Quick Guide To Craters Of The Moon National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument is fast becoming one of our favorite public land areas! Lots of history, hike levels for everyone and scenery unlike anything else. We hope this guide will give you some quick tips if you plan to adventure there!
As always, be sure you Adventure Responsibly in any place you travel, especially in Public Lands by having Adventure Awareness, Knowing and Follow the Rules, Leave It Better and Helping others.
Craters of the Moon? Whats that all about? Maybe you've never heard of this place, we can't blame you as it is a bit off the beaten path and it's not a traditional hot spot like other parks. If we didn't live (relatively) close or had grown up around the area, we might have never visited either!
Craters of the Moon (so named as the landscape resembles the surface of the moon) is a large park covered in lava! Thankfully the last eruption was about 2000 years ago so the lava is very, very cool. Still, the cinder cones, lava formations, lava tubes etc. are a sight to behold!
While early adventurers found this place to be inhospitable and not much to look at, others saw the unique beauty and research value and this land was set apart and protected in 1924, and expanded by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Though the designation is recent, this area has been a sacred and important location to Indigenous People for thousands of years. It is speculated that many of them saw the last volcanic activity here 2000 years ago.
What we found fascinating is that the volcanic activity isn't done here yet! The area is on a 2-3,000 year cycle, so geologists anticipate some activity in the (relatively) near future. Read more about it on the NPS site.
Getting there: Craters of the Moon NM is, no pun intended, out there. About 1.5 hours from Idaho Falls, ID and 15 miles from Arco, ID (the nearest town). Once you leave Idaho Falls, there are few, if any services along the way.
Where to stay: The monument itself has a great campground, but we have always enjoyed staying at the KOA in Arco, ID about 15 miles outside of the monument. Arco has a lot of history (the first US city powered by nuclear power) along with being historical to my family as my Great-Grandfather as Mayor there way back when. If you have kids, the KOA is great as they have lots of additional activities and amenities. We always stay in their cozy cabins and highly suggest the same! There are of course other camping options around the area as Arco is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
What to do:
Hike and explore, of course! Each of our trips there have been unique, this most recent being no exception. While the main sites could be seen in a day, we recommend at least two-days to really get a feel for the place. Due to recent earthquakes and multiple aftershocks in the area, the massive Indian Tunnel lava tube was closed due to un-safe conditions. Due to the current Covid pandemic, all of the caves are closed as well as it is impossible to maintain any social distance. That said, whether you go now or when regulations have eased, there is still plenty to do! We recommend the following:
-Stop and say hello at the visitor center. The Rangers are always glad to see you. You can also pick up a Junior Ranger program; even if you're an adult! The program is a great way to find activities, learn some history and a reminder of our need for stewardship.
*NOTE: if you plan on going into any of the caves, you must stop and get a cave permit (free) from the rangers and confirm your shoes have not been in any other caves so as not to upset the ecological balance of these places.
-Indian Tunnel (If not closed-off) This massive tunnel is (in our onion) the crown jewel of the park. You don't need a flashlight for this tube as the holes in the roof allow for plenty of sunlight.
Image of Indian Tunnel via the NPS
-Hike the Inferno Cone. A very easy hike up this cinder cone gives incredible views. Once done there, make the trip across the road to...
-Spatter Cones. Some easy to more moderate hiking to see the that spewed all the cinder to form Inferno Cone, and see some of the larger "craters."
-Tree Molds hike. Is that some type of tree fungus? Nope! You'll have to take this easy 2-mile RT hike to see what it's all about. Trust us, it is fascinating!
-Drive the scenic Loop Road to get an idea of this incredible landscape
-As mentioned previously, if the caves are open and you plan to visit there, you MUST obtain the cave permit from the Ranger/visitor center for safety and impact info.
-As in most parks, "Pets must remain on a leash no longer than 6 feet. They are not allowed on any of the trails or in the visitor center. Pets are welcome on the road, campground, and parking areas. Owners must properly dispose of pet waste and control pet behavior."
-Drones are not allowed in the park
-The black lava rock is a great reflector of heat! In the summer, it can be fairly brutal and shade/water is vary sparse. Be prepared with the right clothing, hydration and sun protection.
-While there are some areas you can walk on the lava (very limited), the park has strict on-trail rules as the lava is fragile and breaks down to a fine powder over time, altering the landscape. be respectful of the rules and regulations.
-As tempting as it is to gather rocks to commemorate your trip, collecting is in deed against the rules. Please leave the beautiful rocks for others to enjoy.
Final Thoughts: As we went through the park and read all the informative signs (of course), a sign with this quote had us thinking long after:
“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think” -Gregory Bateson
Be sure to check out this amazing park with love, respect and as always, Adventure Responsibly!