In this article, we’ll look at the most important tips that insiders share to make the most of your trip to Gardner Cave, in Crawford State Park, Washington.
Gardner Cave (Crawford State Park, Washington)
Gardner Cave in Crawford State Park is the third-largest limestone cave in Washington.
It’s a tourist attraction for thousands of visitors every year, who take the trip below the earth’s surface to marvel at the geologic limestone formations there.
Discovered in 1899 by Edward Gardner when he rode his horse right into the entrance, the cave was first used as a secret cache for his bootlegging business.
When William Crawford won the rights to the land in a poker game in 1921, he turned it over to the state to make the area available to everyone.
Before Gardner Cave was a tourist destination, it was heavily vandalized. Unfortunately, many of the stalactites and stalagmites that should be in this 500 million-year-old cave were broken.
However, the biggest and strongest geological formations – including “columns” where stalactites and stalagmites meet and grow together – are still preserved.
Today there are steel walkways, bright lights inside the cave, and free guided tours during the summer.
Register In Advance
Gardner Cave is currently running at a reduced capacity, and although tours are free with a discovery pass, you need to register online in advance to secure your spot.
There is plenty of availability and slots to choose from, but if you arrive at Crawford State Park without a reservation there is always a chance you will have to wait or come back another day.
Register online with the Washington Parks service to save your spot.
Go During the Summer
Although Crawford State Park is open year-round, the tours are only offered during the summer months – from June to August.
The park operates from Monday-Thursday and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It can be more crowded during the weekends, so if you prefer to have more space it is better to go during the week.
Tours begin at 10 am, noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm.
The summer is a great time to visit Gardner Cave because the cool cave temperatures offer a sanctuary from the sweltering forest above.
Visitors experience a shift as they travel below the earth and the temperature drops from the 90s to the 40s.
This is a refreshing dip and a great way to beat the heat!
Get a Picnic Table
If you want a place to sit, talk, eat, and relax, there are 10 picnic tables available that are first-come, first-serve.
You can find the picnic tables in a sheltered area at the cave’s entrance and the Canadian border.
Sometimes these picnic tables can go quickly, so if you are planning to spend lots of time relaxing at either of these sites, keep your eyes open and snag your table early!
Wear Layered Clothing
The shift in temperatures can be extreme, especially in the hottest summer months.
If you want to be comfortable during your hikes both above and below the ground, you need to layer your clothing so that you can remove jackets or sweaters when you are overheating, and put those layers back on when you get cold.
Gardner cave averages a temperature of about 40 F year-round, while the surface temperature can easily rise to 90 F or above.
Make sure that children and the elderly, especially, have layered clothing to stay safe and comfortable.
Bring Comfortable Shoes and Water
Gardner Cave is one of the most accessible spelunking trips you can take in Washington State, and you can walk through the caves and marvel at the geologic wonders there without doing any serious climbing or scrambling – but that doesn’t mean you should skip out on proper footwear and hydration,
The floor of the caves is unsteady and gravelly in places.
Even if you were only to hike the surface trails in Crawford State Park, you would want a good pair of hiking shoes to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
There is no easy place to refill a water bottle in Gardner Cave. Make sure to fill up your water bottle before entering the caves, and bring a little extra, just in case.
Bring A Flashlight
You don’t technically need to bring a headlamp or flashlight with you on this hike since there are plenty of lights strung up around the viewing platform to show you all of the geological features of the cave, but there are still plenty of dark nooks and crannies that you can shine a light on.
The experience is better, and you will see more if you bring your flashlight with you.
You’ll never miss out on the main features of Gardner Cave since they are brightly illuminated, but as you move through the caves a flashlight will allow you to examine little areas that you might otherwise miss.
At the end of the hike, if everyone agrees to it, the guides will turn off the lights in the cave to allow the group to experience the all-consuming darkness of the cave in its purest form, and some of the light tricks that come along with it.
This is some visitors’ favorite part of the whole tour!
Hike To Canada
The Gardner Cave tour doesn’t take very long – less than 2 hours – so you have plenty of time to explore the rest of the park and the other hikes that are offered.
If you have more time and you want to keep walking after you leave the cave, hike for a quarter mile to the Canadian border.
The entire loop from the cave to the border to the parking lot is less than a mile.
Make the Best of your Gardner Cave Trip
Crawford State Park is a beautiful space that is a must-visit for nature lovers in Washington, and Gardner Cave is like its crown jewel.
If you have any interest in geology or caves, the tour is a quick and thrilling experience.
Although Gardner Cave is accessible and the tour guides will point out the most interesting features, you can maximize your comfort and enjoyment by following some important tips:
- Register first online and visit when the free tours are operating
- Bring layered clothing, a flashlight, comfortable footwear, and a water bottle.
- Explore the rest of the park and relax at the picnic tables
For those who arrive prepared, Gardner Cave will produce some awe-inspired gasps, some great photos, and memories that will last a lifetime.
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