About four percent of Vancouver Island is limestone karst, an ideal geology for water to erode rock and create a subterranean network. The island has over one thousand recorded caves, more than all the caves discovered in Canada’s other provinces combined. The best introduction to this underground eco-system is Horne Lake Caves, located in a provincial park off the highway between Nanaimo and Courtenay. These caverns require hard-hats, headlamps, overalls, scrambling, ducking, sliding and squeezing.
Cost: From $60 to $200 per participant, depending on the tour you choose. Tours range from introductory 90 minute Riverbend Cave Explorer, to the 5.5 hour Max Depth Adventure!
Best time to go: Summer and Fall are driest and cave tours depart every day. Horne Lake Caves recommend visiting either early or late in the day.
Winter and spring can be wet and wild, they recommend calling ahead for guided tours.
Where to Stay: There is a regional campground nearby, or there are plenty of accommodation options in Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni or Courtenay.
Official Site: https://hornelake.com/
Getting There: Horne Lake Caves Park is located 60 km north of Nanaimo and 26 km west of Qualicum on central Vancouver Island. The park can be accessed via the Horne Lake exit off Hwy 19 or Hwy 19a. Follow signs for 12 km to Horne Lake.
Notes: Riverbend Cave is 384 metres (1270 ft.) long. Main Cave is 136 metres (450 ft.) long. Andre’s Annex is 54m. long (177 ft.). Lower Cave is 40 metres (132 ft.) long. Most caves contain rooms 2-3 storeys high. Riverbend Cave has a seven-storey waterfall inside! Temperatures are 8C year-round, so you’ll want to wear warm clothes, and closed-toe shows. For winter/spring tours, it will get wet so you’re advised to bring a change of clothes. The easier tours are limited to 10 participants, the challenging ones limited to 6. Relax, there are no rodents, snakes, spiders or bats in the caves! Check the minimum age requirements before you book, as the more challenging tours are restricted to participants aged 13 and up.