PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The U.S. Forest Service is planning to open the popular Ape Cave Interpretive Site on the south side of Mount St. Helens in mid-May and wants visitors to be aware of the new timed reservation system.
The Ape Cave, a lava tube that stretches more than 2 miles underground, has been closed since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic first impacted the region. The Forest Service says it closed several highly visited sites where they knew it would be difficult for crowds to maintain social distancing.
Now, the Forest Service is hoping the timed reservation system at the Ape Cave will help limit the number of people visiting at the same time.
“It’s being implemented in part because of the pandemic to reduce congestion and to keep the public safe, but it’s also to protect the cave resource. Prior to the pandemic, Ape Cave has been well-loved and visited and quite frankly over-crowded,” explained Gala Miller, public affairs officer on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
She said the reservation system could prove useful in years to come. She said it’s highly likely the Forest Service will continue using the reservation system beyond 2021.
“As more and more people are looking to recreate outdoors and visit places like Ape Cave, we’re doing this to ensure that it’s a safe and enjoyable experience for everybody involved,” Miller said.
The Forest Service says it is also doing this to protect the delicate cave ecosystem and natural resources.
The site will reopen to the public on May 18, but Miller says people can start reserving their time slots at 7 a.m. on April 29. To do so, guests can visit Recreation.gov, the same place they go to claim campsites and climbing permits, and request a reservation for the Ape Cave.
The reservations will be available for any day between May 18, 2021 and September 30, 2021. One permit is required per vehicle, not per person, and the permit will allow guests a two-hour time period to view the cave between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Miller says 70 percent of the permits will be available starting at 7 a.m. on April 29. The remaining reservations will be made available on a rolling basis, three days in advance of each calendar day.
The reservation tickets are free, but there will be a $2 service fee charged for processing the reservation.
The tickets will not be for sale at Ape Cave, but they may be obtained online until the first hour of a two-hour ticket window. The Forest Service recommends people get their tickets ahead of time due to limited cellular coverage near Ape Cave.
The Forest Service also reminds guests that they’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass, Interagency Pass, or Day Pass for their vehicle to visit the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.This pass can be purchased online, through vendors, or at the Ape Cave site.
Miller says as more people are getting vaccinated, the Forest Service is looking forward to providing opportunities for people to gather and reconnect with the natural world.