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Today is: June 14th, 2024

El Capitan Cave Trail

1500 Road off FH 43; between Whale Pass and Memorial Beach

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

  •  Maximum group size is six.
  • Minimum age is 7 years; no child carriers
  • Reservations are required.
  • Sunday’s last tour is at 2:30 p.m.

Call Thorne Bay Ranger District at 907-828-3304 for reservations two days or more in advance.


.25 miles


Most difficult

Average Time

45 minutes

Nearest Community

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Safety First Hiking Tips

Enjoying a beautiful hike on Prince of Wales Island is easy when you are properly prepared for the weather, wildlife and trail conditions.

Bear Safety

Hundreds of black bears live on Prince of Wales Island. Follow these backcountry rules to safely share the island with bears.
Make noise to avoid surprising bears.
Never get between a sow and her cubs.
Keep food in closed containers.
Sleep away from your food.
Don’t crowd bears; stay a safe distance.
Don’t fish where bears are fishing.
Clean fish in strong currents.

know the weather

Prince of Wales Island is located in the Tongass National Rainforest which means we experience moderate temperatures and high levels of precipitation. High temperatures average 55-65 in the summer and 35-45 in the winter. Rainfall averages 2-8 inches per month in the summer and 8-13 inches per month in the winter. Snow generally occurs more substantially in the higher elevations.

a few things to bring

Waterproof hiking boots. 
Warm clothes and rain gear.
Bug repellent spray or lotion.
Bear repellent spray or bells. 
GPS-device with TOPO maps.
Emergency communication device.
Binoculars and cameras.
Wild plant and animal guide.
Ample water and food supply.
Pack it In Pack it Out
There are no garbage removal services provided on the island, so please respect our wilderness by leaving no trace of human activity. This will ensure our wildlife is protected from pollution, and our beautiful forests and waterways are preserved for future enjoyment by all future generations. Together we can protect our island! 
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