Exploring middle-Northwest

In a hole in the ground, there lives a hobbit adventure.

It’s a nasty, dirty hole. Hardly as comfortable as a hobbit-hole. But Mount St. Helens’ Ape Cave seems as though it could have inspired several of the adventures of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels.

Peter Jackson filmed his six Middle-earth opuses, including the upcoming “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” in New Zealand. Much too far for hobbit-themed quests of modest means.

However, middle-Northwest with its jagged peaks, thick forests and occasional caves is an adequate substitute. And, we’re told, there are no fire-breathing dragons.


It has two mouths but doesn’t eat.

Wait a minute, if one end is the mouth does that mean the other end is the ... Maybe we should leave the riddles to Gollum and Bilbo.

In any case, there are two ways to enter Ape Cave for subterranean adventure: the main entrance near the parking lot or the upper entrance at the end of Ape Cave Trail.

The upper cave is 1.5 miles and the lower cave is 0.75 miles, and navigating the lava tube requires scrambling over boulders and sometimes squeezing through tight places.

The cave’s temperature is almost always 42 degrees. With the exception of a skylight in the upper cave, Ape Cave is dark — a terrible place to lose a ring — so Gifford Pinchot National Forest managers recommend two sources of light per person.

The cave is open year-round, but there are no lantern rentals in the winter.

LOCATION : Near Cougar in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

ENTRY: Starting Monday, a Sno-Park permit ($20 per vehicle per day or $40 per year) is required, and the cave is reached via a 1-mile hike (or perhaps snowshoe trek) from the Trail of Two Forests. In warmer months, when a Sno-Park permit isn’t required, each vehicle must have a Northwest Forest Pass.

MORE INFO: fs.usda.gov/

m www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa.


When on an epic adventure, questing past majestic waterfalls isn’t quite enchanting enough. One must hike behind them.

An opportunity to do just that is available among the many waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area.

Ponytail Falls isn’t the biggest waterfall in the gorge. In fact, it’s usually passed up in favor of the roadside Horsetail Falls. The 176-foot Horsetail Falls is an easy photo op, but those willing to climb about 360 feet uphill in less than a half mile are rewarded with the other falls.

The trail travels behind the 75-foot Ponytail Falls, then continues upward through the lush Oneonta Gorge.

LOCATION: The Horsetail Trailhead on East Historic Columbia River Highway.

ENTRY: No pass required.

MORE INFO: fs.usda.gov/crgnsa.


Hobbit, schmobbit. Have you seen that intense new trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens?”

Treehouse Point might look like an elven kingdom, but manager Damon Bishop says he hears visitors chattering more about Ewoks.

“But I’m sure that will change when the next ‘Hobbit’ movie comes out,” Bishop said.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter, he said. Most visitors are there to live their own fantasy.

“They’re usually here for a quiet romantic getaway and to participate in nature activities,” Bishop said.

Treehouse Point near Issaquah has eight treehouses, six of which are available for overnight rentals. The resort is quite popular thanks to owner Pete Nelson’s role in the reality TV show “Treehouse Masters.”

The resort accepts reservations nearly a year in advance for weekdays and 60 days in advance for weekends, and scoring a reservation can be a challenge. A winter reservation is easier to come by, Bishop said. He says the trick to getting in is to contact the resort via its website.

The most requested rentals are the Temple of the Blue Moon and Burl. Construction of Burl was documented in an episode of “Treehouse Masters.”

Children younger than 13 aren’t allowed for overnight visits, but they are welcome on tours.

LOCATION: 6922 Preston Fall City Road Southeast, Issaquah.

ENTRY: $255-355 per night. Tours are $18. Drop-in visitors aren’t permitted at the resort. Reservations for lodging and tours should be made via the website.

MORE INFO: treehousepoint.com.


The green world of the Hoh Rainforest is bound to stimulate your imaginations.

Kids can pretend those massive trees are sleeping Ents (the tree creatures from the “Lord of the Rings”). And the enormous plants fed by 140-170 inches of rain per year will make you feel a little more hobbit-sized.

The Hoh River Trail is a popular hike that’s significantly less crowded during the winter. It’s long (17.4 miles each way), but an out-and-back hike of any distance allows visitors to experience the temperate rainforest. Shorter nature hikes, such as the Hall of Mosses hike are also good options.

The Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center is closed for the winter and a remodeled facility is expected to open next spring.

LOCATION: Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park. South of Forks, follow Upper Hoh Road about 18 miles east of U.S. Highway 101.

ENTRY: $15 per vehicle, per week.

MORE INFO: nps.gov/olym.


Teri Renteria of Treesort near the southern Oregon town of Cave Junction says the treehouse rentals are 80 percent booked for summer 2015, and spring break is also filling up quickly. “But winter is usually wide open,” Renteria said.

Many of the usual amenities (horseback riding and massages) aren’t available in the winter, but prices are reduced and visitors can still sign up for a zip-line tour.

Journey home along the Oregon Coast and stop at Heceta Head (North of Florence) for a short walk on the Hobbit Trail. The trail travels downhill through a thick forest. The trail is often described as tunnel-like because of the surrounding rhododendrons. The half-mile trail deposits hikers on an ocean beach.

MORE INFO: treehouses.com, oregonstateparks.org.