The primates that gave their name to two lava tubes found along this trail were not apes (shocking, I know…)- they were member of a Boy Scout troop who found & explored the tubes. The Mount St Helens Apes – the lava tubes were their cave – all before the 1980 eruption.
The tubes are long tunnels under the Earth’s surface – that run parallel to the surface. Two tubes are offered for visitors – the lower tube is a relatively easy 3/4 mile hike with no elevation gain. A different experience is found in the Upper Tube – a slight elevation gain with main rocks to climb up (or down, depending on your entry point) and an ~8 foot rock wall to scale. Donald pushed me up while two fellow female hikers pulled me up at the same time. Don’t know how I would have made it without their help.
Following the Ape Caves, Lava Canyon is a great display of the volcanic action that occurred at Mount Saint Helens just up the road.
Note: Powerful flashlights with well-charged batteries or a strong lantern are required for walking in the caves. Do not try to explore these spots without a good light.
A pleasant, flat 1.3-mile trail through the old forest links the two lava tubes and leads from the trailhead to these underworld entrances. This trail leads through wonderful old forests. About 1 mile out, the trail passes a small crack in the ground. This “skylight” allows hikers to peer into the caves and allows cave explorers to see a bit of sunlight. The trail ends at the upper cave entrance.
The Ape Canyon experience could be followed by a hike in the Lava Canyon – beginning with the wide, paved Lava Canyon Interpretive Trail, which leads to a viewing platform overlooking a stunning canyon-a deep, jagged cut through a thick layer of ancient lava. From the viewing area, the trail loops down to the canyon rim in a long series of steep (for wheelchair users) switchback turns offering excellent views.
The Muddy River cuts through the heart of this basalt canyon, which was scoured clean by the rushing mudflows during the 1980 eruption. The main Lava Canyon Trail continues east along the wild gorge of the Muddy River. Between the Lava Canyon & the Ape Cave, you can have many Eleanor Roosevelt moments here and do something you are afraid of at least once at day.