A Guide to Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve features 750,000+/- acres of captivating geological terrain and miles of lava beds to explore. The vast, volcanic landscape depicts decades of hardened lava flows that emerged from a series of deep cracks in the Earth's crust, forming the territory almost 15,000+/- years ago. Find nearly 618+/- square miles of exposed fissures, cinder & spatter cones, lava tubes & rivers, tree molds, and lava beds caused by this incredible natural phenomenon. The exceptionally well-preserved and distinct topography is a testament to the end of an era and has created a national monument that attracts travelers from all over the globe.
With miles of land to explore, the area offers many possibilities for hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, wildlife observation, and backcountry excursions. Consider checking out the 7-mile Loop Road and trails in the National Park Service Monument for convenient access to a range of volcanic points of interest and activities along the way. Open to motorists and 4-wheel-drive vehicles, discover an additional network of primitive roads in the Bureau of Land Management backcountry for various driving and travel opportunities.
When to Visit...
With brisk temperatures and occasionally snow sticking around until May, Spring is a great season to hit the trails and catch the first signs of thaw and wildflower blooms. Due to possibly snowy conditions, the loop road and lava tubes are often not accessible until around April and can cut back on the amount of tourist traffic. As the month progresses, mid to late June remains an excellent middle ground for extended wilderness excursions, capturing peak blooming season and overall milder temperatures.
Summer can last from July well into August and is often complemented by warm temperatures during the day and gorgeous star-covered skies at night. Due to the high desert terrain, trail hiking adventures are recommended during the early morning hours for far-reaching views of the sunrise and moderate temperatures. As the day starts to warm up, take the opportunity to visit the cool interior of a lava tube to escape the heat. With so much territory to cover, it's easy to find solitude, regardless of the amount of pedestrian traffic.
As summer comes to a close and temperatures start to cool, the lack of wind can make for some of the most pleasant weather. By this time, most crowds clear out, ideal for visiting the area and more popular tourist destinations. Fall is another excellent time to head out into the wilderness for miles of backpacking adventures and the opportunity to capture the transformation of gorgeous autumn colors dominate the landscape. Find access to conveniently situated campsites and amenities often available into October.
By far the most prominent season, winter covers several months from November through March, depending on the year. The loop road usually closes by mid-November and opens up to cross-country skiing as soon as snow covers the ground. Snowshoeing and skiing are excellent ways to tour the park, with passage to around 5+/- miles of frequently groomed pathway and low visitor traffic.
Where to Start...
Begin your adventure by stopping at the Visitor Center for a wealth of information, including maps, trail suggestions, upcoming presentations, guided hikes, and events. Wander through various exhibits and learn about the effects of volcanism and why it remains a point of interest for geologists, biologists, climatologists, N.A.S.A. research, and space mission training to this day. Due to the drastically similar volcanic landscape found on the moon, Craters of the Moon serves as a national hotspot for space research and continues to function as a regional location for astronauts to learn how to navigate a lava environment.
Things to Do...
Head further into the park to enjoy stunning scenic views of the area's unique volcanic features and explore popular destinations for hiking, picnicking, photo opportunities, star gazing, camping, and more!
Drive the Scenic Loop Road
Craters of the Moon Scenic Loop is a 7+/- mile moderately trafficked trail featuring beautiful wildflowers and access to a plethora of hiking options. The paved pathway is accessible year-round and connects to a network of popular routes, including the Devil's Orchard Nature Trail, Spatter Cones, and a rewarding trek up Inferno Cone for 360-degree panoramic views of the park. The scenic road travels past a host of volcanic features and carves its way through the overall surreal landscape, showcasing some of the park's most popular points of interest.
Hike the Moon
Craters of the Moon offers numerous unique hiking and backpacking experiences great for beginners and beyond. Find a range of outdoor adventures to add to the list and a plethora of ways to enjoy the natural landscape.
1. An excellent option for the novice hiker, Broken Top Loop Trail is a 1.8+/- trail that loops around a hill and showcases "lava bombs" or masses of molten rock that cooled before hitting the ground.
2. Another popular trailhead to consider is the Inferno Cone. Park at the nearby overlook or choose to hike this 0.2+/- moderately steep trail that travels up a cinder cone to reveal impressive panoramic views of the Monument, Great Rift, Snake River Plains, and the Pioneer Mountains.
3. For those on the adventurous side, check out Spatter Cones Trail and Snow Cone Trail for incredible views of the volcanic topography and "miniature volcanoes" referred to as spatter cones. These cones form when a volcano erupts a short distance from the ground, and the bubbling molten lava adheres to the walls forming what appears to be a mini volcano.
Go Caving in a Lava Tube
With over 500+/- caves and counting, Craters of the Moon is a hotspot for cave exploration. Home to five well-known lava tubes, four with convenient access from the 1.6+/- mile long Caves Trail, the caverns range from easy to difficult and require preparation before descending. Consider visiting one of the four tubes along the route, including the Indian Tunnel, Dewdrop Cave, Beauty Cave, Boy Scout Cave.
1. Indian is the largest and most beginner-friendly cave, measuring around 800+/- feet long and 30+/- feet tall for easy access. Enjoy the additional perks, including the conveniently added staircase at the entrance and massive skylights to lead the way.
2. Dewdrop Cave is an excellent option for those wanting a short descent with breathtaking views of the hidden treasures that lie below the surface. The ceiling boasts glistening rock formations and spectacular illusions created by the stalactites.
3. Beauty Cave opens with a grand entrance, leading down a series of prominent boulders to a slim unlit corridor. The cooler temperatures and intriguing rock arrangements make for a relaxing escape from warmer temperatures.
4. Considered the most difficult of the four, Boy Scout Cave begins with an exhilarating descent down into the depths of a massive cave with varying passage sizes and unique formations. This adventurous route requires tight squeezes and is an excellent opportunity to take on a challenge.