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9 of the Best Caves in Washington State for a Breathtaking Adventure

By | Last Updated: 13th January 2024

Washington houses an incredible collection of caves, from lava tubes to ice caves to limestone caves. Exploring most of them is fun and does not require you to be an advanced spelunker. Some need a short hike through a scenic landscape to reach them, like Layser Cave and Big Four Ice Caves. Also, you would get an insight into how the Native Americans and early pioneers used some caves like Guler Ice Caves, Cheese Caves, and Layser Caves.

Caves in Washington

Caves in Northern Washington

1. Tree Root Cave

Tree Root Cave in Northern Washington

More than a typical cave, Tree Root Cave is a unique natural wonder featuring a living tree with visible roots and no soil to hold it into place. Despite this, the tree is alive with a lush green top, sitting on a coastal bluff whose foundation eroded over time with water activities. You can visit it near Kalaloch Lodge to witness the inexplicable spectacle of nature, which has been aptly nicknamed the Tree of Life.

Things to do around here: A hike along the Kalaloch Creek Nature Trail to enjoy the picturesque landscape within Olympic National Park would be ideal to spend some time. Moreover, there’s a beach at close access to engage yourself in some fun activities and the Kalaloch Campground to for an overnight stay.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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2. Gardner Cave

Gardner Cave in Northern Washington

The nation’s longest limestone cave, Gardner Cave, sits within Crawford State Park in the state’s northeastern corner. Though it is over 1000 feet long, only the first 494 feet is accessible by the public by guided tours only. An advanced reservation is necessary to avail the tour that lasts for approximately an hour. As you get to the depth of the cave, you will be able to see the stunning formations of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and rimstone pools. In addition to the reservation, you’ll also have to purchase a Discover Pass worth $10 per day to visit the state park and get access to other locations like the surrounding trails, water-access sites, and wildlife areas.

The cave maintains a temperature between 39°F and 42°F, thus being pretty cool even during summer. It remains open only from May to September from Thursday through Monday.

Things to do around here: You can have fun picnicking in the picnic shelter or wander around the surrounding forested area.

Hours of operation: 9 am to 6 pm

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3. Big Four Ice Caves

Big Four Ice Caves in Northern Washington

Big Four Ice Caves within Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are in close proximity to the city of Granite Falls in northwestern Washington. You will have to tread along a broad gravel and boardwalk trail for about half a mile to access it. These are snow caves formed by melting snow cascading down the cliff in the form of a waterfall. It looks fascinating from the outside and may even appear pretty inviting to explore on a warm day. However, you will see signs clearly warning visitors against crossing the viewing point at the end of the trail, just outside the cave. Several fatal accidents have occurred before while trying to enter into or climb on it.

Things to do around here: A picnic in the designated area would be excellent while you spot several bird species flying overhead.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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Caves in Southern Washington

1. Guler Ice Caves 

Guler Ice Caves in Southern Washington

Guler Ice Caves is a lava tube near Mt. Adams within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. A wooden stairway will lead you down to the mouth of the 650-foot long extensive network of caves having a temperature of about 32°F throughout the year. Once you enter it, you can enjoy the jaw-dropping sights of intricate ice formations like stalagmites and stalactites adorning the cave ceilings and walls. The highlight, however, is the Crystal Grotto, a spectacular feature caused by bacterial and fungal growth, creating a glittery effect.

Native Americans and early pioneers used the cave hundreds of years ago to store perishable items like berries or supply ice. It is best to visit it during the spring or early summer when the ice forms the most crystal-like structures. Do put on a pair of sturdy shoes or boots and carry a flashlight to help you explore the interiors.

Things to do around here: Once you complete your exploration, you can enjoy picnicking in the picnic area near the parking lot. You can also explore the nearby Cheese Caves or tread along the hiking trails in the vicinity to soak in the surrounding beauty.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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2. Cheese Caves

Cheese Caves in Southern Washington

A short drive down the dirt road near Trout Lake in Klickitat County will bring you to the Cheese Caves in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The 2060-foot lava tube was earlier used as a natural refrigerator by the Guler Cheese Company. The remnants of wooden shelves used for storing cheese remain inside to date.

