Exploring an abandoned, deep and dark cave in the middle of nowhere is about as off-the-grid as it gets, which makes an underground trip through the Cheese Cave a fun adventure near the Columbia River Gorge.
Found near the community of Trout Lake in Washington’s Klickitat County, the cheese caves are part of a 2,060 foot long lava tube believed to have been discovered in the late 1800s. Due to the chilly conditions, the cave was used as a natural refrigerator by the Guler Cheese Company to store and age their products, and to this day the remnants of their wooden storage racks remain inside.
Getting to the Cheese Cave in Trout Lake WA
The Cheese Cave is currently located on private land (exact coordinates here) near the Gifford Pinchot National Forest by the Guler Ice Caves, and visitors are welcome to take the three minute drive down the bumpy dirt road to the entrance and head inside. A wooden structure with scribbles and carvings all over it marks the start, and you’ll see a wooden ladder poking out.
The cool chill hits you immediately as you make your way into the cave, and these first few minutes are among the most challenging since you’ll have to head down a steep decline of wet rocks to reach the cave floor. The boulders are a mix of sturdy and loose rocks, so stay low, take your time and use your hands to help keep your balance.
Once you reach the bottom, beam your flashlight up to admire the cavernous walls covered in lavacicles and flow ledges. Fortunately even claustrophobic types should be able to enjoy this experience, since the cave is a relatively wide 25 feet.
There’s not a single sound, other than the drip of moisture falling from the 60-foot high ceilings onto the cave floor which feels like lava rock underfoot. Just a minute later you’ll come to another pile of boulders divided by a craggy rock wall; it doesn’t matter if you go right or left since they come to the same place.
At a quick pace it only takes 10 minutes to reach the other end of the cave, which is about half a mile long and has one more set of boulders to get over. On the other side, you’ll see the remains of the shelves which stored the cheese, and eventually a huge metal staircase comes into sight with a sliver of light marking the exit above.
Try not to look down as you climb the 55 steep steps up to the top, and pray that the door is unlocked. Because unfortunately there’s a good chance it won’t be open (like when The Gorge Guide visited) which means you’ll have to head all the way back down and back through the cave to the other entrance. If luck is on your side and the door is open, you can head out that way and make your way back to your vehicle above ground and enjoy the sunshine.
Tips for visiting the Cheese Caves
- Wear sturdy shoes and layers, as the temperature is about 42ºF degrees (6ºC) underground year-round.
- It’s crucial to have some sort of flashlight since it’s pitch black inside the cheese cave. While the flashlight app on your phone should do the trick, a headlamp is best so you’ll have your hands free while climbing over the boulders.
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Tamara Elliott is the travel editor and founder of The Gorge Guide, which highlights the best experiences in the Columbia River Gorge. She’s an award-winning writer based in Hood River, Oregon, who particularly loves the area wineries and waterfall hikes. Tamara is also the founder of Globe Guide, which offers savvy tips for exploring destinations around the world.