Ape Cave Trail

#1 of 155 trails in Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Ape Cave Trail is a 2.9 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Cougar, WA that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.

2.9 miles 400 feet Out & Back
kid friendly birding hiking nature trips trail running walking cave views wild flowers old growth no dogs
Hide Map

From Vancouver, WA, north on 1-5 to Highway 503, exit 21. Drive east 35 miles to Forest Service Road 83. Turn left and drive 2 miles to Forest Service Road 8303. Turn left and drive 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.

Megan E.
14 days ago

David Vasquez
28 days ago

2 Completed1 Reviews

It's cool. We started on top, across the harden lava fields and entered the cave at the Upper Cave entrance, which is recommended, and with a few flash lights it was a good experience.

Edward Geisler
1 month ago

3 Completed3 Reviews

Did both the lower and upper trail. Always a favorite to introduce new people to hiking since it is so unusual. Had fun with a bat not letting me and my buddy pass a narrow spot in the cave. Maybe the manly screaming and yelling of 2 grown men convinced the bat to continue on.

Kelli N.
1 month ago

Great family fun!

Sandy Chang
1 month ago

10 Completed3 Reviews

This was such an awesome experience! The lava tubes were super cool, even with water dripping on you from the ceiling. There were a couple interesting parts to get through, like the 8 ft. wall you have to scale up. But that's the fun part! Definitely worth it!

Randy-Jamie Collins
1 month ago

8 Completed8 Reviews

What a fun adventure to share with the family! We had 4 kids under 5 with us (one of which was on my back) and it was manageable. At the more rocky parts and at the part with the rope little ones will need help but still manageable. Snow has mostly melted off now, there is some at the exit of the trail but only about 2 inches. Really great trip!

Brandon Bush
1 month ago

4 Completed4 Reviews

Amazing and a fun experience! I recommend walking to the exit of the upper cave and walk back to the entrance. Much easier as your walking downhill from the exit to the entrance.

Brennan Colson
2 months ago

1 Completed1 Reviews

Good for the kids and family

Monica F.
2 months ago

Hiked the Upper Cave trail today. Was able to drive to the Table of Two Forests Parking lot, road closed (gated) to further traffic. Per the signs prior to the parking lot, Sno Park permit needed (check online needed through March 31st). Arrived at 11ish, plenty of parking in this lot. A few little patches of snow on the ground off the road, but that was all the snow. Walked up the road to the Ape Caves parking lot and entered the caves down a set of stairs. Liked the info available on the caves (history, formation, types of animals/insects we may see).at the cave entrance. Followed the signs for the Upper Caves. Floor is uneven, several areas of scrambling for some time over rocks. Nice to have a headlamp to have two hands available to balance yourself as you scramble over the boulders. 4 or 5 different spots of this type of scrambling. 8 ft wall has one or two good footholds and a rope to help pull yourself up. Wall does not go straight up, it kind of curves back. Came to a couple of areas where you need to squeeze between a large boulder and the side of the cavern. Nice break when you get to the skylight area. A few more minutes and you are at the exit of the caves. Exited the caves via a ladder, came out a hole in the ground to snow. A couple of inches. Was lightly raining today, snow is melting off. Then hiked on the above ground trail back to the entrance. Did take us 2-1/2 hours or so to complete the whole route. Different hike, thoroughly enjoyed and looking forward to completing again when the weather is better. Only saw/heard two groups the whole time we were there, saw more hikers arriving as we were leaving, above ground.

James Harms
4 months ago

7 Completed7 Reviews

Took the family here for the day. Not to far from Mt. St. Helen's. There is an upper and lower trail. We went on the upper trail. make sure you bring back up lighting, a good camera and night vision video camera. I brought a IR camera, helped a lot when the lights are out. 5 kids and a pregnant wife. was a few spots we had to climb but was not to bad. I don't think you could get lost there is only 2 ways to go. Up or Down. LoL
Bring lunch and a good boots or shoes.

James Harms
4 months ago

7 Completed7 Reviews

Took the family here for the day. Not to far from Mt. St. Helen's. There is an upper and lower trail. We went on the upper trail. make sure you bring back up lighting, a good camera and night vision video camera. I brought a IR camera, helped a lot when the lights are out. 5 kids and a pregnant wife. was a few spots we had to climb but was not to bad. I don't think you could get lost there is only 2 ways to go. Up or Down. LoL
Bring lunch and a good boots or shoes.

