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Hidden Realm Adventures Inc.
Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park
About This Park
Almost like being there! Click the play button to take a fantastic virtual tour of Horne Lake caves and learn about karst landscapes.
The best in Canada! That is one way to describe the cave resources of Vancouver Island, home to more than 1,000 caves. At Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park you can experience the magic of the underground world in the many caves protected within this unique park. The park was established in 1971 at the request of public caving groups on Vancouver Island who were concerned about the potential damage of the caves and the fragile crystal formations they contained.
The park can be enjoyed above or below ground. For those that prefer their adventures above-ground, the park also offers a Cave & Karst Education Centre that features geology information, a small museum and fossil display in addition to Canada’s only Cave Theatre, so visitors can learn more about this unique environment without having to venture underground. Other above-ground opportunities include a self-guided walk through the amazing surface geology on the “Phil Whitfield Interpretive Trail” that highlights interesting surface features detailed in a self-guiding brochure.
Spelunking is the art of cave exploration and Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is the perfect place to discover this unique activity. From educational family-oriented tours to deep, dark adventure, the caves protected within this park offer something for everyone. Knowledgeable guides can lead visitors through the caves to discover this magical world of crystal formations and ancient fossils firsthand. Though the park has two small caves visitors can explore on their own, a guided tour of one of the larger caves offers more variety and a chance to learn about the cave’s unique geology and history.
Whichever method of exploring the caves you choose, you are bound to be fascinated by this amazing underground world in the heart of Vancouver Island.
Park Size: 158 hectares
Date Established: January 26, 1971
Know Before You Go
General Park Information
- Bring your own drinking water as potable water is not available in the park.
- Campfires are not permitted.
- There is no camping available in the park but the Horne Lake Regional Park located next to the park offers camping opportunities.
Cave Etiquette and Safety
- Carry at least two lights per person - flashlights and headlamps are the best choice. This gear is available for rent on site at the caving office during their business hours. The use of candles, torches and Coleman lanterns is prohibited because open flame can damage the special rock formations.
- It is recommended that hardhats or helmets be worn in the caves.
- Due to the cool damp air in the caves, even during the summer, you are advised to wear warm clothing.
- Do not enter the caves alone. It is recommended that three persons are a minimum per party and six persons are a maximum on self-guided cave tours.
- Leave precise information of your plans and your estimated arrival time home with someone responsible.
- 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.
- Do not damage or remove any rock formations or features from the caves.
- When visiting a cave follow in one line. This will reduce the spread of mud over the features and throughout the rest of the cave.
- Pets are not permitted in the caves.
- Please remove all litter. “Leave No Trace” of your visit.
Please note - there is no camping in this park.
Maps and Brochures
- Park Map [PDF]
Nature and Culture
History - The first written records of caves in the area came after the turn of the century, in 1912, when a geologist noted the presence of caves at the north end of Horne Lake. A few years later, when the area was opened up for logging, the loggers knew the location of the caves. It is not known if the loggers ventured into the depths of the caves but a stream in one of the caves was dammed to provide water for the steam donkeys used in early logging practices.
It was not until 1939 that the caves gained public attention. Two cave explorers were responsible for rediscovering what they named the “Horne Lake Wonder Caves”. At this point only the Main and Lower Main Caves were known, although some speculated on the potential for more caves in the area. The presence of a noticeable air current at the mouth of Main Cave led people to believe there must be a system of caves, of which Main was just a part. In 1941, a storekeeper from Qualicum reported entering a sizable cave almost a quarter of a mile long, some distance from the already discovered caves. This was probably the first discovery of Riverbend Cave.
By 1945, the caves had become a known tourist stop for people looking for adventure. This increased use of the caves, however, took its toll and by the summer of 1945 a party of explorers noted that many of the once beautiful formations were either broken or removed by souvenir seekers. This same party found the storekeeper’s cave, Riverbend.
In 1957, the Horne Lake Caves area of approximately 29 hectares was established as a recreation reserve in an effort to ensure opportunities for the public to continue to view these caves in the future. Six years later a group of cavers from Victoria discovered the two entrances to Eggshell Cave. The value of this area was recognized by members of the Canadian Speleological Society, who then approached the provincial government to have this area protected. Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park was established in February 1971.
- Conservation - In addition to protecting the karst features and caves, this park includes a forested addition that protects approximately 1 km of the Qualicum River adjacent to Horne Lake Caves. This forest provides a visual buffer for visitors to the existing park. The area also protects high fish and wildlife values.
Activities Available at this Park
There are opportunities for canoeing or kayaking in this park. Big Qualicum River runs approximately 1 km downstream into Horne Lake. Please note there is no easy access to the river and during the summer season, the river becomes very shallow or dries up.
The Horne Lake Regional Park is located adjacent to the provincial park. The Regional Park 900 metres away allows access to Horne Lake which provides recreation opportunities for camping, swimming, fishing and picnicking nearby.
From educational family-oriented tours to deep, dark adventure, the caves protected within Horne Lake Park offer something for everyone. Knowledgeable guides can lead visitors through the caves to discover this magical world of crystal formations and ancient fossils firsthand. Though the park has two small caves visitors can explore on their own, a guided tour offers more variety and a chance to learn about the cave's unique geology and history.
The lower cave gates are locked every night and re-open for self-exploration every day at 10am. The first 20 metres of Main Cave, Lower Main Cave, and all of Andres Annex are open for self exploration.
Riverbend Cave and Main Cave beyond the gate are only accessible by guided tour.
The easiest tour is the Riverbend Cave Explorer Tour (age 5+) that highlights the beautiful crystal formations while navigating the larger passages without having to squeeze or crawl. The shortest tour is not the easiest considering the narrow vertical-squeeze entrance, but the 1 hr Main Cave Adventure (age 5+) features rock scrambling and a ride down Canada’s only Cave Slide! The Multi-Cave Experience (age 8+) provides 3 hours of cave exploring that combines the best features and challenges for adventurous families and novice cave explorers including a climb up an underground waterfall! Those wanting maximum adventure can sign on to the Extreme Cave & Rappel (age 13+), a five-hour excursion that has explorers rappel down a seven-storey waterfall that leads into the “China Shop Passage” to reach the very end of this amazing cave with a climb out on a cable ladder. Not for the faint of heart! An outdoor rappel training session is included in the price or available as a stand-alone adventure (age7+).
All caving equipment is included on the guided tours with certified cave guides. See what park visitors have to say about their experience by checking out popular Trip Review sites. Best to reserve your tour ahead of time online or by phone 250 248-7829.
More information available at: hornelake.com
A short trail takes you from the Visitor Centre across a suspension bridge over the Big Qualicum River and uphill to the cave systems. The Phil Whitfield Interpretive Trail leads hikers through lush rainforest past interesting limestone karst/cave geological features with interpretive signage that tell the story of the caves’ origin. Disappearing streams, fossils, banded outcroppings and the cave entrances can be seen on a 950m loop that starts and ends at the Visitor Centre.
Please note: the trails and caves are not wheelchair-accessible. For your own safety and the preservation of the park, obey posted signs and keep to designated trails. Shortcutting trails destroys plant life and soil structure.
The Cave Visitor Centre offers a variety of regularly scheduled and guided tours and educational programs for individuals and school groups. Short videos and interpretive displays provide alternative opportunities to enjoy the park without having to venture underground.
More information available at: https://hornelake.com