Upana Caves - North West Vancouver Island
Village of Gold River
Phone: 250-283- 7334
Introduction to Upana Caves:
The Upana Caves are located 17 km northwest of Gold River on the Head Bay Forest Road (to Tahsis). Driving time is 25 minutes
A written account of the discovery of Upana Caves has not been found. The first systematic exploration and mapping of the Upana Caves was undertaken by recreational cavers in 1975. Cavers named the system for the river that flows through one of the caves. Since 1975 the Upana Caves have attracted thousands of visitors. The underground sequences of the television series, Huckleberry Finn and His Friends, were filmed at these caves.
The Upana Caves:
The Upana Caves are actually comprised of several caves within one group. There are fifteen known entrances within the system. The combined length of cave passages is approximately 450 meters (1,476) feet. The cave interiors remain in a relatively wild, undeveloped state. This means that they are without the comforts and conveniences of major North American show caves.
The individual caves vary in size from single rooms to branching passages of considerable length. The overall passage and room dimensions are comparable with those of other Vancouver Island caves.
Preparation for Caving:
To safely explore the caves you should carry a reliable source of light. While in the caves watch for low ceilings and slippery conditions, a hard hat and sturdy boots with rubber soles are recommended. For the more adventurous hands and knees visitors, additional protective clothing is also recommended.
The Upana Caves are a year-round experience. No matter what the weather is outside the temperature inside the caves averages a chilly 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit) so bring a sweater or jacket!
Code of conduct in the Caves:
While on a self-guiding tour follow these basic rules and the appearance of the caves can be maintained for future visitors:
Keep to the established trails and underground routes
Do not litter or mark the caves
Do not disturb crickets, spiders, or other forms of cave life
Do not touch delicate cave formations
Refrain from smoking and lighting fires
Self-Guided Tour through Upana Caves:
By following this guide, a tour of the caves takes about one hour.
1. Are we there yet? – turn off the Head Bay Forest Road onto Branch Road H-27 to the parking area? When driving to and from the Upana Caves, be prepared to pull over to let industrial traffic go past. This drive takes 1 hour and 10 minutes from down town Campbell River to the cave park.
2. Parking and preparations – car headlights off? Caving headlights work? Don’t forget your spare light, hard hat, flash camera and warm clothing if you plan to go underground.
3. An old forest – leaving the road you walk down the trail through an old growth forest of western white pine, western hemlock and yellow cedar. Many of these trees are over 200 years old even though their height and diameter may make you think otherwise.
4. New directions? At this view point both the trail and the Upana River take sudden changes in direction. The river turns right following a fault in the rock. We go left.
5. A young forest – this area was harvested in 1980 and planted in 1981 with over 6,800 western hemlock, amabilis (balsam) fir and yellow cedar seedlings.
6. Dry gully – for all the rain and snow that falls here, (over 2500 mm per year) you won’t find water in the gully on your right. You are entering a landscape where sinking streams, caves and sinkholes have developed through the action of water on the limestone bedrock. This is called karst topography.
7. Insect Cave – don’t be put off by the name to try out your first cave! Crickets and spiders much prefer the cool, wet darkness of the cave to your collar or pants, anyway! The crickets spend part of their life cycle underground – From November to June.
8. The Keyhole – at the bottom of the hill, head left through this limestone tube into the large entrance room of Main Cave.
9. Main Cave – There are numerous passages to explore here if you are well equipped. Remember, this is basically a wild cave like all the rest so you are on your own.
10. Disappearing water – if you’ve followed the main underground route you’re now looking at the Upana River siphon. Swimming is not recommended and the water is really cold anyway! Here the river follows an underground course for thirty (30) meters before reappearing in the Resurgence Cave.
Now return back through the Keyhole to the main trail.
11. Tunnel Cave – this large tubeis a longer version of the keyhole, called a phreatic tube, it was formed when water filled the entire passage and dissolved the limestone in all directions. If you enter, notice the karst window in the ceiling.
12. Waterfall viewpoint – this sunken area is best viewed during a typical west coast downpour. At one time the river may have flowed along the surface to where you are now standing.
13. Corner Cave – a side trail takes you to this cave which, if when you’re prepared is fun to explore.
14. How old are these trees? This area was harvested in 1971. The western hemlock and amabilis (balsam) fir naturally seeded the area so planting was not necessary. Count the branch whoris to estimate their age.
15. Canyon viewpoint – here the Upana River reappears below the ten (10) meter high entrance of Resurgence Cave. At one time the river was underground for the full length of this canyon before the passage collapsed and dissolved.
16. Resurgence Cave – down the stairs and just inside the cave entrance brings you to the last stop of the tour. Here; heat and pressure have transformed the limestone into a smooth, white marble.
We trust your visit will be an interesting and enjoyable one.