Nancy Fernandez
5 months ago

1 Completed1 Reviews

It was a great workout! Ended up with a few bruises on my legs and arms after crawling and climbing a few boulders.
Definitely planning on going back to snowshoe and experience the cave during winter when there is less people.

michael anfang
6 months ago

16 Completed15 Reviews

Aja Hantel
7 months ago

4 Completed3 Reviews

We started the trail around 10am. The weather was nice and cool which I love on hikes since you get sweaty. It was myself and 3 friends. We started at the main entrance to the caves close to the parking area. Descending was cool, the caves are colder than the outside temp and you can feel the cold breeze. We did the Lower Cave first since it is the shortest. It is fairly easy, no real obstacles. It is hard because the ground is uneven and you have to constantly watch where you step so you don't mess up an ankle. For this cave a hand flashlight is okay. I had a flashlight and headlamp so I was able to see fairly good. Once we reached the end of the Lower Cave we turned around and headed for the upper. We decided to go straight into the Upper Caves instead of surfacing and hiking above ground.

The Upper Cave definitely was harder for us. It seemed to go on forever with lots of boulder obstacles and a couple of times you have to spider climb up walls. For this I HIGHLY RECOMMEND A HEADLAMP because you need your hands free to navigate the boulders. You find yourself watching your step a lot. By the end I was soaked in sweat and a sore, I'm not that fit myself so I expected it. One companion is bigger and she completed it with us, I was proud of her. My other 2 companions were fairly fit and did the hike fine. I was happy that they were just as sweaty and tired as me. The walk back above ground was refreshing with light rain and wind.

Lower Cave: Easy, good for children. Can use flashlight or headlamp. Light layers because you will warm up as you move. Recommend bringing water.
Upper Cave: Harder difficulty. Headlamp for sure. Light layers you can strip off if you get hot. I didn't mind doing everything in a long sleeved tshirt, put on my sweatshirt above ground. It is damp in the caves so water does drip on you, some places have cold air running through, some have stale air. Recommend a Camel-pack full of water to help hydrate you because you will get sweaty. If you have gloves they help. I didn't have them and my hands and knees got muddy and a little scraped and knees bruised from climbing around. Nothing bad though.

Overall great to experience, took us about 5 hours for the whole cave and hike back. We did take our time in the upper cave to be safe and explore a bit. Watch out for other people if it is busy, there were several groups of younger people when we went, they weren't much for watching where they were going and didn't have the patience to wait for you. Many times I had to stop and just let them pass because they would just barrel past you otherwise.


Craig Cardon
7 months ago

1 Completed1 Reviews

Took a youth group to through the Upper Caves. Very cool hike. It was a cold rainy day so there was not a lot of other people in the caves which was good because our group, of 20 boys, was fairly noisy. The kids really enjoyed the hike and none of them had any trouble making it all the way. There was a fair amount of scrambling, but nothing too intense. Highly recommend a headlamp and not just a flashlight. Even though it was very cool in the caves the kids found themselves taking off their heavy coats. We were fortunate to not have any injuries but it is something you want to prepare for. A sprained ankle is a real possibility and could cause a lot of problems in making your way out.

Daniel Barlow
7 months ago

3 Completed2 Reviews

Adam Wilson
8 months ago

19 Completed18 Reviews

We did the upper cave in about an hour and a half, moving pretty quick. It's surreal, like nothing else on the planet. If you have the chance to do this, do it.

The upper cave is a Class 2 scramble, and hands are often necessary. You'll need a headlamp and sturdy boots, and a helmet would be a good safeguard but isn't exactly necessary. Bring extra batteries and a light jacket, as the temp in the cave is 43-ish degrees year-round.

The rock is sharp. This means your footholds are usually very grippy, and a fall can easily mean blood. Bring a first aid kit.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend the upper cave to kids, but if your kids are 6+ and able to scramble over rocks and navigate tricky footholds, then go for it.

Last but not least, don't be a jerk. There is a lot of trash and vandalism in certain parts of the cave. Pick up and pack out what you can, and do NOT leave trash, urinate, defecate or smoke in the cave. You'd think this was obvious, but we saw evidence of all of the above.

Shyloe Neizman
8 months ago

34 Completed10 Reviews

Shane Silvey
8 months ago

40 Completed40 Reviews

It's very dark and nothing but rocks. You will have to scramble up and down rocks and this takes a long time in the upper part. You will need a good light source. The lower section is an easy walk but the upper part is the hard one. After hiking out, you will need to hike through the woods back to the parking lot. Overall, it is a great experience and takes much longer than you would think it would.

Travis Chamberlain
9 months ago

1 Completed1 Reviews

It was good for family hiking. Wouldn't recommend if you have bad knees.