Lava Caves – Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon Lava Caves
A view into the Indian Tunnel Lava Cave at Craters of the Moon National Park.

Exploring the Craters of the Moon Lava Caves is the most unique and surreal experience to have when visiting the National Monument in Idaho. The majority of the caves that are open to the public are in one easy to reach area aptly known as the Cave Trail. The Cave area is the last stop along the park’s one-way Loop Road so it is as if the civil engineers saved the best for last. The paved trail to access four uniquely different caverns is a relatively flat and easy 1.6-miles (total) hike across an undulating ancient lava flow. 

Lava Caves Permit 

Lava Caves - Craters of the Moon National Monument
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A permit is required for visitors to enter into any of the lava caves at Craters of the Moon National Monument. The park does this to educate the public about the white-nose syndrome desolating the bat populations around the country. No items that have ever entered another cave system can be taken into the lava caves. This is the most stringent and cautious procedure we have come across but given the severity of this disease, I understand it. We had to sift through our gear to find pieces that hadn’t gone through another cave. We managed in snow boots, but sadly I had to leave my Canon Camera and tripod behind as I had taken them into Carlsbad Cavern.

Getting a permit is as easy as going to the information desk at the visitor center where they will tell you of the risks involved with caving and the importance of not transmitting the white-nose syndrome. The whole process is very easy. Just make sure you make the stop before heading to the trailhead as there is no way to get a permit on-site.

Indian Tunnel

Indian Tunnel Lava Cave
The large lava tube known as the Indian Tunnel has collapsed in several places making it an even more unique caving experience.
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1,500 Feet
  • Class: Easy

If you only journey into one lava cave the Indian Tunnel should be it. While rocky, the visibility throughout the tube is very good. The ceiling has collapsed throughout the tube making it less of a cave and more of a tunnel. The large cavernous space and the ability to hike through the entire tube and crawl out on the opposite side make this a unique and wonderful experience for visitors of almost any age.

Boy Scout Cave

Boy Scout Cave
The Boy Scout Cave is natural freezer in a place born from lava.
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Distance: 300 Feet
  • Class: Difficult

I want to start a petition to have the Boy Scout Cave renamed fire and ice. This cave is unbelievably cool… literally. While not incredibly deep this cavern that was shaped by fiery molten lava is now a natural freezer. It is so cold that the floor of the cavern is encapsulated in a sheet of ice and ice stalagmites hang from the ceiling. This is a hard space to explore as it is very rocky and the ice makes it extremely slippery. However, for those who venture into this dark space a unique experience awaits. Dress warmly no matter the temperature on the surface and bring a headlamp.

Beauty Cave

Beauty Cave
Beauty Cave is one of the easiest lava caves to explore at Craters of the Moon National Monument.
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Distance: 150 Feet
  • Class: Easy

Beauty Cave is another cold cave but this one is much easier to explore. While there is some ice on the floor the cave is mostly dry. It is large and after the initial bouldery opening it is mostly flat so this is a good one for explorers of all ages.

Dewdrop Cave

Dewdrop Cave
Dewdrop Cave is the first lava cave on the Cave Trail.
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Distance: 100 Feet
  • Class: Moderately-Easy

Dewdrop Cave is more of a nook than a cave. It is extremely rocky and very shallow. While still an enjoyable experience, the other caves in Craters of the Moon National Monument are much more unique.

Buffalo Cave

Buffalo Lava Cave
The Buffalo Cave is the only lava cave open to the public not found on the Cave Trail.
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Distance: 200 Feet
  • Class: Moderately-Easy

Buffalo Cave is the only explorable lava tube not found in the Cave Area of Craters of the Moon National Monument. The entrance to the cave has a very narrow and tight opening that is very rocky. With its narrow opening and low ceilings, this is the most difficult cavern to explore when visiting Craters of the Moon. The lava tube has several openings to the surface so slivers of light permeate the space and it stays relatively warm throughout.  This is a great cave to explore, but amateur spelunkers will find the opening to this cavern intimidating.

Conclusion for the Lava Caves

The Craters of the Moon lava caves are unique and wonderful places born from unimaginable heat. None of the tubes are very long but the otherworldly environment created in such small places is out of this world. Respect these natural wonders and comply with the permit process that the National Monument has put in place so we can leave this otherworldly landscape intact for future generations to discover.

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