Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is located along the Qualicum River, north of Qualicum Beach on central Vancouver Island. The 158-hectare park protects seven caves in the cave system, considered to be one of the best in Canada.
Horne Lake is named after Adam Horne (1831-1903), a Hudson Bay Company storekeeper in Nanaimo, who discovered the lake in 1856. Horne was perhaps the first European to cross central Vancouver Island.
The cave was discovered in 1964 by a party of spelunkers headed by longshoreman Jim Johnson of Nanaimo, and his wife Delores. At 4,000 feet long and containing more than 1,000 caves, it was believed to be the largest measured natural cave in BC. Johnson named the cave Euclataws, after the First Nation people who had resided there for generations. Johnson’s party sealed off the entrance and kept its existence a secret to protect the caves and the fragile crystal formations they contained.
The cave was “rediscovered” in 1969 by members of the Canadian Speleological Society, and named Casteret Cave after French speleologist Norbert Casteret; the Society later agreed to use Johnson’s earlier name, Euclataws. The cave is now under the jurisdiction of the Provincial government, which incorporated the area into a provincial park in 1971.
The caves are largely undeveloped, and in keeping with the natural theme, none of the caves have lighting, and the floors are rocky and uneven. The caves are cool, even during summer, so bring warm clothing and good footwear. Visitors wanting to explore on their own should have at least two sources of light, and helmets are highly recommended. These supplies are available to rent from the tour operator. The routes within the caves are not marked, and contain steep slopes, slippery sections, and exposed drops. Self-explorers should exercise extreme caution while traveling in the caves.
From the parking area a trail leads across a swinging suspension bridge over the Qualicum River to the main cave. The Main Cave and Lower Cave are open for self-guided tours throughout the year.
Three guided programs are conducted in Riverbend Cave: Family Interpretive, High Adventure or the Underground Extreme program. The main focus of the worthwhile guided tour program is the conservation of the cave environment through education and adventure.
The 1.5-hour Family Interpretive tour is designed to teach the geology and history of the caves. It starts with a 25 minute hike to the entrance along the Karst Trail. While exploring the larger and easier passageways, visitors are treated to a cave full of beautiful crystalline formations. There are no narrow squeezes or tight passages involved in this tour.
Looking for adventure? Where the family tour stops, this “The High Adventure” begins. This 5 hour wild and challenging underground expedition is basic rock climbing.
The adventure begins in the Siphone Room and continues down a series of vertical drops. One on one instruction is provided for inexperienced climbers to rope their way to the top of a seven-story waterfall known as the Rainbarrel.
Go further than ever before! This is an extension of the High Adventure expedition with an added thrill. Rappel down seven story Rainbarrel and visit the spectacular China Shop at the very end of this amazing cave. Explorers will return to the surface by climbing back up the Rainbarrel on a wild cable ladder. Not for the faint of heart! Dress warmly and appropriately for caving, and carry a flashlight.
The park has a day-use/picnic area with 2 picnic tables and pit toilets. Located next to the Big Qualicum River, the day-use area offers a shallow area suitable for swimming or wading. Other adventures include canoe and water safety instruction on Horne Lake, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and fishing. There is a private campground adjacent to the park with a boat launch. There is no safe access to the Qualicum River from the day-use area.
The area offers viewing opportunities to see birds, bears and deer. During the fall season, you can see eagles feeding on trout at the campground area next to the park.
Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is located 38 miles (60 km) north of Nanaimo, and 16 miles (26 km west) of Qualicum on central Vancouver Island. The caves are reached from Qualicum Bay off Island Highway 19A on Horne Lake Road. Turn at the Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park signs at the Horne Lake Exit and follow the signs for 7 miles (12 km) along a gravel road on the north shore of Horne Lake.
For more information on Horne Lake Caves visit their website at: www.hornelake.com
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