in partnership
(Sy Bean / Seattle Refined)

Inside WA's Ape Caves: Longest running lava tubes in continental U.S.

If you haven't noticed yet, we are huge fans of road trips. There are so many spectacular sites to see around our state and we are pretty keen on keeping you all (as well as ourselves) updated.

When our photographer Sy Bean, asked if I wanted to head out on a road trip to the mystical and unknown location of Ape Caves, I said, DUH. First of all, I love road trips. You get to crank the tunes or play games and just enjoy yourself, and I was in the mood to explore some neat-ure. Plus, the curiousity of seeing what in the world a "lava tube" is was just TOO much. The caves are a tad under four hours outside of Seattle.

Ape Caves Quick Facts:

  • Mount St. Helens National Monument
  • The Ape Caves were created by lava. It's literally a "lava tube".
  • Not just that, it's the longest lava tube in the continental United States
  • 13,042 feet long
  • 2 miles round trip
  • Formed about 2,000 years ago
  • Named after the scout patrol that did a lot of the first explorations, the Ape Patrol. Other rumors are because Mount St. Helens is a famous area for frequent Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or "Hairy Ape" sightings, but you be the judge.

What we thought:

SO. COOL. I'm not really a nature person, to be honest. Sometimes I forget that there is an endless world of beauty outside of Seattle and I consider sitting on my balcony as nature-y as it gets. That being said, I do sometimes love a good hike or wander, and Ape Caves were definitely right up my alley. First thing we noticed (which, duh, it's a cave,) is that it is PITCH black. Everyone you encounter is wearing a headlamp or carrying some sort of illuminating device. Another immediate discovery - that thing was FREEZING. It's 42 degrees year round and the longer you stay down there the colder it gets. You can see your breath, and in the summer months, it's kind of the opposite of what you want to see. That being said - the caves were mad cool.

Sy did an incredible job of lighting up the caves (do not leave this page without looking through the gallery). He would have me point my headlamp in one direction and hold these other light things (as you can tell, I am really in the know about photog equipment) while he snagged the pictures and found the perfect angle to light those puppies up. You almost can't tell the size when you are inside because it's so dark, but looking back through the photos the caves look absolutely ginormous.

Before you go, make sure everyone in your party is aware of the restrictions and conditions: No food, pets, smoking, or rock collecting. The walls harbor cave “slime”, a food source in the cave’s delicate ecosystem. The temperature is a constant 42 degrees F. The ceilings are drippy, and there may be puddles. Bring two to three light sources and spare batteries. No cave can ever be considered completely safe.