Chipmunk Caves are a series of limestone caves alongside Chilliwack river. They are pretty easy to reach, and really fun because you can climb up some steps into the cave mouth, and then traverse through and out another entrance! I’ve seen a few descriptions that say this is a “hidden gem” but when we visited it was really busy! I loved it, but it’s definately a popular spot for locals, even if it’s not super famous outside of Chilliwack.
The caves are located within the mossy rainforest of the Iron Curtain Cave Recreation Reserve. There are a couple more caves nearby that are barred by gates. I’ll write a about those too as they are fascinating, and might save humanity from superbugs.
Chipmunk Cave – The basics
Distance: 2 km
Elevation gain: Minimal (50m)
Time: 30-40 mins
What to bring: The 10 essentials, and a torch or headlamp.
Dogs: Great for dogs
How hard is it? Very family friendly! We saw lots of kids when we visited.
Chipmunk Cave Map
We kept going to a viewpoint (Larson’s Bench), if you fancy that; See our route on strava.
Geology of karst caves
These are solutional caves made from limestone. They are created when rainwater picks up carbon dioxide from the air, making it into a weak acid. This slowly soaks through the soil then dissolves the limestone along joints and fractures, until after hundreds of thousands of years the holes are large enough to form caves big enough for people to wander through. This area is a bit like a swiss cheese, with lots of holes and caves!
Chipmunk Caves – Getting started
It’s under 2 hours from Vancouver. From Vedder Bridge, drive 25.7 km up Chilliwack Lake Road. Or, it’s 15km from Chilliwack lake. The trailhead is not on google maps, so I made a link to the location here. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the “Cave parking” sign. The caves are just over a kilometer walk along an old FSR.
Follow the logging road down straight down to the Chilliwack River. The trail narrows as you enter the lush, mossy forest.
Chilliwack River loveliness
Chilliwack river is fed from Chilliwack Lake and the surrounding glaciers, so you can expect to see bright blue waters that are cold, even in the summertime. Still lots of people spend time swimming here, and there was even a bit of a pool!
How busy is Chipmunk Caves
Alltrails says it’s “unlikely you’ll encounter many other people while exploring” this area, but that was very wrong! We visited on a rubbish soggy day in August and it was easily the busiest spot we found near Chilliwack Lake (even more than Linderman Lake.) That worked out well for us, as one of the local ladies showed us around the caves. Otherwise I would have been nervous to climb through them!
You can’t quite see the scale from this photo, but the largest cave is pretty massive! You could easily fit 10 people in there.
Exploring around Chipmunk Caves
There are 3 main caves as well as a bunch of smaller caves close by. The best cave loop is to climb up the rickety steps to the second cave, bend down and climb inside. From there, you can climb through into the largest first cave!
If you bring flashlights you can peek into all the crevices and side rooms (if caves have rooms!?) You need to crouch down, but it’s an easy route and some light gets through from the linked cave. It’s so fun!
This view shows both entrances – the first cave is to the left and the linked second cave is up those stairs to the right.
If you are adventurous, you can follow trails along the cliffs to find some of the other smaller caves. Just be warned, the trails are very steep and pretty dodgy, so I don’t recommend this part for small children.
Iron Curtain Cave
Chipmunk Cave is located within the Iron Curtain Cave Recreation Reserve. It is named after another really cool cave, found in 1933 that is rich in iron deposits and fabulous stalactites. This (and the nearby Renaissance cave) is off the main tourist trail because they are far more technical to reach and have locked gates to stop people attempting it.
Inside the Iron Curtain Cave, researchers found hundreds of types of bacteria, that were so deep underground they had not been disturbed by the outside world. Over 10% of the bacteria samples they found were unknown; And two of them turned out to be efficient against multi-drug-resistant microbial strains. So there is a chance these ecologically sensitive caves will help cure superbugs! The whole thing is amazing and you can read an in depth article about it here. These caves don’t show up on recreational maps (deliberately) to try to protect them from vandals. Cavers do still visit; You can see photos here or visit Caving Canada here.
We didn’t attempt to find the other caves, but we saw a possible viewpoint on the map, so went to find it. There are impressive limestone cliffs with great views of the surrounding mountains.
Larson’s Bench rappelling site
It turns out, the viewpoint we’d spotted was actually a rappelling site with a metal bar that allows people to abseil down the cliff. We met a bunch of people setting up to do this on our way down.
This was our final view from the Iron Curtain Cave Recreation Reserve. It’s a pretty fab spot, with access to the river, Chipmunk Caves as well as the extra viewpoint.
Other cool spots nearby
It doesn’t take too long to explore Chipmunk Caves, so if you have time, you can visit a few other spots down Chilliwack Lake Road. We loved Bosumarne Falls, the loop of Linderman Lake to Flora Peak (via Greendrop Lake and Flora Lake) as well as the fabulous S⨱ótsaqel or Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park campground.
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