We might call Spokane our home town these days but for decades before now we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. We moved in December, 2014 and one of the reasons we moved to Spokane was that we could drive a half-hour in any direction and wind up in the forest. That’s hard to find in the Bay Area without dealing with traffic. And a half-hour on the freeway (California) is a lot farther than a half-hour of surface streets (Spokane). The Bay Area also has Mendocino (we love to SCUBA dive there), Tahoe and Yosemite. But those can all be full or crowded. if you pick a peak time of year. Just try to find camping spots, on short notice, in Mendocino during abalone season. That happened to us when the campground we reserved spaces at gave away our reservation.
Anyway, that half-hour drive in Spokane? We found out that could also just be ten minutes if we had to one of the many city parks that have fir trees and hills to hike though. We could also find ourself in a full forest in just 2 hours, exploring a cave 95 feet under ground and gazing at bioluminescent calcite deposits. Such was the case when I went on a digital hunt for waterfalls to hike to and discovered that one of the falls we wanted to visit was close to a cave in Crawford State Park, Washington.
Gardner Cave is A lovely two hour drive from Spokane. We traveled north along the Pend Oreille (pronounced “Ponderay”) River and passed wooded forests, agricultural fields, and old homes (many were abandoned). This was One of the best road trips we’ve had in the Inland Northwest after journeying through new scenery and discovering landscapes we hadn’t seen before.
One particular instance is when I thought My Mechanic was messing with me and asked if I had seen the man in the window of the home I was trying to snap a photo of. I did not see it. I didn’t even believe him and thought he was trying to freak me out. it was a ploy to see if I’d waste time by szommin in every piece of glass that I had caught. I didn’t catch anything except a blur of the house.
Once we arrived in Metaline (south of the town of Metaline Falls) we turned left onto Boundary Road where our drive would take us 11 miles and end in a parking lot. A tour guide stood in front of the bathrooms and as we exited the car we discovered a crazy number of paper wasps who were more interested in eating the freshly squashed bugs on the front of the car, than biting us. I’m sure if we had swatted violently at them, we’d have been bitten.
The bathrooms have full plumbing and running water. They were clean and well-stocked. My daughter didn’t understand how the sink worked since it was a push faucet and so she got a lesson in (analog) plumbing. My only issue with the women’s bathroom is that the bottom of the stall walls were tall enough that if my neighbor tried with little effort to see my butt cheeks, she probably could. Actually, my neighbor was my daughter and I had to remind her a couple of times that she didn’t need to see me to talk to me. So I would say that there is a bare minimum of privacy. I’m assuming the men’s bathrooms were the same except with an added urinal.
Outside the restroom is a sign-up sheet for the tour. The cave tours are held at 10, 12, 2 and 4 pm. May-September every day and take a max of 25 people. I could see from our noon sign up that the 10 a.m only had 10 people in it (in case you were curious). We signed up as persons numbered 8-12 and by the time we began the tour there were 25 of us.
Subscribe to Weekly Updates
After signing up we were directed up the hill to the switchback path. This path is somewhat of a steep climb and if you’ve ever climbed to the top of Multnomah Falls, you’ll understand the effort because it’s about the same grade. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as far as the full hike to the top of Multnomah. It’s less than a 1/4 mile. And, thankfully, there are rest points along the path to the cave.
You should consider talking to your doctor if you have a health condition that might be affected by such a hike, The kids were running circles around me and I had to stop once or twice. Thankfully it’s a short climb so by the time I thought “how much farther?” I was at the top.
There’s a locked gate around the entrance to the cave, so if you have little ones, keep an eye on them. They won’t be able to fall into a sinkhole unless they are skinny enough to fit through the rungs of the fence. Also, if they are able enough, they could climb the fence. I’d keep an eye on them if yours are big adventurers.
Be warned, there’s more wasps up here, especially in the sunshine.
Through the gate we descended a metal staircase and listened to our guide share the rules of the cave (NO TOUCHING!) and the history of the cave. Mr. Gardner lost it in a poker game.
Once inside, the temperature drops to about 40 degrees. I didn’t need a jacket but I have a tolerance for cooler temps. If you don’t have the same tolerance or you’re with children, bring a hoodie and tie around your waist. Also, the cave is lighted and highlights the fomations and path along the way but you might want a flashlight so you can peer into dark corners or get better details of the cave since you definitely shouldn’t touch the cave walls..
Now, here’s the thing. Although kids of all ages would likely enjoy the cave, anyone who is scared of the dark or claustrophobic might want to avoid the cave. Also, if your kids are prone to wander or goof off, even after instructions to stop, this might not be a good fit. A two or three year old who acts like any normal two or three year old might be too distracted for this tour. Why do I say that? Although the entire tour is on a platform, it’s slippery. And the stairs can be steep (my kids were used to the stairs because we have the same steepness up to the attic and down to the basement) and the stairs are not solid. A sly little one could slip through the back of the steps or under the railing along the platform. BUT you could carry said child if you think they’ll put up with it.
The tour is about 45 minutes long and they move quickly through to the end of the cave, you can take your time walking back to the entrance to get all of your photos.
I won’t give it all away but it was a definite must see if you’re in the Spokane area. Oh and make sure you check out the booger pickle while you’re down in the cave!
When the cave tour is finished, If you’re up to it, hike the rest of the way to Canada. They say it’s 1/4 mile but my fitness map tracked it closer to 1/2 mile. At the end is a downhill drop that’s easy to traverse but that means when you come back up you have to walk up the hill (I hate hills).
- Closed toed shoes with tread. Flip flops and open toe shoes are not recommended
- Light Jacket
- Camera (with flash or long exposure times)
- Food or water into the cave
- Crappy shoes
- Large tripod, you won’t have time to set it up (but a small tripod for your smartphone might work – not an affiliated link, this is the same one that I own)
Oh, and if you made it this far, you’ll know what that picture is from. Yup, we stopped on the way back so my husband could prove to me there was a man in the window. This home is near some railroad tracks, keep an eye out for it.