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Boulder Cave: An Adventure in Nature
Boulder Cave Day Use is normally open by Memorial Day weekend. Check
with the Naches Ranger Station in the spring and fall for confirmation. The gate at the Day Site is locked shortly after Labor Day
and opens sometime in late May, depending upon weather conditions. This
area is managed by the Forest Service. There is a charge
of $5.00 per vehicle per day for parking, which includes buses. Northwest Forest Pass, America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass and Interagency Senior/Access passes can be used in lieu of the payment of the $5, if they are displayed properly and the card holder has identification.
The cave attracts in excess of 35 thousand visitors a year!
This day use
site is open 8 a.m. to dusk; the main access gate is closed at dusk each night. There is a two hour limited parking for those parking in the trailhead parking area.
An interpreter is on site throughout the week at Boulder Cave to provide programs associated with the geology and history of the area as well as provide a background on the need to protect the declining bat population. Interpreters also monitor the use of Boulder Cave, Boulder Cave Trail, and the River Walk Trail.
School tours and individual group tours may be arranged by calling Doug Jenkins or Shirley Whitney at (509) 653-1401.
Those using Boulder Cave Trail and visiting the cave will find new signs and trash containers along the trail and at the cave. Please follow posted signs which emphasize staying on the trail and observing all the rules.
Boulder Cave is located near Milepost Marker 95.43 on SR410, approx.
32 miles west of Naches. There is a sign on the road pointing towards Boulder Cave.
Coming from the east (Yakima/Naches towards Chinook Pass), just past Cliffdell turn
left at the first road past Whistlin' Jack Lodge - Forest Service
Coming from the west (Enumclaw) the turn is just before Whistlin' Jack Lodge. Turn to the right on Forest Service
After you turn onto FS Road #1706 you will cross a bridge. Follow the signs to Boulder Cave, approximately 1.4 miles to the right after you cross the bridge.
Pets are allowed along the trail as long as they are kept on a leash and owners clean up after them.
Boulder Cave Trail
Boulder Cave Trail is less than 2 miles long round trip and normally
takes about an hour for the round trip. The trail gains about 200 feet in elevation and can
be slippery in places. The gravel trail runs along the edge of a
deep ravine, climbing gradually through a forest of Douglas-fir
and Ponderosa pine. Devil's Creek flows through the bottom of the
ravine, framed by trees and several species of broad leafed shrubs.
In autumn, the golden tones of the leaves splash new color across
the landscape, contrasting sharply with the evergreen forest.
Approximately 400 feet from the cave, the trail narrows and descends
to bring the visitor to the entrance. A strong flashlight is useful in
the center portion of the cave. A good pair of walking shoes, layered
clothing, and some water is also needed. A visit to the cave is
a cool treat on a warm summer day.
In the canyon’s cool shadow, notice how the plants differ
from those growing on the sunny ridge. As the cave engulfs you,
let some of the other senses explore the darkness. Feel the moisture
in the air. Listen to the creek. Lava that once flowed hot is now
cold and hard to the touch. This is a unique cave. The Boulder Cave
trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1935.
With the voluntary help of a local stone mason, the trail was improved
by the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) in 1987.
The Formation of Boulder Cave
was Boulder Cave created?
Caves are unusual in the northwest, and Boulder Cave is the largest,
most extensive cave of its kind. When most people think of caves,
a limestone caverns or lava tubes come to mind. Boulder Cave is
unlike any cave you have ever been in before. It took millions of
years of volcanic action to create this landscape, and thousands
of years for erosion and weathering to shape the features you’ll
see on your visit.
Over thousands of years, lava flows occurred periodically in the
Yakima basin and covered deposits of soft, loose rock and soil.
The lava cooled, forming hard layers of basalt, and trapping the
softer layers of loose sediment between.
Next, water went to work. Water is a patient sculptor, etching
it’s signature into the basalt for thousands of years. The
water is now carving though soft sedimentary layers of loose rock,
soil, and ash deposited between lava flows. The stream is busy cutting
out a new cave. This is how Boulder Cave may have looked if you
visited Devil’s Creek thousands of years ago.
At Boulder Cave, the water flowing in Devil's Creek eroded a deep
channel through the top layer of hard basalt and the softer layer
of deposits beneath. When Devil’s Creek met the next layer
of hard basalt, the creek stopped its downward action and instead
continued to erode the softer deposits horizontally. In time, the
horizontal erosion carved a hollow pocket underneath the top layer
Approximately 25,000 years ago, the outer edge of this pocket
weakened and collapsed into the hollow below, leaving an archway
350 feet long and 30 feet wide - Boulder Cave!! Today, Devil's Creek
still flows through the cave that it created. The formation of Boulder
Cave is unusual - most caves are old lava tubes or are formed from
groundwater dissolving layers of limestone.
