Did you know that Vancouver Island has the highest concentration of caves in North America?
With more than 1000 caves recorded, we have more explored limestone caves here than in all other Canadian provinces combined! In fact, 4% of the Island’s surface area is composed of karst landscapes. No wonder Vancouver Island is sometimes referred to as the “Island of Caves”.
Source – Parksville Qualicum Beach
Caving offers exploration of an amazing underground world not many people get to experience. If viewing the wonders of stalagmites, stalactites, crystal formations, underground waterfalls, and ancient fossils intrigue you, then caving might just be your thing.
For the best place to start, I recommend caving at Horne Lake.
Although you are free to explore a small portion of Horne Lake Caves on your own, I highly recommend going on one of the five guided-tour opportunities the park offers. Not only do you get to see a whole lot more, but your guide will educate you along the way.
Source: Wikipedia – “Riverbend cave” by Dave Bunnell
Horne Lake Cave Tours
Riverbend Family Cave Tour
If you think you would like to try caving, but are a bit nervous and on the fence about whether you would actually enjoy being underground, then I recommend starting with the Family Cave Tour. This tour is great for kids too (ages 5 and up). We took our young ones on this tour last summer, and they loved it!
The 90-minute tour explores the largest and easiest passages of the Riverbend Cave. Rest assured, there are no tight spaces to crawl or squeeze through on this one! After a 25 minute hike (with plenty of educational stops along the way), you enter the gated portion of Riverbend Cave. Once inside you will be able to view amazing crystal formations, soda straws, and a ‘Smiling Buddha”.
Vertical Cave Tours
If you are feeling more adventurous, I highly recommend doing one of the longer more extreme tour options. These tours give you the opportunity to see some very cool things.
There is a 4-hour “High-Adventure” Expedition, as well as a 5-hour “Extreme Rappel” Cave Tour. The latter is the most adventurous tour in the park, and also happens to be the one hubby took me on for my last birthday. I was so nervous, but it was absolutely thrilling!
Both of the vertical cave tours continue on past where the Family Cave Tour ends. So not only will you experience more rock scrambling, but explorers also get to pass through a few crawl spaces, some of which are really narrow and tight. I am not a very big person, and even I had to inch-worm myself through one of them. It is also required to climb up and down a 5m. (15 ft.) high vertical rock wall via a cable ladder. Although they say this ladder has “easy holds”, I found nothing easy about it. It’s wobbly and extremely narrow…but so much fun!
The Extreme Rappel Tour carries on even further. To complete this tour you are also required to negotiate 5 different rope stations, including a short rappel of 5 metres, followed by a 8 metre (25 ft.) traverse line, and then a staggering rappel down a 20 metre (65 ft.) underground waterfall! This is where you will view the “China Shop” – a room completely surrounded by the most amazing crystal formations.
Yes, the Extreme Tour is not for the faint of heart, but if you have even the slightest bit of an adventurous side to you, you need to do this tour! I am most definitely not a thrill seeker, but I had so much fun and am so glad hubby persuaded me to try it.
If either of these vertical tours interests you, do your body a favor and rent the knee pads offered at check-in. If, like me, you bruise easily, I would also recommend the elbow pads. The pads help protect your knees, elbows and forearms from sharp rocks during the army crawls (and inch-worming) you are required to do through some of those tight spaces.
Although the Extreme Tour does not require any previous caving experience, unless you have rappelled before I highly recommend taking their 2 hour Outdoor Rope Rappel Clinic. We tacked it on to the start of our caving adventure, and I am so glad we did. The two hours of practice gave me the extra confidence I needed to tackle that underground waterfall!
If you none of the above tours sound appealing to you, the park offers a few other adventures as well. Some of the tours are season dependent, so make sure to always check the Horn Lake Caves website before going.
TIPS for Caving at Horne Lake
You are going to be underground where it’s cold (approx. 8º Celcius – (45º F), and the longer the tour the colder you will feel, so dress appropriately!
- Sturdy footwear is a MUST! No open toed sandals, Crocs, etc. The rocks are uneven and can be slippery and wet. Hiking boots, running shoes, or even rubber boots (especially on those tours with water involved) are the best option.
- Dress in layers (long pants, long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, etc.) and wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. You will most likely get wet – so don’t wear jeans!
- For the longer tours, gardening or neoprene gloves are also recommended. The gloves also save your hands from rope burn in the rappelling sections.
- As mentioned above, for the vertical tours knee and elbow pads are always a good idea.
- Bring your camera! – one that fits in your pocket (or your phone) is your best bet for those doing anything but the Family Cave Tour.
- Backpacks are not allowed in the cave, so whatever you bring must be carried or placed in pockets – and trust me you want your hands free! So it is best not to bring water bottles, unnecessary snacks, etc.. Save those for after the tour.
Have you tried out one of the tours at Horne Lake Caves? Would you like to? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.
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