A visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho is all about seeing volcanic landscape.
What you’ll see with a trip to Craters of the Moon is remnants of past volcano activity all around you.
☝ A visit to Craters of the Moon is a visit to the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a national park site in Idaho.
So if you’re looking for a little bit of a volcano vacation… start planning for an Idaho road trip!
You will be exploring around the Craters of the Moon lava field. Lava fields are basically a “field” of old lava flows.
Craters of the Moon is said to be the most likely volcano to erupt in Idaho at some point in the future. But that could be in the far distant future, with the next eruption predicted to be in the next 1,000 years. So there is no current threat of a volcano eruption in Idaho with the eruption threat of the Craters of the Moon volcano listed as low or very low.
Wyoming to Idaho national parks road trip
Having seen tons of lava fields in Hawaii, I’ve been wanting to see the lava fields in Idaho!
And more specifically I’ve been wanting to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument!
So if you’re making it a Wyoming national parks road trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, then it can also be convenient to add on a trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument if you have a few days to spare.
I was also thinking of adding on a further “side trip” along part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway in Oregon, but I didn’t get a chance to consider that at all because of the wildfires. (That actually becomes more of a separate trip, not a side trip, though! It also extends into California.)
More below about what to see around Idaho lava fields in Craters of the Moon!
5+ best things to do in Craters of the Moon to see past volcano activity
1. North Crater trail
What you need to do in Craters of the Moon: See a CRATER!
👆 Hiking the North Crater trail to Big Craters.
When hiking the North Craters Trail, you will be hiking to see the North Crater and Big Craters.
This is listed by the National Park Service as a 3.5 mile round trip hike, but you can also make it a shorter hike by starting from either end of the trail (you’ll be hiking from one parking lot to another), and then hiking to the crater you want to see. For example, you can start the North Crater Trail from the Spatter Cone parking lot to hike to Big Craters.
2. Caves Trail
What you need to do in Craters of the Moon: Walk through lava fields!
Hiking the Caves Trail means a hike with old lava flows (aka lava fields) all around you!
The Caves Trail is listed as a 1.6 mile round trip hike.
What you need to do in Craters of the Moon: Walk through a lava tube!
There are several caves that you can hike inside at Craters of the Moon. The caves here are lava tubes. This means that the caves were formed as a result of volcanic activity… lava flows!
All of the caves in Craters of the Moon National Monument are cave hikes you do on your own. This means it’s up to you to be prepared for a little bit of “caving”!
A bunch of the caves can be found along the Caves Trail.
One such cave you can do is also a tunnel of sorts! Hiking through the Indian Tunnel, you’ll enter through one end, and then come out of the other!
If you are only making time for just one cave in Craters of the Moon National Monument, then you will want to consider making it the Indian Tunnel!
If you are making time for 2 caves in Craters of the Moon, you will also want to consider going to the Boy Scout Cave. If you want the experience of going into the darkness of a cave, then Boy Scout Cave is the one to do.
If you want to make time for all of the caves along the Caves Trail, then there more lava tubes for you to see!
There are 4 caves in Craters of the Moon that you can hike into along the Caves Trail to give you the experience being inside a lava tube: Indian Tunnel, Boy Scout Cave, Beauty Cave, and Dewdrop Cave. You will find each of these cave entrances directly along the Caves Trail.
You do need a cave permit before going into any of these caves. But this is free and easy to get. You just need to be sure to stop by the visitor center or mention it to the park ranger when you enter the park at the national park entry station.
See more about this Craters of the Moon activity:
4. Inferno Cone
The Inferno Cone gives you views of volcanic desert landscape.
You can look at this from the bottom of the hill, or you can hike up further to see sweeping views of Craters of the Moon lava fields from above!
The Inferno Cone Trail is listed as 0.8 miles round trip.
5. Spatter Cones
The Spatter Cones are a prominent volcanic feature that you’ll see from a distance as you’re getting closer to it.
If you’ve decided to hike the North Crater Trail first, then you will basically be hiking to the Spatter Cones before making the hike back to where you started.
Otherwise, you’ll first see the Spatter Cones as you’re driving. You can make a stop here to get out and basically go inside a spatter cone too. You can look down into this mini-volcano and see the hole of the vent.
6. Broken Top
The Broken Top loop trail is a hike in Craters of the Moon that you can do to see a variety of volcanic features.
The Broken Top loop trail is listed as 1.8 miles round trip. You can also extend the hike by hiking the Wilderness Trail that you will find off of the Broken Top loop trail. You can hike to tree molds that can be found along the Wilderness Trail. (There are also tree molds to be found along the Tree Molds Trail, but that is a different hike, and tree molds along the Wilderness Trail are more distinct and easy to see than those found along the Tree Molds Trail.)
