Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho

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.

Camping

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.

Happy exploring!

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wild place. A visit to this park provides not only these unique dunes, but beaches, plains, mountains, and wildflower filled valleys. The park and its signature dunes doesn’t inspire greatness as you approach because they are dwarfed by the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but keep driving! Once you arrive at the park, you will realize how exceptional the dunes and the surrounding landscape is to explore.

Start your trip with a visit to the visitor’s center. Here you can chat with the rangers and find out about their favorite things to do in the park. There is also a museum where you can learn all about the geology of the area including the formation of the dunes- and why they are still here! In addition to all that, there is also a gift shop, water filling stations, and bathrooms with flush toilets and sinks- a must stop before you hit the dunes!

There aren’t very many marked hiking trails here, but you are able to walk on the dunes as much as you want. Even though there are no established trails or markers, it is not easy to get lost. You can always orient yourself with the mountains and if you climb high enough you can find the Medano Creek and the visitor center to guide you.

Things to do

Sand Boarding

Its like snowboarding- but in the sand! There are no sand boards available in the park itself, but there are a plethora of places you can rent them from for your dunes adventures. Most of these places also have sleds available if you prefer sitting to standing. We didn’t have enough time here to make renting boards worthwhile, but the people who were using them made it look really fun!

Hike the Dunes

Like we mentioned earlier, there are not any marked trails on the dunes, so you are free to hike wherever you want! The tallest dune is unnamed, and it is quite a challenge to hike. The rangers said plan to spend about 4-5 hours round trip to make it to the top of the tallest dune. Even the smaller dunes require much effort to traverse. We learned that the easiest way to scale these giant masses of sand are by walking up the ridges- not head on.

Splash around in the Creek

The Medano Creek flows seasonally through the park. The best time to visit the creek is in late spring and early summer. The waterflow primarily depends on snowmelt from the mountains, but is also influenced by the local weather. You can find the flow rate at the National Park’s website. This area is perfect for beach toys and a picnic, right at the base of the mountains! We visited in late May, and the creek was fairly shallow. It was a hot and sunny day, so the cool refreshing water was a respite to our dusty toes!

Hike the Mosca Pass

This is one of the more popular trails in the park, and it is marked! The entire trail is a little over 6 miles and gives you great views of the dunes and mountains. The trail winds through a valley forest filled with wildflowers. An excellent alternative to trudging through the sand.

Things to keep in mind

  • The dunes can get scorching hot, so wearing closed toed shoes is recommended. Sandals tend to trap the hot sand on your feet and can cause burns if you are not careful.
  • The Parking lots fill up fast, so get there early and be prepared to wait.
  • Bring extra water!
  • Dogs are allowed in the park, but you must pick up after you pet- leave no trace!

Happy hiking!

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is a great place for people of any age to visit because there is something here for everyone. Whether you like camping, exploring, serious hiking, photography, picnics or just learning about the geology, you will be able to find something interesting and exciting!

This is a very popular park and the busiest months to visit are between March and October. The best times to get into the park are either early in the morning (before 8:30AM) or later in the afternoon (after 4:00PM). There is an admission fee required for entry, for more information visit the Arches National Park website.

Devils Garden Campground is available if you choose to camp in the park, however it fills up extremely fast. If you do not make a reservation far in advance, chances are slim that campsites will be available. There are a lot of other campsites available not far from the park (most off scenic highway 128) and plenty of lodging options in Moab.

Once you get in the park (yay!) there is so much to see and do, so we created a guide to help you decide where you want to spend your time at Arches.


First- We always recommend stopping at the visitor center. Talk to the rangers and find out what hikes they like, where the best spots to picnic are, and where the best scenic views are. This is also your last chance to use flush toilets and real sinks – the only other restrooms throughout the park are vault toilets with hand sanitizer (sometimes). There is a water bottle filling station available at the visitor center as well. We visited in May, but if you are here in the heat of summer, temperatures can get to 100ºF (or more!). Apply some sunscreen (and maybe a little bit more) because there is not a lot of shade in this park. Make sure you have your map, water and sunscreen and you are all set to go!

Challenging Hikes

This park offers a few hikes that are more strenuous, but the views at the end are so rewarding. Make sure you plan enough time to hike these trails and bring a lot of water with you. Good, grippy hiking shoes are a must for these hikes!

Delicate Arch (The Utah License Plate!)

About 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of approximately 500 feet.

