If you want to feel like you’ve entered a completely different world, Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park, just 90 minutes from Comox, fits the bill perfectly.
Choose Your Adventure
The park, at the end of a rough, windy road in the middle of a lush forest, offers several guided tours, including a five-hour-long adventure with a seven-storey-tall waterfall ($159). But we chose the self-guided tour.
The self-guided tours offer more flexibility to explore two of the caves without the constraints of a tour—a selling point with my energetic and enthusiastic five-year-old. One look at him jumping up and down with excited, nervous energy and we decide this is the better option.
Get Started: Safety First
Armed with helmets, headlamps, raingear, hiking boots and flashlights, we make the trek through the forest from the park entrance to the mouth of the first cave. It’s about a 10-minute walk, but uphill on a gravel path, and by the time we reach the cave, I’m already sweating in the hot summer sun.
I pause and look in front of me. The opening to the cave is taller than me and skinny, roughly cut into the side of the grey mountain. There are rippled, jagged edges jutting out—not the perfectly round holes I used to imagine for cave doors.
Step into the Cave
It’s only 8°C inside, so I zip up my blue raincoat. I pull out my neon glow-stick and wrap it around my wrist, giggling like a little kid who just got the coolest present ever. The stick is supposedly bright orange but right now, in the daylight, it looks pretty dull.
I take a deep breath to calm my nerves and wedge myself in sideways through the tight entrance. I steady myself by putting my hands on the cold wall in front of me and shuffle in. The cool dampness of the cave is refreshing and I’m glad I have my coat. It rustles against the rock that grazes my back and my heavy hiking boots slosh in the pools of water.
Explore the Rocks
Seconds after I step in, there’s no sign of the sunlight outside. All I can make out is the path in front of our headlamps and our now-impressive neon glow-sticks jumping out of the darkness.
I turn my head, careful to avoid the jagged rocks around me, and take in the scene. The tight opening has given way to a larger, taller room with more space for movement. My light scans across the rock walls. They’re smeared with dirt here, glistening with traces of running water there.
There are patches of white in the rock as well, trapped in the midst of the browny grey. I can hear the trickle of water and the distinct smell of wet rock hangs in the air.
I look up at the rocks drooping down from the ceiling and my jaw drops as I take it all in. Everywhere I look, there are nooks and crannies and places to explore. There are rocks that look like fluffy popcorn and bumpy cauliflower in one area, then sharp points and smooth crevices in another.
It’s like millions of years of shifting earth, melting ice and rushing water have carved out a not-so-secret funhouse for us to enjoy.
Relax and Enjoy
My light shines on my son, revealing his dirt-smeared clothes and grinning face. He’s climbed up a steep wall and is crouching down on a high ledge. He looks down at me then scooches along the ledge, his fluorescent pink bracelet bobbing through the darkness.
I get distracted by the bobbing as I walk and I stumble over a loose rock on the ground. Instinctively, I jerk my head back, thumping it on the solid wall as a dull thud bangs my head. I chuckle and adjust my helmet—definitely worth the $8 rental fee.
I sigh and keep walking, loving every second of this strange, new world.
The self-guided tour is free, but helmet rentals are $8 (recommended) and guided tours start at $20.
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