The drop in temperature can be clearly felt as you descend the wooden ladder to enter the cave. On reaching the base of the stairs, look up to notice the surrounding walls covered with flow ledges and lavacicles. Though the cave floor is mainly flat, you will occasionally find piles of rocks and boulders. The remains of the wooden racks lie underneath the metal ladder that leads to the foundation of the Guler Cheese Factory. Do remember to wear layered clothes as the cave maintains a constant temperature of 42°F.

Things to do around here: You can take in the jaw-dropping views of the nearby Mt. Adams. The Husum Falls are also not far away from here, where you can indulge in whitewater rafting.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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3. Layser Cave

Layser Cave in Southern Washington

A short and easy hike through a dense forest will lead you to Layser Cave in southwestern Washington. Though it is small and does not take much time to explore, learning and experiencing its past makes the visit worthwhile. Native Americans used this cave as their shelter thousands of years ago. Archeologists have gathered abundant onsite evidence like stone tools and animal tools that date back to the time. Make sure to stoop inside to imagine how people lived there thousands of years ago.

Things to do around here: Enjoy exploring the surrounding spots to soak in the scenery and stunning views of Mt. Adams.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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4. Ape Cave

Ape Cave in Southern Washington

With about 2.5 miles in length, Ape Caves in Gifford Pinchot National Forest is the third largest lava tube in North America. It gets its name from the Boy Scout troop that explored it in the early 1950s. A short and scenic hike of less than half a mile through lush greenery and towering trees will bring you to the staircase that descends to its dark interiors. Once you reach the bottom, you will find the cave splitting into two passageways. The upper portion requires scrambling to access the 1.5-mile tunnel and 8-foot tall lava fall. The lower section is much broader and can be easily explored by spelunkers of any skill level. You can self-navigate both these segments at your own pace to admire the various cave formations. Remember to put on warm clothes as the cave maintains a temperature of 42°F even in the summer season.

Do remember that the cave remains closed in the winter season and does not open until spring in April. Reservations are mandatory to visit during the open seasons.

Things to do around here: If you’re seeking further adventure, you can consider hiking to Mt. St. Helens. Even if you don’t feel like treading along the trail, you can spend time enjoying its breathtaking views from the base.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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5. Boulder Cave

Boulder Cave in Southern Washington

Located within Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest in south-central Washington, Boulder Cave requires a 1.5-mile hike to access it. Created many years ago by volcanic actions and the continuous flow of Devil’s Creek, it is home to bats whose population has sharply declined due to frequent human exploration in the past. It now remains closed from the end of September to the end of May when they visit the cave during their hibernation period.

When the cave is open, it’s quite fun to explore the interiors, especially with your kids. Though it is advisable to carry your flashlights, make sure not to point directly to the cave ceiling or walls as it would disturb any bats residing there. Do keep in mind that entering this area requires a day pass worth $5 per vehicle.

Things to do around here: You will find a picnic site near the trailhead where you can enjoy your meals. If wishing for an overnight stay, several campgrounds dot along the nearby Naches River like Sawmill Flat Campground, Halfway Flat Campground, and Little Naches Campground.

Hours of operation: 8 am to 8 pm

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6. Falls Creek Cave

Falls Creek Cave in Southern Washington

Falls Creek Cave is a lesser-known cave in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. However, it is ideal for those seeking some adventurous and challenging spelunking. Its entrance is pretty confusing to find as three collapsed sections of the lava tube exist here. Out of these, accessing the entry point of the second section will lead you to the interior. Once you are on the cave floor, you will have to scramble over plenty of rocks and boulders to explore the 1.2 miles long passageways. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, knee pads, and a light sweater as the temperature is no more than 40°F.

Things to do around here: You can plan a backpacking trip or hike at the nearby Indian Heaven Wilderness to explore nature’s spectacle, from colorful wildflowers to pristine lakes.

Hours of operation: 24 hours

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Best Caves with Waterfalls: Big Four Ice Cave, Guler Ice Caves

Best Underground Caves: Gardener Cave, Falls Creek Cave, Ape Cave

Best Ice Caves: Big Four Ice Caves, Guler Ice Cave

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