This hike starts out as a relatively flat gravel path at Wolfe Ranch. The path then begins to wind up and down rock formations until it disappears and you are climbing the side of a gently sloping rock face with only occasional trail markers to guide your way. This is the longest section of the trail so be sure to keep an eye out for those trail markers! Once you are at the top of the rock face, the trail levels out again and stays somewhat flat as you walk through a sandy, canyon-type formation guided by more trail markers. At the other side of the canyon, the trail narrows quite a bit with a steep ledge to one side. Continue on until you get to the final viewpoint- the Delicate Arch. There is a large bowl in front of the arch where you can explore and see the arch from many different angles. The arch is very well hidden so you don’t get any sneak peaks from the trail until you finally arrive at the arch itself. If you have a severe fear of heights but still want to see the iconic Delicate Arch, check out the Delicate Arch Viewpoints trail instead!

Devils Garden Loop

This is the longest hike available in the park. If you do the entire loop you will walk almost 8 miles, but you will have an opportunity to see all of the arches in Devils Garden including the Double O Arch, the Private Arch and Dark Angel Arch. The loop also includes hiking the primitive trail (very few trail markers).


Mild Hikes

Try these out for some beautiful views without as much effort as the ones listed above!

Sand Dune Arch

This very short trail (less than a half mile) takes you into a tucked away canyon. After a tight squeeze to get into the trail, it widens out and you can see all of the neat geologic features hidden within. This trail is mostly shaded and very sandy (hence the Arch’s name). It’s a great afternoon/ after lunch hike.

Broken Arch

This Arch can be accessed from either Devils Garden Campground, or the Sand Dune Arch parking lot. We accessed the trail from the Sand Dune Arch parking lot. The trail is a half mile walk through a flat, open and grassy field. At the end, you are rewarded with the Broken Arch! This hike is fairly easy, but there is not much shade and the trail is quite sandy. If you wanted, you could continue the trail under the arch to the Devils Garden Campground (about a mile) and see an additional arch, or head back to the parking lot again. We saw so many lizards and even a few deer while we were walking to Broken Arch!

Turret Arch and the Windows

The full loop trail is about a mile long and gives you great views of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch. The trail begins from a large parking lot and is comprised of packed gravel with large stone steps in some areas.

Double Arch

A very easy half mile trail on packed down gravel. At the end you will get picturesque views of the Double Arch! This is another very popular stop, so if it is too crowded and you can’t find parking, check out a different arch and come back to this one later. It is very close to the Turret Arch and the Windows so be sure to make a stop there if you haven’t already!

Park Ave

This is a 1 mile hike (one way) that goes through a deep canyon. We didn’t get a chance to finish this hike because it started to rain and hail on us, and we ran back to the car to try this one later. There are some pretty steep sections of this trail, but you are rewarded with some very unique rock formations to see. This is probably the most strenuous of the “mild hikes” section.

Delicate Arch Viewpoints

There are 2 different options here- the Upper and Lower viewpoints. The Lower option is a very short, easy trail that is only about 100 yards on a flat surface. The Upper trail is about a half mile long and is rockier, including some steep steps to climb. If you want see Delicate Arch but do not want to hike the strenuous 3 mile trail there, these viewpoints are a great alternative.

Landscape Arch/ Pine Tree Arch

The hike to Landscape Arch begins at the Devils Garden trailhead. The journey is a little less than 2 miles and paved most of the way, but there are some sections that are steeper. About a quarter mile from the trailhead, there will be a fork in the trail for Landscape Arch or Pine Tree Arch. Pine Tree Arch is a short distance off the main trail that leads to Landscape Arch. As you approach both Landscape Arch and Pine Tree Arch, the trail becomes very sandy. If you wanted to do a longer hike, continue on past Landscape Arch to tackle the rest of Devils Garden Loop, where you can see some more arches.


Other things to see and do

Pull over and marvel at the scenic the viewpoints including Balanced rock, La Sal Mountains, Petrified Dunes, Wolfe Ranch, or Panorama Point. Have a picnic, bike around, look for wildlife or learn about the geology and history of the area at the visitor center. There are some 4 wheel drive roads available if you want to do some off the beaten path adventuring (and have the appropriate vehicle).

Things to keep in mind

This park gets very crowded, so be patient, be kind, and take your time. Have alternate plans in mind just in case the park gets too full to see anything. If you arrive and the lines to enter the park are lengthy, there are a lot of other beautiful things to see in the area instead. Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, scenic Highway 128 and hikes off that scenic highway are a short drive away, just to name a few.

There are no restaurants available within the park itself, so if you do not want to leave the park and wait in line again to re-enter the park, pack some food to bring in with you. There are a lot of great picnic spots available, just make sure you take everything with you and leave no trace!

Have fun, drink a lot of water, and let us know what you think about Arches NP, or this guide in the comments below. Happy Hiking!