Trip Report    

Day Hike - Ape Caves

Summer fun not in the sun? Ape Caves is challenging, unique, and very dark.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • It's a long dark lava tube coated in slime that drips from the ceiling! In other words, it's a FANTASTIC route. 

Our group of 5 adults enjoyed our visit to the upper cave, the longer and more difficult section. A full parking lot on a Friday afternoon at the interpretive center but few people seemed interested in exploring the full length of the upper cave so we had it almost entirely to ourselves.


Do not underestimate the power of the Dark Side of the Force- err, sorry, the darkness of the cave! 2 of our party members thought that their headlamps were not bright enough. I brought a Petzl Swift RL (900 lumens) which I use for trail running at night & wore an Ultra Aspire waist light (600 lumens). My headlamp was by far the best performing of our group’s and I used it to climb ahead on the rockfalls then turn around and illuminate the way for them. The Ultra Aspire waist belt light helped but its more diffuse beam alone was not as helpful (I tried using it on its own as a test, seemed much dimmer.) Having 2 lights per person was key plus some extras in my pack aided in my psychological security.

Next time I will also bring some glow sticks and fun lights to attach to my pack!


Also do not underestimate the difficulty of this route. There are at least 20 rockfalls with NO CLEAR BEATEN PATH through so you absolutely must be comfortable with rock scrambling using hands and feet together and deciding on your own how to get across… fortunately navigating is super simple since if you pick, say, the wrong side of a rockfall you’ll just dead end quickly at the wall of the lava tube… plus the 8-foot lip that you must climb up with the aid of a rather tattered looking rope and one solid bucket foothold on your left. The male member of our group assisted some of us with a boost to start then we 4 women (5’ to 6’ in height, ages 40-70) were able to hoist ourselves and clamber up and over. A bruised knee was a distinct possibility here!

Sturdy footwear and sturdy gloves also were critical. One of our party members tore a fabric glove on the rough surface of the rocks. I wore rubberized fish cleaning gloves that are waterproof and have a fluffy insulated layer on the inside. No problems. The cave was cold and dripping as described. I wore heavy soft shell pants, waterproof hiking boots, base layer top, fleece top, and a hard shell jacket and was comfortable. If we had stopped for any length of time I would have needed the hat and parka in my pack.

The ladder at the far end was no problem for our group- way easier than the rock scrambles. But it could be challenging for those who don’t like heights. See pic. We went one at a time. From the trail sign at the exit head to your left (when facing the sign) and the trail back to the interpretive center is straightforward. One or two small mushy snow patches.


Final note: no cell phone service in the cave but we all got cell phone service in the parking lot. We also noted that we would have had no way to easily describe where we were in the cave as there are few landmarks besides the skylight opening, the start and the end. Next time I will count the rockfalls! Just in case we get in trouble and have to send someone to the surface for help. There are no signs after the initial staircase.