And then you can hike further onwards along the Wilderness Trail to the “end” near the Echo Crater. (There is no sign marking that you’ve reached the end. I had the Idaho map downloaded on the free mapsme app that seemed to indicate the official end of the trail.)
From the Broken Top loop trail junction, the Wilderness Trail is listed as 8 miles round trip.
Plus… one more thing you need to do if you are a camper…
Lava Flow Campground: You NEED to go to sleep surrounded by lava fields!
The campground in Craters of the Moon National Monument is in a lava field!
It is called the Lava Flow Campground and you will actually be surrounded by old lava flows all around you!
The campground is for both tent camping, van camping, RV camping… and other types of camping!
And then if you go camping in Craters of the Moon, you will also get a chance to see the night sky with a ton of stars if the sky is clear. Incredible!
Craters of the Moon scenic loop drive
👆 Road through Craters of the Moon lava field, as seen from Broken Top Loop Trail.
👆 Road through Craters of the Moon lava field, as seen from Inferno Cone Trail.
Craters of the Moon National Monument is not difficult to navigate.
It is basically one loop road that goes through Craters of the Moon that you will find all of these things you need to do in Craters of the Moon.
Once you turn off of Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway (the road leading into the park) and onto the road of the Craters of the Moon national park entry station and Craters of the Moon Visitor Center, you will basically find yourself on the Craters of the Moon scenic loop road.
Then you can drive to see landscape that was created by volcanoes in Idaho!
How much time do you need in Craters of the Moon National Monument?
The Craters of the Moon scenic loop drive is listed as a 7 mile loop road.
If you will be doing a bunch of hiking in Craters of the Moon, it will be nice to have 2 days.
If you will be minimally hiking, or just doing a few short hikes, along with all of the other quick stops along the way, then you will be fine with just a day trip to Craters of the Moon.
I had an easy-going 2 days in Craters of the Moon National Monument… and did one last short hike on day 3 in the morning before getting on the road to drive through southern Wyoming!
I stayed 2 nights in Craters of the Moon at the Lava Flow Campground.
My trip to Craters of the Moon was in October 2021.
In 2021, the cost of camping in Craters of the Moon was $15 (in-season) and $8 (off-season). During the season, there are modern bathrooms and drinking water available. Off-season, there are basic no-flush toilets and there is no water. There are no showers at the campground any time of the year.
Where to stay if you don’t want to go camping in Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon National Monument is in a rather inconvenient location in terms of finding places to stay.
It really does feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
The gateway town of sorts is Arco ID. But there really is not much there.
Otherwise, for cities with a Walmart and chain hotels near Craters of the Moon (aka a somewhat big “city”!), there is Idaho Falls ID and Twin Falls ID. Although it’s not exactly “near.”
Idaho Falls ID to Craters of the Moon is around a 1.5 hour drive.
Twin Falls ID to Craters of the Moon is around a 1 hour 45 minute drive.
Boise to Craters of the Moon is around a 2.5 to 3 hour drive.
Cost to go to Craters of the Moon National Monument park
There is a cost for entry into Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The national park entry fee is $20 per car, and this gets you a 7-day Craters of the Moon national park pass. There is no one-day Craters of the Moon pass. See current fees.
👆 Craters of the Moon national park entry fee in 2021.
If you have an annual national park pass, then your entry into Craters of the Moon National Monument is FREE since that pass will be accepted.
Lava fields in Idaho vs Hawaii
Now, to be clear, the lava fields in Hawaii don’t compare to the lava fields in Idaho.
Among other things, the volcano activity in Hawaii is much more recent! As in, up until a few years ago, you could actually go and see the lava actually flowing. (Nowadays in 2021, the lava flows for public viewing areas in Hawaii aren’t like what they used to be, but that can change since the volcanoes in Hawaii are active.)
The most recent lava flows in Idaho are said to be around 2,000 years ago.
Still, if you haven’t seen a massive field of lava before, then the Idaho lava fields can be a sight to see.
When I was in Idaho, I found myself being reminded of sights that I saw in Hawaii.
And, if you like what you see in Idaho, then after you return from Idaho, you’ll have to get started on planning a trip to Hawaii! 😄 (You will want to go to the Big Island of Hawaii first and foremost for volcanoes, and the secondarily for more lava fields in Hawaii you will want to go to the island of Maui.)
And that’s a bit about seeing volcanoes in Idaho!
Plan more of your trip to Idaho and Wyoming:
- Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon
- How to spend one day in Yellowstone
- Grand Teton to Yellowstone
- One day in Grand Teton
- Driving through Grand Teton
Explore more volcanoes around the US:
- Wild caving in a Hawaii lava tube
- Where to see old lava flows in Hawaii
- Black sand beaches in Hawaii (These beaches are black as a result of the volcano activity)
HAPPY VISIT TO CRATERS OF THE MOON NATIONAL MONUMENT!