Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
At Horne Lake Caves our caves are wild and natural, with no lighting, paved walkways, or hand-railings and exploring them is 100% caving! We have beautiful calcite crystal formations, ancient fossils, large chambers, climbs and squeezes. All tours begin with a 1km moderately strenuous uphill hike, which is broken up with 7 informative stops. At Horne Lake Caves, people earn their experience with a true adventure!
On every tour is some uphill hiking involved (about 25 min. moderately strenuous & uphill) to the cave entrance (approx 1km. from Visitor Centre). Our guides will break up the hike with interpretive stops along the way, to talk about the geology/history of the area and to provide several opportunities for participants to rest.
The 1hr 45min Riverbend Cave is a family-friendly tour with a Challenge Rating of ✦✦✧✧✧. This wild cave is more difficult than most show caves in the United States as it will require moving over river rocks/boulders and crouching down to use your hands to help balance on uneven terrain. Most passageways are fairly spacious with no tight squeezes so this tour is a great option for people who might feel claustrophobic in enclosed spaces (many claustrophobic people have conquered their fears on this tour!). Participants are never more than a few minutes from the entrance if they want to exit the cave.
The 2.5hr Multi-Cave Tour will do the Riverbend Explorer then continue on to a second cave called Main Cave, which offers some other challenges and has a challenge rating of ✦✦✦✧✧. Main Cave has a narrow entrance (12" wide at midriff but much more space at chest height), climbing up and down ladders, walking while crouched down low, and three short 2m. climbs (un-roped) up a seasonal waterfall.
The Achilles Challenge Tour (Challenge Rating ✦✦✦✦✧) and The Max Depth Adventure Tour (Challenge Rating ✦✦✦✦✦) include the 1km hike up the hill to Riverbend Cave and navigating through our most challenging, but beautiful cave passageways. Participants must go through a series of hands and knees/belly crawls (knee-pads highly recommended!), the smallest being about 18 inches/46cm high. The ground is gravel and river rocks, so some extra wiggle room can be attained with a bit of excavation. Once past the crawl-ways the group will be on their feet for the rest of the cave and there are huge chambers which lay ahead. The first vertical pitch that the group descends is a trickling waterfall approximately 17ft (5.5m) in height. This is a great warm up to get the hang of rappelling while underground. The next pitch has a 7ft (2m) roped down climb to get to a 15ft (5m) cable ladder that must be down climbed, and climbed up again later on. At Achilles Pot (the turnaround point for the Achilles Challenge Tour) participants clip into a handline and traverse along an edge onto a rock shelf with a magnificent view of what may be Vancouver Island's largest Calcite formation! From here the Max Depth Adventure tour continues on down a side passage and participants will clip into a series of safety lines that assist with climbing down some steep slopes to access the big rappel in the 7 storey "Rainbarrel" chamber. These slopes will be climbed again on the return trip after reaching the end of the cave.
The climb up the Rainbarrel is about 35ft (10.5m) of easy rock climbing and another 30ft(10m) of climbing up a straight vertical construction ladder. If any clients are feeling too fatigued for the the climb, the guide can easily rig an “assisted raise” to reduce the effort required to ascend up the pitch. What goes down, must come up and all of the obstacles undertaken on the way into the cave, must be done again in reverse on the way out. If necessary the guide can rig a haul system to provide additional assistance for the climbs.
Riverbend Cave has no narrow areas or crawls, but you must be physically fit enough to hike 25 minutes uphill on moderately strenuous trail approx 1 km. long with 100 m. elevation gain.
2.5 hr. Multi-Cave Experience visits 2 caves – Main Cave and Riverbend Cave. The entrance to Main Cave has a standing squeeze where participants side-step between two walls of rock. Participants must be able to squeeze their midriff through a 12″ space (many larger built people are surprised that they can!) A little determination can go a long way and it is rarely have people unable to get in. This challenge is more of a mental hurdle than a physical impossibility.
The Achilles Challenge and Max Depth Adventure Tours
One limiting factor could be the maximum size of our climbing/rappelling harnesses. Although they claim to be “one size fits all” they max out at 47 inches (120 cm) circumference for the waist belt, and 29.5 inches (75 cm) circumference around the thigh. The weight limit on them is 342 lbs or 155 kg
These tours have crawl-ways, the longest being about 4 body-lengths long and mostly hands and knees crawling. The tightest crawl-way is about 18 inches (46 cm) high and 3ft (91 cm) wide. The ground is gravel and river rocks for each of these crawls (knee-pads are provided!) so more wiggle room can be attained with some excavating if needed. If anyone decides not to go through the crawls the guide can have them out of the cave in a matter of minutes. Beyond the crawls things just get larger and the group will be on their feet for all other passageways.
No previous climbing or rope experience is required! Your Cave Guides are trained Cave Rope Access Technicians who can provide excellent coaching and encouragement to those who are new to climbing or rappelling.
The Achilles Challenge Tour does not do any rappelling and the the guide can simply lower the participants down the pitch, or you may choose the fun option of downclimbing the 17ft pitch! The climb back up is not too technical with plenty of options for large handholds and footholds.
The Max Depth Adventure begins with a free above ground rappelling practice session before heading into the caves and putting those skills to work on a 17ft pitch and then the big rappel in the 7 story "Rainbarrel"
Nervous is normal – don’t let it stop you from trying. We have had people of all shapes and sizes successfully get through our tours with the helpful encouragement of their cave guide. Everything here is “challenge by choice”. If you feel uncomfortable in the cave, one of our guides will lead you out. On most tours you are never more than 5 minutes from the exit. The squeezes included in the 1hr Main Cave Adventure or the 3hr Multi-Cave Experience are quite short and do not last long.
