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 Photos by Libby Sterling
                                                       Photo by Sharon Brosamle

For a unique and fascinating
alaskan experience, put on a jacket, gloves and a headlamp and tour under the forest. A geologic treasure 400 million years in the making lies beneath your feet.  Caves, sinkholes and pits have formed in a vast area of karst-chemically weathered limestone bedrock. El Captain Cave, the largest of more than 500 caves on the island offers explores a trip back in time.
     Meet Forest Service guides at the cave interpretive site.  It's a short walk from the dock on El Captain Passage , or a scenic drive north on Route 20 and west on Route 15. After a short talk about the formation and mapping of the cave and important scientific discoveries, pick out a helmet, headlamp and flashlight............then climb.
      The trail zigzags through a living classroom of forest ecology. Rest stops allow for discussion and questions. Enjoy the view at a deck in front of the cave, go over cave safety with your guides and turn on your headlamp.  The first 50 feet of the passage squeezes between boulders and a relatively low ceiling, but it opens out after that. The cave floor is large cobbles that can be slippery with dripping water.  Wear sturdy shoes or boots with good traction. The temperature in the cave is always in the low 40s, so bring warm clothing. The tour goes about 500 feet into the cave. Your guides provide you with information about cave formation, speleothems ( cave features), cave biology and fossil finds; questions along the way are welcome. After the tour, ask about Beaver Falls and Cavern Lake Cave, two sites you can explore on your own.
      The cave is about three hour's drive from Thorne Bay. There are restrooms at the interpretive site, but no water. Helmets, headlamps and flashlights are provided for the tour.
The U.S. Forest Service provides a free two-hour interpretive tour of El Captain Cave May - September.

Make a reservation with Thorne Bay Ranger District two days ahead; call 907-828-3304.

For comfort and safety on the guided tour:
  • Maximum group size is six people
  • Minimun age is 7 years old; No child carriers
  • Equipment: at least one flashlight per person; extra batteries;sturdy footgear,preferably waterproof( rubberboots work best); warm clothing,including gloves ( cave temperature averages 40 degrees F; it's wet in there and in places, muddy) hardhat ( provided by U.S.F.S.)
  • The Cave presents some steep and difficult aress, where walking is strenuous.  
  • The trail to the cave is mostly boardwalk, with 370 stairs.                                                Photos by Libby Sterling