Weekend getaway: The Ape Cave

What: The Ape Cave is a 21/2-mile lava tube on the south side of Mount St. Helens. The cave can capture the imagination of explorers of all ages and has sections that can be visited even by small children. The lower cave is an easy walk and can be accessed by a staircase near the parking lot. If you are looking for a hardier trip, you can walk the length of the cave scrambling over large rock piles as you go.

When: The cave is open all year, but the headquarters is only open from late June through Labor Day.

Where: In Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument near Cougar.

History: Formed by an eruption 2,000 years ago, Ape Cave is the only one of the more than 50 lava tubes around Mount St. Helens that can be visited without special permission.

Getting there: Follow state Route 503 through Cougar and continue on Forest Service Road 90. Seven miles past Cougar, turn left on Forest Service Road 83. After two more miles turn left on Forest Service Road 8303 and continue to the trailhead.

Cost: A $5 Northwest Forest Pass is needed for each vehicle visiting the cave.

Of note: Forest rangers recommend 21/2 hours to explore the entire cave. They also suggest three light sources and spare batteries. Don’t forget sturdy shoes, warm clothes and a helmet.

More information: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, 360-247-3900