North America's third-largest lava tube is preparing to reopen to the public.

Ape Cave, located about 70 miles from Portland on the south side of Mount St. Helens, will welcome back visitors beginning May 18. The attraction has been closed since last spring in response to the pandemic.

The hike plunges visitors beneath the ground into a 42-degree pitch-black tube. Families tend to gravitate toward the easy lower path that's only three-quarters of a mile long, while recreationalists who like more of a challenge are drawn to the longer upper cave, where you must scramble over rock piles and climb over an 8-foot rock wall.

Hikers can opt for one of two routes in Ape Cave, or tackle both. Photo by Andi Prewitt.
Hikers can opt for one of two routes in Ape Cave, or tackle both. Photo by Andi Prewitt.

Upon reopening, Gifford Pinchot National Forest will introduce a timed ticketing system to help mitigate all that traffic. Reservations are available from 9 am to 5 pm daily, May 18 through Sept. 30, and allow visitors to roam the site for two hours.

Seventy percent of those slots will be available beginning at 7 am on April 29, with the remaining openings made available on a rolling basis, three days in advance of each calendar day.

The website used to book admissions will also now charge a $2 user fee—and that does not exempt guests from the traditional recreation fee. Northwest Forest Passes, Interagency Annual Passes and day passes are required and sold online or at stores like REI.

Entrance to the Lower Cave. Photo by Andi Prewitt.
Entrance to the Lower Cave. Photo by Andi Prewitt.