Caves, Pacific Northwest
There are over 1000 known Caves on Vancouver Island alone, plus so many more along the coast. Most of these caves are found in limestone deposits.
We love to go spelunking but there a few things you need to know before entering any cave system, is there any drop offs in this system, are there fast flowing underground rivers which can be quite a hazard, are there more than one route to follow, there is nothing worse than getting lost in a multi cave system. When you are going into a system, always carry a map of the cave system, carry several sources of light, l like to have a head lamp, hand held flash light and l always carry several long burning candles for an emergency like a flashlight or headlamp failure, and a helmet can save you from some nasty bumps to the head and always bring extra warm clothing as cave temperatures changes little through the seasons.
The upana cave system is located about 17 km west of Gold River, on Head Bay Forest Rd, on Vancouver Island. These caves are just awesome to hike in and you can find everything here in formations and cave life, lots of crickets and spiders to photograph here. There are a number of caves in the Paterson lake area, one of which is so large, it takes 2 days to travel through, requiring a night spent underground. Holberg area has a few very big and deep caves, but be careful here as there is a chance of running into underground rivers. The Zeballos area also has some very beautiful caves, some of these are protected and you need to have a guide to enter. Then there are the horn lake cave system, one of our more famous karst systems, these caves are incredible.
For an even deeper adventure, join a guided tour of the white ridge caves. The White Ridge Provincial Park is located at the boundary of Strathcona Provincial Parks northwest corner on the Gold River Highway. The park is located 4 km west of Gold River and is accessed off Gold River Highway on the BR 80 logging road.
The Huson Cave system is a great place to introduce the public to caves carved out of the limestone rock by the Atluck creek. The system contains 15 caves that are easy and safe,perfect for the inexperienced caver; no special equipment is necessary. The Little Huson Lake Cave Park is in an incredible area of the island and the canyon has some very special features which are unique to Vancouver Island.
The Cave Park includes the Atluck Creek Canyon. This canyon has a number of interesting beautiful features, there is a wonderful natural bridge that is quite amazing and a large cave entrance where the creek flows underground for 60 metres, this is known as the cathedral cave entrance. The bridge feature is the only one on Vancouver Island.
The park has a number of other minor karst features like scallops that form in the rock walls, they are rippled rock surfaces that have been created by high pressure water flow.
There is ample areas to camp in in the area, with the Huson lake site being the closest, this is a very nice camp ground with lots of space. There is a boat ramp and picnic tables along with a very large green area.
The beautiful Eternal Fountain waterfall is a spot that all should visit, this waterfall is truly amazing and a wonder to see, it flows out of the rock face, drops for about 5 meters and then disappears back into the mountain. If the beauty of these falls is not enough for you, then you could drop down to the base of the falls and go behind to discover another waterfall that is completely underground, there is a beautiful subterranean passage that has been sculpted out of red rock, it has been carved out by the passing of the underground river.
The tunnel behind the falls meanders along as it follows the roaring stream on its route through the cave to the end where it drops into a deep sump and disappears. Awesome sight to see, but please be careful as the rock passage can be very slippery.
Along the route you will also have the opportunity to visit some other incredible spots like the Devils Bath, its Canada’s only cenote, a cenote is a sink-hole surrounded by rock bluffs and is filled with groundwater. The Devil’s Bath is connected to the Benson River Cave system via an underwater cave. Devil’s Bath is located in the Quatsino limestone karst system, which contains many karst formations and cave systems.
You can also visit the Vanishing River and the Reappearing River, a part of the Benson River that flows underground for about 2 km before reappearing again. The trail into this site is not marked, there has been a washout on the trail route and its suggested that you pass this spot by. But if you are adventurous, you can locate the trail, hike in on a short trail that takes you to an incredible place, you will see a river roaring down a canyon and then dropping into a deep hole and disappearing into the mountain, only to reappear some 2 km away. Quite a sight to see.
To get to the Eternal Fountain along with the Devils Bath and the Disappearing River from hwy19, turn off onto the Keogh Rd just north of Port McNeil and head south, drive a short distance and you will see a large directional sign with a map of the Alice Lake Loop, this is where you choose your route. The drive is about 100 km, with a driving time of 2 to 3 hours, but you will want to have the whole day, so you can explore these wonders completely.
On your drive, you will have a good chance in seeing bears, elk, cougars, deer, wolves and any number of smaller forest creatures and if that is not enough, the bird-life here is just incredible. The numerous lakes you will pass have exceptional fishing along with great camping areas, so you could take your time and stay overnight in one or more camp-ground and spend several days here . This would allow you to really get to see the north island and all it has to offer.
So what are you waiting for, grab your camera, fishing pole, some flash-lights and head out on one heck of an adventure.