Ape Caves MT ST. Helens
(Longest Lava Tubes in the US)

Trip Date: August 26th,  2006


  • Alder Lake
  • Alder Dam
  • MT Rainier
  • MT Adams
  • MT Baker
  • MT ST Helens
  • Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Ape Cave
  • Nisqually & Cowlitz River Crossings


  • 2 Gravel Sections - Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Poor Pavement Conditions - Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Ape Cave Floor
  • Caves are extremely dark - Take a propane lantern!  


Click the Play button to start the video!

Ape Cave
MT. ST. Helens Volcanic Monument
6.6 MB 314 Kbits/Sec.

This video was not captured during this specific trip. The video was taken  9-10-2006 with the assistance of my son. I included it because it provides a good view of what is waiting for you inside the caves. 

Trip Details:

Saturday morning 8 AM, another fine day for a ride. Today’s temperatures should reach into the mid 80’s in the Puget Sound. This was one of those times where I felt like a ride but have nothing planned. I sat in front of my PC glaring at Map Source and wondering what would be a cool ride. After pondering several routes, I am drawn southward. I decide to pay a visit to the Ape Cave near MT ST. Helen’s WA. I have never been to the cave but have heard it is well worth seeing. In a nut shell, the cave is actually a lava tube that was formed over 1900 years ago. Not just any old lava tube, but the largest lava tube in the continental US. The cave or tube extends 12,810 feet in length. The cave was not discovered (that we know of) until 1951. It almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about. I don’t. I got this data from the following URL. J

 After doing some research on Ask.com, I had a list of necessary items to view the cave.

Recommended Items

  • Light – Lantern recommended or flash light

  • Light – Backup form of light (flash light)

  • Gloves – Recommended (I forgot them)

  • Sturdy Hiking Boots – Recommended

  • Warm Clothes – I passed on this one (It’s summer).

  • Lunch – Jerkey and Teriyaki Pep worked for me.

  • Water – 3 bottles of water (Frozen to thaw during trip).

In addition to the list above as always I packed my digital cameras. Once my gear was ready, I uploaded my waypoints and routes to my GPS, grabbed my helmet and Creative MP3 player and headed out the door. Since I find I-5 boring, I planned my route to go down Highway 7 through Elbe, Morton then up Highway 12 to Randle then a right turn on to NF-25 heading towards ST. Helens. The weather was great, 83 degrees at about 11:45 AM. I did get off to a bit of a late start. I really enjoy riding Highway 7 as it parallels Alder Lake with a great view of Alder Damn as well as some fun twisties. I stopped in Elbe to stretch my legs and take in some scenery. After a 15 minute rest I saddled up and road onward through Morton, to Randle where I took the first right heading toward MT. ST Helens. This turn is clearly marked with a sign. Once in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest it’s a 30+ mile treat of twisties in and out of the shade. Be warned that this road should be ridden with extreme caution. The surface has some rises, dips, falling rock and in one area 2 short sections of gravel. For the most part you can carve up the turns with the exception of a handful of bad areas.

As I carved my way through the turns a couple young guys on sport bikes pass me and rev their engines as testosterone courses through their veins. I laughed, thinking back on some of the stuff I pulled in my late teens. They began to hit the turns hard, and well, I couldn’t resist a bit of cat and mouse through the turns. I followed them through each turn to the point of dragging my pegs and at one point the outer edge of my left shoe. Once it was clear the old guy could hang with them through about 8 miles of twisties, I backed off and watched them disappear.  To be honest, I was getting a bit fatigued. Actually I was getting allot fatigued! I know my riding limits well and avoid exceeding them as much as possible. It was time to slow down and pay more attention to the scenery around me. There were allot of yellow butterflies around and allot ended up stuck to my windshield. I also enjoyed the occasional glimpse of MT ST. Helen’s. The volcano was up to it’s old tricks of venting steam plumes from multiple locations within the creator.  The ride through the forest seemed to go on forever. I passed a group of about 15 riders resting near their sport touring and sport bikes. I rode on and finally, seen the first sign pointing the way to the Ape cave. From that point on it’s about 3.5 miles to the parking lot. Once I arrived I purchased a $5.00 day pass to view the caves. I was anxious to get to the cave but also ready for some food and water. I took the next 15 minutes to feed and water the horse (I ate lunch). The benefit of riding a motorcycle is you almost always find parking near the attraction you came to see. In my case I was 25 yards from the trail head. Caged riders were parking alongside the road and walking several hundred yards.

The path to the cave is paved and about 70 yards long. I here you can rent lanterns near the trail head. I was fine with my flash light. So I thought. As I approached the opening of the cave I noticed it was a creator (very large hole) in the earth with stairs leading down to the cave entrance. The forest service built some steel stairways down to the entrance and in the cave itself in areas where there is a steep decline. The first thing I noticed as I entered the cave was the drop in temperature, musty smell and pitch blackRoad-Quest.com WA motorcycle rides roads best hamburgers burgers Ape Caves Washington darkness. Needless to say it was at this point I realized I should have brought or rented a lantern. I walked down the throat of the darkest cave I have ever experienced. My flash light was not cutting it and made for a very rough walk. The cave floor is lava rock and it is very easy to trip or twist an ankle. I made my way down into the darkness snapping a picture from time to time. This was a weird experience because I could see a thing through the view finder and just had to guess and snap. Soon I got to a section of the cave where some folks were coming out. Since they were smarter then I and had lanterns I got a good look at ceiling and cave walls. I was very impressed. Soon I was about 70 yards in the cave and for some reason I got a weird feeling. I actually felt colder and decided I had seen enough of the pitch black dark. I turned and started back. As I was approaching the top of one of the sets of stairs leading out, I suddenly got that weird feeling as well as colder. I could see the light from the cave entrance. I decided to snap a picture. When my flash lit up the section of the cave I saw a weird mist. I snapped 3 more pictures of the same area. Within about 40 seconds the cooler temperature seemed to pass. I continued my trek out of the cave snapping an occasional picture. TheRoad-Quest.com WA motorcycle rides roads best hamburgers burgers Ape Caves Washington view from the cave floor out the top of the creator was spectacular. Once out of the hole in the ground the warm temperature was welcome. I headed down a trail near the Ape cave opening to see what was down it. I walked an ash coved trail for a bit and the trail opened up to a great view of MT ST. Helens from the back side. There were several hikers making there way back to the cave as I took a few pictures. Soon it was time to head back to my bike and start my trek home. After a short but enjoyable walk back, I arrived at the parking lot. I briefly enjoyed some ice water and pepperoni and then fired up the ST1300.

The ride back was just as fun as the ride up. I stopped in Randle at a gas station to take in some fluids. I pulled up next to about 10 Ducati riders that were resting in the shade on the South side of the building. They looked like they were having a blast. I said hello and looked over their bikes briefly then hit the road. As usual, I stopped in Elbe to stretch my legs. There were several Harley’s parked outside the diner on the South side of the road. I engaged in some conversation with a couple of the bikers for about 10 minutes then headed down the road. I find Elbe to be a great place to stop on the way up and back when riding to rainier or up highway 7. By 5:30 PM I had pulled up into my drive way. Once again, I got to enjoy one of Washington’s best rides under the sun with not a drop of rain. It doesn’t get any better!

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