I’ve found the 5+ best things to do in Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. This is such a cool park full of lava fields, craters, tunnels, caves, and more! If you like crazy rock formations like I do, you’re gonna have a blast visiting this park!

craters of the moon

Craters of the Moon was formed by volcanic eruptions that started only 15,000 years ago and is the last period of active volcanism in this area. The eruptions here (fissure eruptions) happened along cracks in the earth’s crust. These eruptions were made out of fluid basaltic lava, where gases could easily escape. But without high gas pressure the eruptions tend were much more mild than what you think of with a standard volcano and produce small cinder cones and lava flows rather than an “explosion” of lava.

Where is Craters of the Moon National Monument

The Craters of the Moon National Monument is in Idaho between the towns of Arco and Carey. It is almost right smack dab in the middle of the lower section of Idaho (excluding the panhandle), just a little further east.

It’s 1.5 hrs from both Idaho Falls and Twin Falls. The Visitor Center address is: 1266 Craters Loop Road, Arco, ID 83213.

It’s open year round even if some parts are closed due to weather. Best to check their official website before visiting to see what is open at the time of your trip.

How much time should I spend at Craters of the Moon?

Craters of the Moon is pretty small. Unlike other national parks where you could spend a week there and still not see everything, you can pretty much see all of Craters of the Moon in one day. But if you don’t have a whole day or just want to prioritize the best stuff, then this guide is for you!

Attractions map

The highlighted items are the ones that I think are the top 5 best to visit if you have limited time. Start with the attractions closest to the Visitor’s Center and your our way around the one-way road, saving the caves/tunnels as the best for last.
craters of the moon attractionsmap

Top 5+ best things to do in Craters of the Moon

Here’s my favorite top 5 best things to do during your visit to Craters of the Moon, in order starting with the best:

Lava tubes and caves

This is what you came here for right? A chance to go underground and explore lava tubes and caves!
indian tunnel craters

There are 5 caves in the park:

  • Indian tunnel
  • Dewdrop cave
  • Boy Scout cave
  • Beauty cave
  • Buffalo cave

To enter the caves you need a free permit. To get the permit, just stop by the visitor’s center when you first get to the park. The rangers will ask you a series of questions related to your clothing in order to maintain the health and safety of the park’s bat population. Then they’ll hand you your cave permit and that’s it!

protect bats

Some of the caves may be closed for maintenance during your visit, so it’s also important to find out which ones are open while at the visitor’s center too.

indian tunnel craters of the moon

The first 4 caves (Indian tunnel, Dewdrop, Boy scout, beauty) are all accessible from the Caves Trail, which you’ll see on your map. The caves trail is a paved 1.5mi round trip trail through a lava flow that takes you to the entrance of all of the caves.

caves trail

The last cave, Buffalo cave, is accessible from the broken top trail, which is a 1.8mi round trip hike that is a mid more “moderate” than the caves trail. This trail goes through a lava flow, but the path is not paved and involves slightly more climbing.

indian tunnel craters 2

If you can only visit one, I’d go with Indian tunnel. No, it’s not technically a cave, it’s a tunnel, but I thought it was the most impressive out of all of them. It’s a long tunnel that keeps going and going and feels like exploring a cavern with several chambers. Some of the other caves, I found to be a bit lack luster (Dewdrop especially), as they aren’t very big or deep and you’re basically just climbing down into a collapsed lava tube.

See a crater!

When in Craters of the Moon you have to see a crater! These colorful craters show layers of earth as the get deeper. They were much more colorful that I was expecting!

big crater of the moon

To get to the craters, you want the North Crater Trail (not to be confused with the North Crater Flow Trail). The North Crater Trail is 1.8mi long (one way) can be entered or exited in two different locations, both of which are marked on the map. So you can start at whichever side is more convenient for you.

craters of the moon north crater

One side starts a little ways up from the slopes of North Crater, closer to the campground area and park entrance, near the North Crater Flow Trail. From here it drops down and traverses several lava flows before going up along one side of the Big Craters.

north crater trail

The other side starts next to the Spatter Cones, with the trail going off to the right when the Spatter Cones are on the left. From here the trail ascends quickly up the side of the Big Crater and then allows you to continue along the rim towards the north to get to the North Crater.

Make sure to stay on the trail as there has been extensive restoration done to this area in order to protect it from the erosion cause by human foot traffic.

Spatter and snow cones

These “mini volcanoes” were form during the final stages of a fissure type eruption. When gas and pressure is released, the lava becomes thick and pasty. These sticky globs of lava plop up to the surface and they pile up to form the spatter cones.

spatter cone craters of the moon

It’s a short walk on a paved path to get to the top of one of the spatter cones where there’s an observation area so that you can look inside the cones.

spatter cone lava formation

The swirls of colors in these cones is really beautiful.

Next to the main spatter cone is the “snow cone”, another spatter cone, but named due to the fact that snow exists in this cone year round. It’s deep enough that the temperature remains cold enough for the snow not to melt even throughout the hot summer.

snow cone craters of the moon

Make sure to stay on the trail as there has been extensive restoration done to this area in order to protect it from the erosion cause by human foot traffic.

