Portland, Oregon, is well-known as a hippie town. The off-the-beaten-path music scene and outdoorsy lifestyle make it a safe haven for offspring of 1960s flower children, and its liberal politics make it famous among the younger generations. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons someone would come to Portland. But, there is also another, a lesser-known reason to visit this gem in the Great Pacific Northwest!
Inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, there is a two and a half mile long cave called “Ape Cave.” It was formed thousands of years ago by the molten hot lava flowing out of Mt. St. Helens. Since its discovery in 1951, it has hosted 170,000 visitors each year. When you look inside, it’s easy to understand why!
Ape Cave was discovered by a group of Boy Scouts in the early 1950s. They were sponsored by a forestry group called the St. Helen’s Apes, so they decided to name the cave after their funders. It is still colloquially known by this name, and countless blog articles can be found that detail everything you need to know about taking a trip into the underworld.
To enter the cave, you must descend down a long set of stairs. But, be careful! The staircase is sometimes slippery and easy to slip on. You’ll also need to bring a flashlight. Once you’re inside the cave, it’s very dark! In addition, you’ll need to bring along a jacket. Temperatures inside the cave are about forty-two degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
There are two options for hikes inside the cave. The first choice is the Upper Route. It is three-quarters of a mile long and takes about an hour to complete. Your second option is the Lower Route. It is about one and a half miles long and will take roughly two hours. This trail requires some climbing and moving over rocks that obstruct the pathway.
The cave is made up of basaltic rock. This is a relatively rare type of rock that typically forms from molten lava cooling rapidly. This specific cave is thought to be the only basaltic cave ever created from a Mt. St. Helen’s eruption.
Its ceilings are about thirty feet high throughout. To create these high ceilings, scientists believe that lava would have had to flow through the crevices for several months, or perhaps even a year.
If you’re looking for a chance to go exploring in Ape Cave, you’ll just have to get a plane ticket to Portland. Tickets cost five dollars, and parking permit may be necessary if it’s the winter season. The trails are open year round, so dress for the weather, grab a flashlight, or headlamp, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime! Don’t forget your camera, though- you’ll need it to capture these beautiful sights!
Yes, Portland is a hippie town. But, to limit it to that one description is to limit its potential. Outside the hustle and bustle of the city is a beautiful, unique natural phenomenon. If you have the opportunity to visit Ape Cave, definitely give it a shot!