I would say about 90% of the time I am perfectly content sitting at home and basking in the fluorescent glow of my TV and computer; but when nice weather arrives, I’m always tempted to go out and explore things. Until the outside world begins to annoy me and then I shuffle back into my apartment sanctuary. Homebody aside, I love the idea of spelunking and general cave exploring despite mild claustrophobic attacks and Netflix withdraw. Here are just a few of the many awesome caves open to the public in Northwestern America.
Location: Cougar, Washington
Ape Cave is a 13,042-foot long lava tube cave located in Washington near Mount St. Helens. It has two openings, an easy one for novice explorers and a challenging one for accomplished Indiana Jones types. Ape Cave is the longest continuous lava tube in the continental US and sees heavy traffic all year round. Though the cave is open to the public for exploration and treasure hunting (c’mon, you know that’s what’s in every cave), it is completely pitch black and very, very deep. It’s strongly recommended that anyone entering bring at least two LED flashlights in addition to headlamps.
Location: Cave Junction, Oregon
These beautiful caves are snuggled inside the Siskiyou Mountains and were created from rainwater dissolving marble that surrounded the forest above it. Sure, every cave has it’s fair share of stalactites and stalagmites (remember your middle-school science class, folks), but most aren’t created in marble. Not only are these caves decorated in gorgeous marble, they also are home to many unusual and rare plant and animal life.
Location: Granite Falls, Washington
By far the most dangerous cave location on this list is the Big Four Ice Caves, but they are too beautiful to not be included. As you probably gathered from the name, these caves are complete ice, which makes them ever changing. During the winter and spring months, avalanches and falling ice make the area dangerous. Despite that, tourists can still hike right up to the openings and peer in; hell, you can go in if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it just in case. The snowy caves were formed from decades of snow, waterfalls from above cliffs, and the wind.
Location: Shoshone, Idaho
Mammoth Cave is definitely the most touristy of the bunch, so if you are looking for a secluded getaway I’d save this one for another trip. But if you’re looking for entertainment and a hike, you’ve come to the right place. The cave was created over a million years ago when a volcano erupted and spewed lava 600 feet deep into the valley. In 1902, the first explorers of Mammoth ventured in with nothing but torches (fire ones, not the English version of a flashlight) and discovered an array of animal bones including bear, camel, buffalo, and small horses. They left their names on the wall in charcoal. In the 1960s, the government approached Richard Olsen, who had been caring for the cave since 1945, if it could be used in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War. Today, you can explore, dine, and even pop next door to visit the Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History.
Location: Whitehall, Montana
I couldn’t very well write an article about exploration without including the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana. The caverns are attached to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, which was Montana’s first state park. The caverns are covered in stunning limestone and are naturally air conditioned. The variety of helictites and columns are electrically illuminated and, unlike the Big Four, totally safe to visit up close. Lewis and Clark didn’t actually explore the caverns, they merely camped near it in 1805 while camping beside Antelope Creek. It was well known by Native Americans before the first non-Native Americans, Charles Brooke and Mexican John, “discovered” it in 1882.