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Mount St. Helens Ape Cave & Lava Tubes Family Visit

We love exploring new places with our kids and we always try to travel in a way that keeps the kids happy and maintains regular schedules and nap routines. When we planned our summer trip down the Washington, Oregon and California coast, my husband spent quite a lot of time researching interesting family-friendly travel destinations along the West Coast. Here are the highlights from our family visit to the Mount St. Helens lava tubes and Ape Cave in Washington State.

Mount Saint Helens lava tubes boardwalks

Washington Mount St. Helens tree trunk lava tubes

Mount St. Helens Tree Trunk Lava Tubes

It can be challenging to find interesting family travel destinations that are easy enough to visit with babies and toddlers. I’m always impressed by families who travel a lot with kids because I know how hard it can be! One of our first stops on our West Coast summer trip was the Mount St. Helens lava tubes in Washington.

These huge underground tubes were formed by tree trunks that were buried in lava from a past Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption and later rotted away, leaving tunnels under the rock.

Climbing down the Mount St. Helens lava tubes

The lava tubes are surrounded by boardwalks so as long as you keep young kiddos on the wooden paths they will be safe and can easily view the lava tubes. My little man is a new walker and he loved exploring the forest via boardwalk. My only concern was that he didn’t walk too close to the edge to peer into the huge lava tubes holes that go a good 6 feet down into the ground. One lava tube allows people to climb down a ladder and crawl underground a fair way to the exit. If you aren’t claustrophobic, the lava tube tunnel crawl is an adventurous activity to do with kids. My husband was even able to squeeze through the underground tunnel.

Lava Tube Highlights:

  • Interesting nature-made terrain and rock formations to explore
  • Easy walking paths on the boardwalks
  • Interactive opportunities for climbing and crawling through the lava tubes


  • Kids can fall off the boardwalks if left unsupervised
  • Some the tubes are 6 foot holes in the ground
  • Few park rangers around; you explore at your own risk

Mount St. Helens lava tube crawl

It’s a good idea to be careful as you crawl along the tube because lava rock is sharp and pitted which can easily cause cuts and scrapes. This tube was formed from lava from Mount St. Helens flowing over a fallen tree, cooling, and the tree later rotting away.

Ape Cave family hike in Washington

Ape Cave Hike – Washington State

After we finished walking around the lava tube boardwalks, we headed over to Ape Cave, which was discovered by a local logger and named by the Ape Boy Scout troop who were the first ones to explore the cave. We hiked down the stone steps into the mouth of the cave. We took the upper passage inside the cave which leads to a large cavern and to a big rock pile, which is as far as we got. The rock pile led to a smaller opening inside the cave that was too challenging to hike up with toddlers and a baby in the backpack. Another hiker told us the cave’s upper passage leads to a sheer rock wall later on that you have to scale. The cave’s lower passage sounds like it may have been an easier path for young kids, but we had fun exploring the inside of the cave and learning about the bats that live there.

Hiking through Ape Cave in Washington

We enjoyed our hike through Ape Cave upper passage. The cave was pitch dark, cool and damp inside. The main upper cavern is easy enough for a child to walk through.

Ape Cave Highlights:

  • Upper and lower passage hiking options
  • Upper passage leads to a spacious cavern young families can easily explore with flashlights
  • Wide range of hiking options for all abilities
  • Rock scrambling and wall scaling further down the upper passage


  • The pile of rocks shortly after the main cavern is hard for kids to climb
  • Wear protective footwear; the floor of the cave is rocky and uneven
  • The upper passage gets narrower and harder to navigate after the main cavern
  • The cave is pitch dark, so bring flashlights or headlamps!

Ape Cave family travel destination in Washington

Ape Cave family hike and travel destination in Washington state

Our visit to these natural landmarks in Washington State easily filled an afternoon and tired the kids out; they were ready to go back to our RV motorhome for snacks and naps. A visit to the Ape Cave or lava tubes is a great afternoon activity if you live in the area or are just passing through and want to explore these unique natural formations.

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5 years ago

Very cool! I used to do some “spelunking” in caves in southern IL, caves are fascinating….and terrifying at the same time if you’re claustrophobic like me 😀