The Cascades of southern Washington are home to an array of caves, formed from thousands of years of volcanic activity. Glacial ice caves and lava tubes lay scattered among these mountains, brimming with stalactites, stalagmites and other formations. For the cave enthusiast, this is the place to be. The Guler Ice Cave, located near Mt. Adams in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, is part of a 650-foot-long cave network in the Indian Heaven Volcanic Field and offers a spectacular range of rock and ice features. The ice cave retains much of these impressive features year-round due to the lower eastern end of the cave, which traps the cold air that comes in during the winter. This cave once served as the ice supply for communities of The Dalles and Hood River across the Columbia River.
You can reach the ice cave by a long wooden staircase that descends 20 feet straight into the darkness. The forest service recommends a flashlight, sturdy shoes and a helmet in case of falling rock or ice. As you descend into the cave, the temperature will drastically drop, so bring layers for warmth. Once you’ve stepped down into the cave, you’re ready to explore. Turn right for the longest section of the cave or choose left for a natural bridge. Remember to study or take a photo of the cave map near the entrance or pick up a map at the Mt. Adams ranger station, as the dark cave can be difficult to navigate without knowing where to go.
If you choose to go right, after 250 feet you’ll find the “pit,” another entrance to the cave. For the more adventurous types, you can exit the cave by crawling through this entrance. Exploring more of the cave will lead you to a natural bridge and a small chamber called the “Crack Room.” Choose to explore the larger sections of the cave, or, if you wish, crawl to small, secret chambers scattered throughout. If you go during the colder months, a feature called the Crystal Grotto will be present in the caves, providing spectacular ice features.
To further explore the cave, more daring cave enthusiasts can hike McClellan’s Trail to access additional “pits” or natural openings to the cave. The first pit is within 120 feet, and the other pits are found shortly after.
Above the cave is the Ice Cave Picnic Area, a cluster of tables and fire pits available for use, so bring a lunch and make a day of it. After you’ve explored the Guler Ice Cave, make sure to hike to the Natural Bridge Interpretive Site, located a short seven-minute drive from the cave.
The Guler Ice Cave is a two-hour drive from Portland, Oregon. For directions and more information about the cave, visit the Gifford Pinchot National Forest website at fs.usda.gov/activity/giffordpinchot/recreation/otheractivities. For information about visiting the Mt. Adams region, go to mtadamschamber.com.