El Capitan Cave

Useful Information

Location: Tongass National Forest, Prince of Wales Island, southeast Alaska.
Open: no restrictions
Fee: free
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: none
Dimension: L=3,653 m, VR=130 m.
Guided tours:  
Address: Tongass National Forest, Federal Building, 648 Mission Street, Ketchikan, AK 99901, Tel: +1-907-225-3101, Fax: +1-907-228-6215. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1990 caver Kevin Allred discovered the Hibernaculum, a passage filled with bear bones.
1992 collapsed entrance opened for the excavation.


The new wooden path to El Capitan Cave is only 450 m long, but climbs an elevation of about 100 m. After this strenuous climb the visitor is rewarded with a nice view of Kosciusko Island and a 50 m long cave passage, which ends at a gate. This gate was installed to protect the visitors from falling into a pit, and of course to protect the cave. The part of the cave behind the gate floods during storms, so visits are reserved for speleologists. There are guided walks into the cave conducted by the Thorne Bay District during summer.

Very important are the discoveries of fossil bones in the upper level of the cave. Caver Kevin Allred discovered in 1990 a passage he called Hibernaculum, because of the bones. There were bones of numerous black bears (Ursus americanus), the most prominent one of a large female black bear 20 m from the former entrance. This former entrance to the cave which was used by the bears, but collapsed later, which protected the bones. To accomplish the excavation the entrance was reopened, but after the work it was sealed again. The excavation was funded by the National Geographic Society and Tongass National Forest.