Have you ever wanted to feel like you are on another planet without needing a spaceship, gear and a lot less planning? Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho might be just the place for you!
This place is in South Central (a.k.a. out in the middle of nowhere) Idaho. As you drive along Highway 26, you will see a lot of flat land covered in sage bushes, some mountains and buttes off in the distance, but not much else. As you get closer to the park, you will start to see these strange black rocks laying all over until that is all you see covering the ground.
Once you get to the park, you will be able to see all kinds of strange volcanic rocks and formations. The park lies on the Great Rift volcanic rift zone which is how all the strange rock formations and rugged terrain came to be. This is one of the few places in the world where you are able to see these kinds of rocks and formations. It is a great place to visit if you like geology!
Things to do
Stop at the Visitor Center
Here you will be able to pick up a map and get some ideas from the rangers for what kinds of activities to do depending on the time of year you are visiting. There are also nice bathrooms here and will be the last with sinks you will see in the park. There is also a museum where you can learn about the geology of the area, including what different kinds of rocks are present in the park, types of lava flows that occurred here and how they were formed. In addition to rocks, the museum includes exhibits about the plants and animals that call Craters home. Lastly, there are exhibits on the peoples who have traveled through Craters many years ago and about the astronauts that came to Craters in preparation for their missions to the moon!
Hike up a Spatter or Inferno Cone
These strange formations are formed from the last little bits of magma that came bubbling to the surface. As the rocks erupted and hardened, you can see these cones that look like hills made of black gravel and strange hollow rocks. If you decide to hike up to the top of the inferno cone, you will get a great vantage point of the park and can see just how big the eruptions actually were.
There are a few different options for camping at the park. First is the Lava Flow campground. Here you will find sites with a charcoal grill and picnic table; however, there are no hookups available here. There is also an area available for group camping if you are visiting with more than 8 people. Lastly, if you are feeling brave, there is backcountry/ wilderness camping available. For more information about camping at the park, check out the NPS website for Craters of the Moon.
Explore the park via snowshoes or skiis
This park and visitor center remains open during the winter months. Craters is a completely different kind of wild in the wintertime with the white snow set against the black volcanic rocks. Snowshoes are available to rent from the visitor center and you can find trail maps to help guide you through the park in the snow.
Gaze at the Stars
Since there is really nothing anywhere close to this park, it gets very dark at night which makes it perfect for stargazing. Whether you are camping or decided to just come for a few hours after dark, on a clear night you will have an awesome view of the night sky and will see a mind boggling amount of stars. This is a great experience at any of the National Parks if you get the chance!
Explore the Caves and Lava Tubes
When the lava was flowing through this area many years ago, a system of caves and tubes were created underground. Some of them are small and you need to crouch down to see anything, while others are huge and you need to be careful not to get lost in them! There are quite a few marked caves that you can go spelunking in that are right off the main trails. The Indian Tunnel cave even has stairs that make getting into the cave to explore a lot easier. NOTE- you will need a permit to go in any of the caves. These are free and can be picked up at the visitor center.
Things to keep in mind
- This place gets HOT in the summer. There is not very much shade and the black lava rocks just absorb heat all day. Bring a lot of water with you and make sure your water bottles are full before you do any hikes- even short ones. Water bottle filling stations can be found at the visitor center.
- Keep the bats safe! If you go into any of the caves, do not wear any clothing or shoes that you have worn in any other caves!!! It is possible for you to transmit diseases to the bats that call these caves home without even knowing it. More information can be found at the visitor center.
- Don’t get lost off-roading. This park is huge and there is a lot of backcountry space to explore, but there is also not a lot of cell phone reception in case of emergency, so be careful if you decide to explore off the trails.
Have you visited Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve? Do you have any more questions about the park and surrounding areas? Send us an email or let us know in the comments below.