Devil’s Orchard

This is a super short .5mi on a paved trail through a lava flow. It’s interesting because you get a lot of information about the park and how the area was formed.

devils orchard craters of the moon

You’ll see a variety of different lava formations and also lots of dead trees. It’s a great introduction to the park as it’s the first thing available coming from the visitor’s center.

Inferno Cone

A large cinder cone that you can hike to the top of. It’s a short but steep hike, just .5mi round trip with 160ft elevation gain.

infernal cone

At the 6,181-foot summit you’ll get a great panoramic view of the surrounding volcanic landscape.

view from infernal cone

As you’re climbing the cone, make sure to take a moment to examine the cinders that you’re walking on. Several of them are incredible sparkly and super pretty to look at.

cinders craters of the moon

Other things to do
While the above would by my top 5 picks of things to do in Craters of the Moon, they’ll only take maybe 3-4 hours to see. So if you’re spending more time in the park or just want to see some other attractions, here are a few more options.

Scenic loop drive

craters of the moon scenic drive
This loop drive is unavoidable as its the main road that goes through the entire park. The road is one way and passes all of the above attractions. If nothing else, driving along this scenic road will still give you and idea with some view of the majority of the park.

Broken Top loop trail

This is one of the best trails in the mark for seeing different types of volcanic features. It’s a 1.8mi loop that goes around a cinder cone that was created when a nearby vent spouted lava with a high amount of gases. When the lava fell it formed this hill.

broken top trail

The trail offers both distant and up close views of lava flows. It also goes through an area called the Big Sink, which is a collapsed section of lava.

The Buffalo Caves are also accessed from this trail when they’re open (remember to get a permit from the visitor’s center)

Tree molds

tree molds trail
The tree molds are impressions of trees that have been preserved in the basaltic lava flows. The trail that takes you to see the tree molds is a 1.8mi trail through shrubs and pines. You’ll see both impressions of trees that were ignited during the lava flow and also tree impressions that had remained standing as the lava engulfed them.

Wilderness trail

The wilderness trail is the longest trail in Craters of the Moon spanning 10mi. The trail starts overlapping slightly with the Broken Top Trail and then splits off to continue into the wilderness. It goes past several buttes as well as lava flows, tree molds, and echo crater. After echo crater the trail continues but is less well worn, leaving it mostly up to the hikers to decide how to move forward on towards The Sentinel or beyond.

craters of the moon

This is definitely the most wild area of the park and has very low traffic. If you’re looking to experience the park alone, this trail will give you that opportunity as almost no one decides to venture out this far.

You’re also allowed to backpack this trail (permits required), which you provide you with true solitude as less than 100 people a year go backpacking here.

Know before you go! What to bring with you

  • Food and water – there is none available in the park, but there are plenty of picnic tables where you can stop to have lunch!
  • Sunscreen and hat – it’s a lava field afterall! Lava tore through this landscape, killing everything in its path and little to no vegetation has regrown, which means, no shade. So be prepared to protect yourself from the sun!
  • Good treaded closed toe shoes – while a lot of the park is paved, there are also several opportunities to go exploring on, over, and around lava rocks.
  • Light jacket – in contrast to the sun outside, the caves inside in the dark can get a little chilly!

Is it worth visiting Craters of the Moon?

I literally asked a local friend of mine this exact question before I drove out to check it out. For me it was a 2.5-3hr drive to get here and I was wondering if that was really worth it to visit Craters of the Moon? He said yes, if you like rocks and caves, then it’s worth it. And now that I’ve gone myself, I can say, yes, it’s definitely worth it!

lava rocks

I really enjoyed visiting this park a lot more than I thought I would. Everywhere you turn there’s cool lava rocks, and these are things that just don’t translate to photos very well. I have tons of photos that just look like black rocks, but I know from being there that these rocks really have all sorts of colors and sparkles in them. A photo never truly captures how beautiful nature is and I think that is true of this park even moreso than many others.

I don’t necessarily think that it’s worth it if this is the only thing you’re doing on this trip- unless you’re super into lava…. but I wouldn’t come out here just for this park. It’s great if you’re somewhere nearby or are combining it with some other sights.

Camping at Craters of The Moon

Craters of the Moon is great for star gazing! This area has some of the lowest light pollution in the country which makes for amazing visibility of stars!

Photos courtesy of NPS.gov

The campground is just past the visitors center, before you even enter the “official” park. The campground can has 42 campsites and is placed in the middle of a young lava flow.

Campsites are first come, first serve. To claim a campsite, just leave something of yours in your desired campsite and then register for your site at the automated fee machine when you get a chance. It’s pretty loose and open ended. No wood fires are allowed.


Standard national park fees apply to enter Craters of the Moon. The pass is good for 7 days. Credit cards only are accepted.

  • Vehicle: $20
  • Motorcycle: $15
  • Walk in/ Bicycle: $10

Whenever the Loop Road is not fully open to cars, no entrance fee is charged. Depending on weather, this occurs roughly from November through April.

Campsite fees are $15 per night per campsite.



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