After several years of consistently exploring around the Pacific Northwest, I’d like to think I’m aware of most of the major local sights or at least know where to turn for new ideas (hello Instagram!) but sometimes things just manage to pass under the radar. For whatever reasons that’s exactly what happened with the Guler Ice Caves, an incredible place that I completely missed.
In fact, it wasn’t until I was flipping through a Washington State tourism brochure that I even heard of the caves but as you can imagine, once I knew, I had to start driving!
Warning: Entering a cave obviously comes with dangers, especially a frozen one! Be sure to bring proper layers for the cold, good shoes / traction for walking on ice, a strong headlamp and a helmet with you.
Getting to the ice caves
Located just a few minutes outside the town of Trout Lake (Google Map directions), the caves can easily be reached by heading up towards the South Side of Mount Adams on Road 141 (yes, you can combine this with a climbing trip) and continuing west through town (there’s a ranger station, a few stores, restaurants and a gas station in town as well FYI.)
The road changes names to NF-24 as you enter the National Forest land though you won’t make a single turn until the dirt road for the ice caves turn off appears on your left (spur 031.) This is a well marked area that you can’t miss and the road is as of this post in great shape.
When you see the sign post for the caves about a half mile in you have arrived. There’s a large picnic area with a few day use sites including tables, BBQ pits and a couple restrooms that the dirt road loops around to as well. I’m sure the place can be quite popular in summer but on a weekday afternoon I had it all to myself!
Exploring the wonders of the main cave
The main entrance for the cave is located just a couple yards from the parking area (right ahead.) As you can imagine, an ice filled cave poses all sorts of risks from rocky and slippery footing to the very real risk of having ice or rock come down from above (hello helmet!) While this entrance is incredibly accessible, I strongly suggest heeding the warning sign and I certainly urge you to minimize your impact to the cave and especially to the ice so others can enjoy it as well.
From the mouth of the cave you’ll descend about 20 steps to get inside (seriously, it’s that accessible) but even just looking in from above is pretty incredible. Walking down the stairs is like entering another world as the temps go down to near if not below freezing in just a few steps (for me it was nearly 80 on the surface!) Having a jacket, a shell to block any dripping water, gloves and good shoes will make for a much more comfortable visit.
Showing up in June may have been later than ideal (colder temps in winter or early Spring mean more ice of course) but even still, I found the bottom of the stairs surrounded by a thick blanket of snow with slick ice just below it and photos suggest the entire staircase may be covered up earlier in the year. I dawned microspikes before continuing on though obviously suggest you try to stick to ice and avoid impacting any rock if you do so.
As you step into the cave the view is really something else
On my visit ice formations covered just about every corner, getting more and more impressive as I peered back further into the this ~250′ deep room. The floor was often coated in thick sheets of ice with large bulges growing up while the ceiling had numerous formations dripping down and several columns spanned all the way from top to bottom!
Having a headlamp is an obvious necessity for any cave but the way it brings the ice to life (try using your red / green night mode on the formations as well) is something else.
In the middle of this part of the cave was presumably the coldest part which allowed for the growth of a whole cluster of formations that I must have spent half an hour gawking at and trying to snap shots of. Truthfully no photo I could take really captured the view and certainly no image tells the “feeling” of the ice being all around.
There was plenty more ice to see even further back in this section of the cave and plenty more to explore though with so much ice growth from 2017’s incredible winter, it was easy to just keep looking around the same area over and over to take in all the details. Of course as the photos show, there is also plenty of evidence of chucks of ice crashing down from above so every step in and out was just as much about watching surroundings as taking in the view!
Entering the other parts of the cave
My first visit was admittedly short being a last minute decision and all and far from complete. Per the trailhead sign, there are four sections to the cave with several different levels of entrances ranging from the stairs to tight squeezes and I only have photos to share of the first with you here. As such, I’ve listed out an extensive collection of guides & reviews that are well worth reading before making your own trip though I’m sure I will be back very soon and with updates to share!
- https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Guler_Ice_Cave_Hike (details on getting to the other parts of the cave)
- https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/guler-ice-cave-hike-washington/ (even more details on the other entrances)
- http://www.hawkinwinter.com/guler-ice-caves/ (details on the caves, gear and photography)
Quick facts about the trail
- Official Rating: Easy (with serious risks)
- Start point: Guler Ice Caves Picnic Area
- Distance: Just a few dozen yards
- Duration: 1 hour
- Climb: Under 50′
- Crowds: Light to Heavy
- Recommended time: Winter & Spring (additional hike in may be required)
- Facilities: Vault toilet, picnic tables, BBQ pits
- Water: At the Trout Lake Ranger Station
- Parking: Dirt lot, many side road spots as well
- Fees: Recreation Pass in peak season, Sno-park in winter
- Permits: None for day hikers