Between Yellowstone and Boise lies Craters of the Moon National Monument, a region of the Idaho desert filled with dormant volcanoes and fields of ancient lava beds. Having grown up in Idaho, we were both aware of Craters of the Moon, but had never actually visited before, so this was a natural next stop for our #Vanlife adventure.
It turns out that Craters and Yellowstone were both created by the same source of volcanic activity. Yellowstone National Park sits on the Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano spanning an area of 1,530 square miles (3,960 sq. km). The caldera is fueled by a hot spot that, over the course of millions of years, has migrated across the whole of southern Idaho. Craters of the Moon National Monument, then, is essentially Idaho’s Yellowstone of the past, a volcanic wasteland that stands as a testament to the raw power of the earth and the passage of time on an inconceivable scale.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument is located 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Arco, Idaho. The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle, or free with the America the Beautiful Pass. The major points of interest include the Visitor Center, loop road, and underground caves. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter the caves on our visit. A disease known as White-nose Syndrome has been sweeping the USA and Canada, decimating bat populations. Therefore, some restrictions have been placed on cave entry at Craters. Because our shoes had been inside of several caves within the last year (Seven Star Cave in China, Khao Sam Roi Yot Cave in Thailand, and Batu Caves in Malaysia), we were politely asked not to enter the caves. It was a bit of a bummer, but I would rather save the bats than take the risk.
Instead, we explored the stops along the loop road. Before getting to the loop, we first visited North Crater Flow Trail. If you’re in a hurry, this could easily be the only stop you make. It displays great examples of the types of volcanic rock found throughout the area. There were even Syringas (Idaho’s state flower) sprouting amongst the rocks. After that we walked Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail, which wasn’t nearly as exciting and could be skipped if you’re pressed for time.
Craters of the Moon Loop Road
After passing Devil’s Orchard, there is a one-way loop road that takes drivers past some of the monument’s best features. The first stop we came to was the 6,181 ft (1,884 m) Inferno Cone. It looked like a mountain made of black sand. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, but it’s worth the effort, as the crest offers a panoramic view of the park.
However, our favorite stop was the Snow Cone. It’s a short hike to the top for an amazing payoff, home to long solidified lava tubes that still look wet and sticky, as if they’d just hardened moments before. Certain sections of the tubes had broken open over time, revealing the hollow core. The trail puts you right next to the volcanic rock, so you can feel how light and brittle the stone really is.
After the Snow Cone, we enjoyed the remainder of the loop’s scenic drive, only slightly bummed at having to skip the caves (it’s kind of our thing). Craters of the Moon National Monument was a lot of fun, and definitely worth the drive for anyone traveling across southern Idaho. It was a short visit, lasting about two hours, the perfect scenic pit stop before continuing on across the desert on the way home.
Like it? Share it!