We are limiting the tour size to 10 participants on the Riverbend Cave Explorer Tour, 8 participants on the Multi-Cave Experience and 6 participants on the Achilles Challenge and Max Depth Adventure Tours.
Our Minimum age requirments are set by BC Parks and our company cannot operate outside of those parameters.
Everyone’s comfort levels and ability levels (parents and children) are different when it comes to dealing with the environment of the cave and the obstacles that lie within. The 2.5hr Multi-Cave Experience is great for children age 8 and up but children 5-8 years old are welcome on a Private Tour, so if the youngster changes their mind or has difficulty, it doesn’t affect the cave tour for other parties.
It is important that parents do not carry their children over the uneven terrain in the caves. Low to the ground is a safer place to be and with encouragement children can find all the naturally rock solid handholds and footholds they need to maneuver through the cave.
Our longest trip, the 5 hour Extreme Cave & Rappel tour is for ages 13 and up.
Check out the minimum age requirements before you book.
The self guided cave areas are fairly rugged and adventurous with narrow spaces and vertical drops. Use extreme caution with children under 8. We do not recommend carrying a baby or small toddler in your arms or in a backpack while inside the caves at any time.
Yes, “single-bubble” private guided tours are available, up to a maximum of 8 people for the Multi-Cave Experience and 10 people for the Riverbend Cave Explorer.
If you are feeling unwell, you may re-schedule your tour following a period of self-isolation or you can request a full refund. If you don’t notify us in advance or with less than 24 hours notice, you will be considered a No-Show and no refund will be given.
White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that does not affect people, only Bats. WNS is currently sweeping across North America, waking up bats from hibernation and causing the mass starvation and death of millions of bats across the continent. It has decimated bat populations in eastern North America, and it has been detected near Seattle, USA (2017). Due to the potential of WNS spores being spread from one location to another on caver’s equipment, we do not allow any personal caving equipment that has been into any caves off of Vancouver Island. All park visitors entering the caves must clean their shoes to remove WNS spores. It is a preventative measure intended to stop WNS from reaching or leaving Horne Lake Caves. To date there are no cases of WNS on Vancouver Island.
Riverbend Cave is 384 metres (1270 ft.) long. Main Cave is 136 metres (450 ft.) long. Andre’s Annex is 54m. long (177 ft.). Lower Cave is 40 metres (132 ft.) long. Most caves contain rooms 2-3 storeys high. Riverbend Cave has a seven-storey waterfall inside!
NOTE: The self guided opportunities have been CLOSED by order of BC Parks due to the uncontrolled activities inside the caves and increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.
When it is open, Self-Guiding means exploring the open access caves at your own risk. Lower Cave (40m long), Andres Annex Cave (54m long), and the first 20m of Main Cave are accessible. These caves contain climbs and squeezes, so the safest way to explore those caves is to wear a helmet with a headlamp. We rent helmets with lights for $13.50 plus tax and will provide a map of the parks caves at the visitor centre. Riverbend Cave (384m long) and Main Cave (136m long) are gated to protect the crystals and fossils inside. They can only be explored with a guided tour to ensure visitors follow the designated route through the cave. Riverbend and Main Cave contain many beautiful features and fun challenges, plus the guide is a great source of knowledge and encouragement. For the most fulfilling experience, we highly recommend a guided tour!
Good footwear is essential for safety. The cave floors are rocky and uneven. Running shoes or hiking boots are best. Rubber boots are better in the winter when the caves may have water flowing inside.
The temperature remains at 8 degrees Celsius (47 degrees Fahrenheit) all year round. For tours up to three hours, participants should wear at least one layer of long sleeves and pants while longer tours will need a second layer (fleece or polypropylene shirts and/or nylon pants are ideal). No backpacks.
Horne Lake Caves are a great destination to visit at any time of the year.
Summer and Fall are driest and cave tours depart every day. To avoid crowds, we recommend visiting either early or late in the day.
Winter and Spring are a great time to see the caves in their wild and wet condition, but please call ahead for guided tours.
We never see rodents, snakes, or spiders in the caves and there are no bat colonies that dwell in Horne Lake Caves. Cave Crickets, which live near the entrances of the caves, are the most frequently spotted life form.
During the winter months, when it is warmer in the caves than it is outside, more life can be spotted. Daddy-Long-Legs (harvestman) come inside the cave entrances to hibernate for approximately 4 months (November to February). Lucky visitors might spot the odd Little Brown Bat sleeping in the caves during a cold snap.
Dogs and other pets are not permitted inside any of the caves at Horne Lake Caves.
Dogs are allowed in the provincial park as long as they are on a leash and there is a nice trail system that they will enjoy. Please clean up after your pets!
Visitors are also advised that they are not permitted to bring dogs along the hike on a guided tour.
Dogs tied up outside of a cave while the owners explore it can also frighten other visitors who are trying to access that cave.
Dogs tend to bark and howl when their owners disappear into a dark cave and this can disturb the peaceful serenity of the park. If you plan to explore the caves, someone can wait outside with the dog or make plans to leave your dog at home.
LOTS. We know not everybody wants to go inside the cave. Non-cavers are invited to learn about the caves and their geology with short videos presented in the visitor centre and our Museum display. There is also a great hike with signs along the way explaining the geology and surface features.
Visitors are also welcome to join a guided tour along the surface hikes to the cave entrances and hear first-hand about the geology and formation of these unique caves. As well there are opportunities to try other activities nearby such as rock rappel lessons or head over to the neighboring Regional Park Campground for hiking, canoe rentals, beach walking, and bird watching.