There are over 600 caves on Prince of Wales Island, but none of them offer a guided and hands-on experience like El Capitan Cave. The longest mapped cave in Alaska, El Capitan (or El Cap as the locals call it) extends for over two miles from the main entrance. (Conditions get pretty rough the deeper you go, so visitors are stopped after 500 feet or so. Believe us – you won’t want to go much further than that!) It’s one of the only caves in Southeast Alaska that allows you an up-close and personal look at its features, with the support of a US Forest Service guide who can answer all your questions and help direct you toward the best sights.
History of El Capitan Cave
El Capitan dates back over 400 million years, at a time when this part of Alaska was more like a tropical paradise than a temperate rainforest. For geology enthusiasts, this means the cave contains marine fossils and limestone composition. The cave has three levels (you’ll only see the middle one), and lots of small passageways that are only navigable underwater.
Not only is the cave interesting from a geological perspective, but it’s also very much an active part of Alaska’s wildlife. Current inhabitants are bats and river otter, but excavations have revealed the bones of ancient bears. Thanks to the damp conditions and low exposure, the remains were incredibly well-preserved and able to tell us a lot about what kind of creatures lived here over 12,000 years ago.
But don’t worry – you don’t have to be a fan of history to appreciate all that El Capitan Cave has to offer. If adventure and beauty are what you’re after, you’ll find plenty of that here, too!
The El Capitan Cave Experience
Tours of El Capitan Cave are provided by Forest Service employees and free for anyone who’s interested. Accessibility is via a steep stairway (with almost 370 steps), and the cave itself doesn’t have any trails, so all visitors must be seven years of age or older and in good physical condition.
It’s dark and uneven inside the cave, so everyone is encouraged to bring a flashlight and sturdy footwear. A jacket is a good idea, too, since the cave remains at a damp and not-so-balmy 40 degrees year-round. Hard hats will be provided by the Forest Service.
Once you’re done with your tour, don’t forget to enjoy the Interpretive Site itself. Although you won’t find much in the way of amenities (there’s a picnic shelter, bathroom, dock, and guide station), there’s plenty of natural beauty to take in. El Capitan has the benefit of being located in a fairly remote section of Tongass National Forest, so you’ll be surrounded by the pristine and untouched beauty of Alaska at every turn.
Getting to El Capitan
Like most destinations on Prince of Wales Island, you can get here via boat, plane or vehicle. The road to El Cap is paved, so Boardwalk Lodge guests usually opt for the 2 1/2 hour drive to avoid additional fly-out costs. The trip can often be combined with fishing and other stops &emdash; offering you a great chance to see all of Prince of Wales Island.
Ideal times to visit El Capitan Cave are typically from Memorial Day through Labor Day (late May to early September).
Book your stay at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge now, and plan a trip that takes advantage of the season by including an excursion to El Capitan Cave!
* Note that cave tours are limited to parties of 6. The El Cap tour must be arranged with the Forest Service, so it’s suggested that we secure this caving adventure for you when booking.