Frequently Asked Questions

What are the caves like?

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. At Horne Lake Caves, people earn their experience with a true adventure!

How difficult is it?

The 2 hr. Riverbend Cave Explorer tour is the most family-friendly and is the easiest caving in the park. It will require moving over river rocks/boulders and crouching down to use your hands to help balance on uneven terrain.  With passageways that are quite spacious, this tour is a great option for people who tend to feel claustrophobic in enclosed spaces (many claustrophobic people have conquered their fears on this tour!). Tours that visit Riverbend Cave must accomplish the 25min moderately strenuous hike up the gentle slopes of our interpretive trail to the cave entrance (approx 1km from visitor centre). Our guides will make 7 interpretive stops along the way, to talk about the geology/history of the area and to provide many opportunities for visitors to catch their breath along the hike, which has about 100m of elevation gain.

The 1hr Main Cave Adventure has a shorter hike to the cave entrance (5 minutes of hiking) but the cave is more physically and mentally challenging. The narrowest part of the cave is the entrance, which requires turning one’s body sideways for a few steps before things open up. One technique successfully utilized by broad chested clients is to step higher through the passageway to where things are wider. The midriff is more malleable and most people are able to squeeze through the 12″ gap of the standing squeeze. Other challenges in Main Cave include climbing up and down ladders, walking while crouched down low, and three short (un-roped) 2m climbs up a seasonal waterfall.

The Extreme Cave & Rappel Tour includes the 1km hike up the hill to Riverbend Cave and about 4 hours of 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. To get to the big 7 story rappel down the Rainbarrel, participants will clip into a series of safety lines that assist with climbing down some steep slopes. 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.

I have never been in a cave before and I am nervous about small, enclosed spaces. Should I go on the cave tour?

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.

Are the caves suitable for children?

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 2hr. Riverbend Explorer Tour is excellent for children age 5 and up. The 1hr. Main Cave Experience is for ages 5 and up as well but children between the ages 5 and 7 must each have an accompanying adult who can help them with the climbing component of the tour if they choose to take up that challenge. The 3hr. Multi-Cave Spelunking Adventure is for ages 8 and up. 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. Self-guiding is up to you (“enter at your own risk”) but we would never recommend carrying a baby or small toddler in your arms or in a backpack while inside the caves.

Are there any size limitations for these tours?

2hr Riverbend Cave Explorer: No Size Limitations, but must be physically fit enough to hike 25minutes uphill on moderately strenuous trail to Riverbend Cave. Approx 1km from visitor centre and 100m elevation gain.

Main Cave & Multi-Cave Tour: The entrance to Main Cave has a standing/vertical squeeze 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!) or be willing to climb slightly higher to where passage is wider. A little determination can go a long way.

Extreme Cave & Rappel Tour: 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 (120cm) circumference for the waist belt, and 29.5 inches (75cm) circumference around the thigh. The weight limit on them is 342lbs or 155kg

The 5hr extreme tour has 3 crawl-ways, the longest being about 4 body-lengths long and mostly hands and knees crawling. The tightest crawl-way is about 18 inches (46cm) high and 3ft (91cm) wide. The ground is gravel and river rocks for each of these crawls (knee-pads are highly recommended!) 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.

How big are the caves?

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!

What is the difference between Self Guided and Guided Tours?

The self guided experience 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!

What should I wear?

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.

When is the best time to visit?

That depends. Summer and Fall are driest and cave tours depart every day. To avoid crowds, plan on visiting 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.

Are there rats, bats, snakes or spiders in the caves?

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.

Why Is There A Bio-Cleaning Station Required To Visit The Caves?

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 recently been detected near Seattle, USA. 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 must walk through a Bio-Cleaning station to clean WNS spores from shoes. This station consists of astro turf, and spongy mats containing Woolite, which is a mild laundry detergent. 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.

What if I cannot make my tour?

Unfortunately, we do not offer refunds; however, if you call at least 24 hours in advance of your booking, we will move your tour departure to a different date. The cut off for moving your tour date is September 30th.

What can I do with my dog?

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!

Sorry, but dogs are not allowed to come along for the hike on a guided tour.

No dogs are allowed in the caves! 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 in a shaded spot in your vehicle with fresh air, food, and water. A self guided lap of the open access caves tends to take around an hour and a half.

I don’t like caves. What else is there to do?

LOTS. We know not everybody wants to go inside the cave. Non-cavers are invited to learn about the caves and their geology in the Cave Theatre and Museum display. There is also a great hike with signs along the way explaining the geology and surface features. Public 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.