Animal sightings are rare at El Capitan Cave, but there is abundant wildlife sign. River otter tracks are sometimes visible. Small organisms live on rocks and in pools. Bears have used the cave for thousands of years. A 370-step staircase leads to the cave entrance and the U.S. Forest Service runs free guided cave tours all summer. Call for El Capitan cave reservations 907-828-3304.
For a unique Alaskan experience, tour under the forest. A geologic treasure 400 million years in the making lies beneath your feet. Caves, sinkholes and pits have formed a vast karst landscape—weathered limestone bedrock. El Capitan Cave, the largest of more than 500 caves on the island, offers a trip back in time.
The cave is only about two hours from Craig or Thorne Bay; new pavement reaches within 13 miles of the site’s access road. The cave is also accessible by floatplane and by boat: a short walk from El Capitan Passage leads to the cave. For the free two-hour tour, meet Forest Service guides at the cave interpretive site. After their brief talk about formation and mapping of the cave and scientific discoveries, pick out a helmet, headlamp and flashlight—and climb. The trail zigzags up boardwalk stairways, with rest stops along the way. On the deck at the cave, guides outline safety and everyone turns on headlamps. The first 50 feet of the passage squeezes in between boulders and a low ceiling; the cave then opens out. The floor can be slippery; wear sturdy shoes or boots with good traction. The temperature in the cave is in the low 40s. The tour goes about 500 feet into the cave. Guides provide you with information about cave formation, speleothems (cave features), cave biology and fossil finds. Questions are welcome.
Craig Ranger District
504 9th Street
Craig, AK 99921
Thorne Bay Ranger District
1312 Federal Way, Sandy Beach Road
Thorne Bay, AK 99919
Call Thorne Bay Ranger District at 907-828-3304 for reservations two days or more in advance.