bigfoot! The cave was discovered by a logger back in the 1950s who later shared his discovery with a group of Boy Scouts who called themselves “the Apes” - because of their interest in the ape-like creature, known as Bigfoot. The Scouts dubbed it, “The Ape Cave”, and the rest is history.

Photo: Paul Hinkson
Photo: Paul Hinkson - Rock Piles
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Reservations Are Required to Hike The Ape Cave

The cave is closed in the winter months from November 1 through March 31 and opens back up to hikers beginning April 1st.  To learn more about the caves, hiking restrictions, cave directions, and to make reservations go to the US Forest Service website.

Photo: Paul Hinkson
Photo: Paul Hinkson - Exiting Ape Cave
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Here's 3 Cool Hikes Near Tri-Cities

Badger and Candy Mountain are the two most popular local hikes, and for good reason, they're close, offer stunning views, easy parking, and they're fairly easy. But, if you're looking to freshen up your hiking experience without having to drive long distances, check out these three ideas, all within 30 minutes of Tri-Cities.

This Hike in the Columbia River Gorge is a Must Experience

The Labyrinth to Coyote Wall Loop. It runs 6.7 miles with an elevation gain of 1,489 feet. It features a waterfall, lava tube, rock formations, and incredible views. It’s heavily trafficked with hikers and mountain bikers on weekends and dogs are welcome on a leash. Beware, you’ll need good hiking shoes as a good portion of the trail is very rocky. It’s open all year round, but the experts recommend day use from March to November.