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Ape Cave Interpretive Site

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, 2022




Length: 1.5 miles

Route Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Easy

Pups: Sorry, not welcome


Length: 3 miles

Route Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Moderate - upper route leads to a climb up an eight foot rock wall and scrambles over rock piles, then an exit and a 1.5 mile above ground hike back to the parking lot.

Pups: Sorry, not welcome



Unfortunately, there is not a map in AllTrails for either of the Ape Cave Routes (Ape Cave Lower Passage and Ape Cave Upper Passage). The Ape Cave Trail hike that you can find within All Trails is the above ground hike that leads between Ape Headquarters (a small information station located at the trailhead) and the exit for the Upper Cave Route.

With this being an uber popular hike, it's next to impossible to get lost on the Lower Route: it's a short, paved trail that leads from Ape Headquarters to the stairwell into the cave. Once in the cave, there are signs that point you in the correct direction for each route. We successfully completed the Lower Route, but ended up turning back on the Upper Route - we made it about halfway up a massive boulder pile (much taller than 8 feet) and were met by another group climbing down who informed us that the route was blocked 😕 This was in 2022, I read several trip reports from 2023 indicating the blockage was removed, so you should be good to go!


  • The cave temperature is 42°F year round - bring warm clothes! We completed this hike in July on an 85°F day in long pants, sherpa hoodies, and light weight gloves, which we quickly changed out of once departing the cave.

  • It's dark in that lava tube - bring two sources of light per person! We used headlamps and carried flashlights (a cell phone light will not be bright enough). Ape Headquarters offers lantern rentals.

Trail Popularity: this is a very popular area using a timed ticket reservation system to reduce crowding and protect natural resources. Access to the Ape Caves is open from 9 AM to 5 PM May 18 through October 31. Tickets for the upcoming season will be on sale at 7 AM Pacific Time on April 15.

Timed Entry Notes: Tickets are required, 1 per vehicle, from 9 AM to 5 PM. YOU MUST ARRIVE AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR RESERVATION TIME WINDOW. Ape Cave is closed to the public outside of these hours. Each ticket is valid for 2 hours of exploration in either the Lower or Upper Cave (within your reserved time window). Reservation holder must be present at arrival. Reservation ID number and time must be clearly displayed in your vehicle. This can be your printed ticket or on a sticky note or piece of paper. If you are unable to make your reserved time, please cancel your ticket by midnight the day before; this will allow others the opportunity to visit Ape Cave. Find more information here.



The easiest way to get to the Ape Cave Interpretive Site is to use the navigation system of your choice with your destination set as Ape Cave Interpretive Site.

Parking: A Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required to park at Ape Cave. If you do not have a pass, you may purchase a Day Pass onsite for $5 (cash or check is preferred). Annual passes (America the Beautiful Pass) are available at Ape Headquarters during hours of operation.

SEASONAL CLOSURE: Ape Cave is open May 18 through Oct 31 from 9 AM to 5 PM. It is illegal to enter Ape Cave during the winter without authorization.



Located deep beneath the forest floor, it's hard to believe that this pitch-black corridor was formed by lava thousands of years ago and not a machine. At 2.5 miles long, Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America. With the lower route being relatively easy and family friendly, a trip to Ape Cave is the perfect adventure for kids of all ages! Make it a full day wander by including the Volcanic Viewpoint Trail, Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site, and an afternoon swim at Merrill Lake.



  • Cave Etiquette 101.

    • DO NOT TOUCH CAVE WALLS OR CEILING. Touching kills cave slime, a basis of the food chain of tiny creatures that live there.

    • PROTECT OUR BATS and caves from White Nose Syndrome - a disease in bats caused by a fungus and currently sweeping across the country.

    • PRACTICE LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES by packing out all that you bring in with you.


      • Pets (inside of cars get very hot during summer months, please leave your pets safely at home)

      • Food or Drinks (except water)

      • Alcohol

      • Fireworks

      • Fires

      • Camping

      • Smoking

  • Save Our Bats. Help prevent the spread of White-Nose Syndrome when you visit caves and climbing areas by:

    • DO NOT wear the same footwear used in other caves or climbing areas unless completely cleaned.

    • DO NOT bring dogs into caves as they may act as carriers of the fungus to new sites.

    • CLEAN your shoes and clothing of any dirt or mud BEFORE entering a cave or climbing area.

    • CLEAN AGAIN AFTER exiting a cave or climbing area.

    • WASH your hands and exposed skin.

    • CHANGE into clean clothing and shoes before entering your vehicle to leave.

    • CLEAN equipment that cannot be washed with alcohol wipes if the wipes will not damage the equipment

    • WASH clothing, hats, or shoes worn in hot, soapy water at 131°F or hotter for at least 20 minutes.

    • If you see bats, please avoid disturbing them, and do not handle live bats.


 Darcy Wanders 



Welcome to Darcy Wanders! I'm Darcy, the wanderer and writer for all things Darcy Wanders.

I love hiking, camping, paddling, and wandering new places! When I'm not wandering, I turn to books, puzzles, and dreaming up plans for my next epic adventure.

I believe the outdoors is for everyone and created Darcy Wanders as a way to share incredible hikes, gear recommendations, and educate on things such as trail etiquette and leave no trace principles. 

happy wandering!

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