Cougar, Washington: Ape Cave Lava Tube

An unlit, "wild" collection of natural lava tubes, 2.5 miles long (the longest in the U.S.), explored by lantern or flashlight by hardy, flexible adventurers.

Mt St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

USFS Rd 8303, Cougar, WA
Part of the Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument. I-5 exit 21 (Woodland). Drive east on Hwy 503/USFS Rd 90 for 35.5 miles. Turn left (north) onto USFS Rd 83, drive two miles, then turn left (west) onto USFS Rd 8303. Drive one-quarter mile to the Trail of Two Forests, then continue another mile on USFS Rd 8303 to the parking lot of lower entrance to Ape Cave.
Daily to dusk in summer. Gated after hours. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Self-pay fee tube.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Visitor Tips and News About Ape Cave Lava Tube

Reports and tips from visitors and Roadside America mobile tipsters. Some tips may not be verified. Submit your own tip.

Ape Cave Lava Tube

It feels like you're descending into Satan's maw. I took the harder route, and if you want to do the same here are some things to know:

You can rent supplies from the ranger station, but until mid-summer their hours are inconsistent or non-existent. Even after Labor Day weekend they were closed. Either purchase a headlamp before coming or purchase one in the town of Cougar on the way up. Parking passes are $5, you pay by envelope in cash, so bring it unless you want a $50 ticket.

They installed a thin rope on the 8-ft. vertical lava flow so it's easier to get up. There is also a singular notch you can use as a foothold. Many of the rocks were loose when I was there so watch your ankles.

Don't count on there being a lot of people. About halfway through my boyfriend and I ran into two other couples, but until then we saw nobody. Make sure to bring a buddy or let someone know where you are.

[Samuel, 09/22/2018]

Ape Cave Lava Tube.

Ape Cave Lava Tube

Ape Cave Lava Tube is one of the coolest places I've ever been.

[Jason Sheinkopf, 08/15/2015]
Ape Cave Lava Tube

Make sure you buy a permit for parking -- otherwise a $52 parking ticket will be waiting for you on your car.

[Stephanie, 02/03/2014]

In the summer, the Northwest Forest Parking Pass is $5/day, available at the Mount St. Helens National Monument and other Visitors Centers. In winter, the snowbound cave area requires a sno-park pass.

Ape Cave Lava Tube

I grew up in the area, so I've been to the Ape Caves numerous times, and each time is just as fun and exciting as the last.

It's very dark and cold - you will need light! Also bring a sweatshirt and good sturdy shoes; you will get hot on your way through so you can always just tie your sweatshirt around your waist. There are two ways to venture -- one is harder than the other but both are great. Remember to always watch your step and rest when needed. Once you get to the end, you climb up a ladder into the beautiful forest. You will have a decent hike back.

[Luke, 01/21/2010]
Ape Cave (Lava Tubes)

Natives of Washington state know these tubes as the "ape caves." For young people (college age) and those in good shape, this is a challenging but very doable fun thing. Wear warm clothes, bring lots of light. If you are afraid of the dark, or small spaces, I would not recommend this.

[Jen, 02/14/2004]

Nearby Offbeat Places

Spirit Lake Volcano DestructionSpirit Lake Volcano Destruction, Spirit Lake, WA - 12 mi.
Statue of the Tree PlanterStatue of the Tree Planter, Toutle, WA - 16 mi.
Grist Mill Grist Mill "Free" Bag of Flour, Woodland, WA - 21 mi.
In the region:
Nutty Narrows - Squirrel Bridges, Longview, WA - 35 mi.

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