The River trail runs north of the trailhead. It is a 3/4 mile
barrier free paved loop designed to provide easy access to the Naches
River for everyone. Users can leisurely admire nature's beauty or
fish along the Naches River (see State Fishing Regulations for more
specific information). Resting benches and quaint wooden bridges
encourage visitors to linger and enjoy the sights and sounds of
Along the River Trail
Green ribbons of life: Riparian areas are the vibrant green realms
lining a waterway or lake. Logs, rocks, and gravel move in and out,
creating a constantly changing landscape. You will find this place
always in a flex, one plant battling another for dominance. A healthy
riparian area will have plants that provide food, shade, and shelter.
For the same reasons we seek these quiet places, so do the animals,
birds, and fish.
Bountiful haven: This tranquil creek is unique in several ways.
It was man-made rearing ground for juvenile salmon. Fingerlings
spend their first year here. Stream-side plants offer shade to cool
the water from the sun and food to nurture young fish. Logs in the
water provide refuge from predators. The side channel, completed
in 1990 was done by the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.
If you would like to help with such a project, contact a chapter
of Trout Unlimited near you to
the river’s flow: The plants here have transformed from lush
riparian vegetation near the river to drier upland grass and flower
meadows. Grassland is an area where water is collected, absorbed,
and percolated through the soil and into the watershed below. Abundant
grasses hold a watershed together. This will happen in downstream
River ghost – paths of the past: This was once the bed of
the Naches River. You can see dry wash areas and small knolls created
by the water’s current. Imagine how the old river threaded
its way into pools on this flood plain. A river is alive and ever
changing. It’s a restless soul and always searching for a
new course to travel.
Boulder Cave Picnic Area
In the 1920s, the Forest Service created Boulder Cave Recreation
Area for visitors to discover the natural wonders of the cave for
themselves. A picnic area, located near Boulder Cave Trailhead,
is enhanced by a group shelter with a large stone
fireplace that was built by the CCC in 1935. The shelter can not be reserved, but is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Drinking water is supplied
by a few healthy tugs on an old fashioned hand pump at the picnic
area, but not along the Boulder Cave or River Trail. Picnic tables,
fire rings, and a barrier free composting toilet are also on site.
Other Area Opportunities
Opportunities for overnight camping along the Naches River are
nearby. Sawmill Flat Campground, Halfway Flat Campground and Little
Naches Campground are developed sites that are located within five
miles of the Boulder Cave Trailhead. Sawmill Flat offers barrier
free restrooms and sites suitable for larger recreational vehicles.
Food, gas, and lodging are located as close as Cliffdell, two miles
from the Boulder Cave Trailhead.
Big-Eared Bat Hibernaculum
BOULDER CAVE CLOSED October 1st TO May 1st for protection
of the Townsends Big Eared bats.
BATS: Boulder Cave is home to the only known
population of Pacific
Western Big-Eared Bats in this part of Washington State. The
Pacific Western Big-Eared Bat is listed as a sensitive species in
Washington and Oregon. A small population of 50 bats use Boulder
Cave as a hibernaculum’s during the winter. In the 1920s and
1930s, the Boulder Cave bat population numbered in the thousands.
These bats have historically used Boulder Cave during the summer,
but presently do not. The big-eared bat is extremely intolerable
to human disturbance. It appears the heavy human use during the
summer has discouraged the big-eared bat's use.
By implementing the following guidelines, you could help encourage
the bat to use Boulder Cave again.
- Please observe the following in the cave:
- Limit conversation and all noise. Whisper if you must talk.
- Stay on the trail and don't double back.
- Use dim flash lights. Keep the beam directed at the trail.
- Don't build campfires in the cave.
Thank you for your help!
Boulder Cave and Trail #962 leading to Boulder Cave are closed
from October 1 to May 1 to all visitor use. Forest Service Road
#1704 is closed to four-wheeled vehicles from Camp Roganunda to
the washout (approx. 1 mile NW) during the same time period. The
reason for these closures is to discourage vandalism, public safety
(trail and cave have hazardous ice conditions during the winter),
and to protect a sensitive species of bat (Pacific Western big-eared
This highly beneficial species is in rapid decline due to
disturbance during hibernation. Bats must survive the winter months
on a limited supply of stored fat; any disturbance that may awaken
bats will deplete this food supply resulting in their death. Humans
within sight or sound of the bats create sufficient disturbance
to awaken them.
Our thanks to the Naches
Ranger District of the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests
for providing this information on Boulder Cave.