Have you heard Lewis County is home to one of Washington’s most extensive and mysterious archeological sites? Or that you can sit in an approximately 7,000-year-old cave tucked away on Lone Tree Mountain?Morton Hospital

If you are already heading east on Highway 12, are looking for a quick side adventure off the beaten path, a place to stretch your legs, or to educate the kiddos, then take the scenic detour and experience the hidden gem that is Layser Cave Interpretive Trail in eastern Lewis County. At approximately 60X40 feet, Layser Cave is definitely smaller than its history.

Recent History of Layser Cave

Layser Cave
A family enjoying the views of the Cispus River Valley. Photo credit: Greg Moore

Tim Layser, a Lewis County resident and Forest Service employee, rediscovered the cave in 1982 while scoping the area for a timber sale. Once the cave was excavated, many artifacts such as mammal bones, ocean shell beads, and obsidian arrowheads that have only been found in Oregon dated these unique treasures back to a pre-Columbia era supplying evidence of trade at that time and unique insight into early human migration. Radiocarbon dating on the artifacts found beneath the soil of the cave and surrounding areas has helped archeologists piece together an approximately 4,000 to 7,000-year-old story of Washington’s Indigenous People.

Once the artifacts were collected, the floor was covered with aggregate to mitigate any possible looting. Results suggest the cave had been used until the eruption of Mount St. Helens 4,000 years ago and has been abandoned for a few hundred years now. Some researchers have considered Layser Cave a lava tube, but it doesn’t quite meet the classification. It is most likely the result of the folding that happened during the late Miocene uplift of the Cascade Range. Similar rock formations have been found in the area, but none are as impressive as Layser Cave.

Layser Cave
This beautiful rock formation and interpretive sign mark the outside of Layser Cave. Photo credit: Rachael Burkle Moore

Tips for Visiting Layser Cave

At the beginning of this lightly traveled trail, find a steep set of wooden stairs descending to a gentle, narrow dirt path leading you through rolling hills of ferns and dappled sunlight. Walk about an eighth of a mile through this old-growth forest to find a lookout and enjoy the uniquely breathtaking views of the coniferous pines of Cispus River Valley, Mount Adams, Juniper Ridge, and Tongue Mountain.

Once you are done, turn back to the main path and continue up the trail to a slight slope leading to the cave’s entrance. There, find another interpretive sign describing the tools and bones found just beneath the cave’s soil and surrounding area that have long been discovered. Watch your head as you walk into the dark cavern with short ceilings, making it feel more like a cozy room rather than a cave. Walk back out and down towards the trees to find another interpretive sign explaining the Native People’s hunting and survival methods.

Layser Cave
Watch your head as you enter this small 40×60 cave. Photo credit: Greg Moore

Since this trail only takes about 30 minutes to complete, take the time to explore and learn about this fascinating area. If you visit during the warm months of the year, this hike is mostly shaded, and the cave is the perfect spot to cool off and take a water break with the family. If you head there during the cooler months, bring a small camp stove, and prepare yourself a warm mug of cider or cocoa as you sit and imagine what it would have been like for those who sat in that very same spot thousands of years ago. We want this beautiful piece of history to stay preserved, so make sure to pack out all your garbage and belongings as no trash cans are available.

How to Get to Layser Cave

Layser Cave
Take your time and stop at the interpretive signs along the way to Layser Cave. Photo credit: Natosha Burnett

Head east on Highway 12, then go south on WA 131 (sign for Mt. St. Helens) in Randle. Drive a mile and turn left on Cispus Road (Forest Road 23), go another seven miles, and take a left on Spur Road (No. 83), and you will see a sign telling you the trail is a quarter mile ahead. Stay vigilant though, as the wood marker to the trailhead can be hard to find against the trees at a bend in the road. A gravel parking area is located close to the trailhead for easy access.

If you are traveling with your pets, this is a great place to leash them and bring them along for the adventure. Keep in mind there is no running water or bathrooms at this location, so it is best to make a stop before heading up. Also, save the directions before you go, as service can be difficult to reach. A Discover Pass is required to park at Layser Caves.

With a short hike leading to a remarkable destination, Layser Cave in east Lewis County is a must-see stop. Travel back in time and visualize what life was like in the area thousands of years ago and learn more about this significant archaeological site offering clues into our region’s history.

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