One of the highlights in the US state of Idaho is Craters of the Moon National Monument. What is it, how do you get there and what to do?
What is Craters of the Moon National Monument?
Located in southern Idaho State, Craters of the Moon National Monument is an area full of black fossilized lava. It was created between 15,000 and 2000 years ago by a few major volcanic eruptions.
It is a very special landscape to see and it stands out in the mainly green Idaho. In some places it seems a bit like you are on the moon, hence the name Craters of the Moon.
The park is open all year round. However, in Winter times, it can be covered in snow. Because of that, the scenic drive is usually closed to vehicles between late November and mid-April. During that time, you can walk on the scenic drive. Admission to Craters of the Moon National Monument is $ 20 per vehicle, but your America the Beautiful pass (which allows you to visit any US National Park within a year) is also valid here. Check the official website for the most up-to-date information.
Get a permit for the caves
The visitor center is located just in front of the park entrance and this is always a good place to gather some extra information about the park. This is the place to get a permit from one of the rangers (this is a small stamp of a bat) if you’d like to visit the caves.
What to do in Craters of the Moon?
What can you do while visiting Craters of the Moon? Here are some tips:
The best way to view the park is to take the scenic drive. Along the road, there are several beautiful stops with a parking lot to view beautiful the most beautiful places in the park. There are various craters, a very scenic landscape, lava streams, and caves to see along the way.
To reach some viewpoints, you have to walk a short trail. This is clearly indicated at the parking lot. The scenic drive is only seven miles long (a little over eleven kilometers), but if you stop everywhere you can easily spent a couple of hours exploring.
Beautiful hiking trails
From the scenic drive, you will pass several trailheads to start with a (short) hike. These are a few of my favorites:
The trail to the Inferno Cone is very short, but not that easy. It is only 300 meters to the top, but it is quite steep (you’ll gain 50 meters) and you mainly walk on black loose sand.
From the top, you have a great view of Craters of the Moon National Monument and the mountains north of the park.
Broken top loop trail
The Broken top loop trail is in the very south of the park and has a length of about three kilometers (1.9 miles). You walk around the Broken Top here. This is a volcano that erupted a long time ago, and the huge lava field you see in the east is a result of this eruption. It is a very nice hike with a little bit of climbing, various beautiful views and you will also encounter a few caves along the way.
The last stop of the scenic drive is the start of the caves trail (about one mile or 1.5 kilometers). You will find several cool caves along this path. It’s kind of like a trail that has two sections, one on the left and one on the right. I recommend doing the left part first and then the right part with the Indian Tunnel. This is one of the highlights in the park where you can hike in a really cool cave and walk back to the trail over the lava field.
Visit the caves
I already mentioned it a few times: Craters in the Moon is bursting with caves. To visit this you first get a permit at the visitor center. Make sure you have a good torch or a headlight as it can be very dark in the caves. It can also be quite chilly in the caves (I was there in mid-June and there was snow and ice in the caves). Don’t be afraid to get lost, they are not that deep. Be careful, there may be bats (I have not seen any myself).
I myself was very impressed with the Boy Scout Cave. Part of the floor and the stones were covered with ice and that looked beautiful in the light of my flashlight (it looked a little bit like a field of diamonds!). In addition, the Indian Tunnel that I mentioned earlier is also a must-see.
How much time do you need?
Craters of the Moon isn’t very big, so it’s perfect for a quick stop on a road trip through Idaho (if you’re on your way to Grand Teton or Yellowstone, for example). I spent about three hours visiting Craters of the Moon. During that time I did the full scenic route, made several short walks, and visited all the caves.
Where to stay
Craters of the Moon National Monument is in a pretty empty area, so there are few campgrounds or hotels around. These are the best places to stay the night:
- Lava Flow Campground– The only campground in Craters of the Moon itself. Open from May to November (weather permitting). Costs $ 15 a night. First come, first serve.
- KOA Craters of the Moon – Located in the village of Arco, 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Craters of the Moon.
- KOA Twin Falls/Jerome – Located between Twin Falls and Jerome, 84 miles (135 kilometers) from Craters of the Moon.
- Arco: Lost River Motel. Cheap, basic and clean motel rooms in cute brightly colored houses.
- Twin Falls: Quality Inn & Suites Twin Falls. Great motel in good location in Twin Falls. Extra tip for Twin Falls: also visit the impressive Perrine Memorial Bridge (only a few minutes drive from this hotel) and Shoshone Falls Park. They also call the Shoshone Falls the Niagara Falls of the West and together with Craters of the Moon this is one of the most beautiful lesser-known places in the USA.
- Idaho Falls: Motel West, 84 miles (135 kilometers) from Craters of the Moon. Cheap and basic motel with breakfast in a good location (5 minutes drive from the Walmart). Perfect as a stopover if you are going or coming to or from Grand Teton National Park.
Plan your trip
Do you feel like traveling to Northwest USA after reading this article? Craters of the Moon is a super fun stop on a road trip in Northwest USA. It’s not far from Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park, so if you’re going to visit those parks
Book your trip
Excited? Here are some tips on booking your trip. You need at least a plane ticket and transportation. Do you want to visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Craters of the Moon in one trip? Then it is best to fly to Salt Lake City in Utah. Comparing and booking flight tickets is very easy with Skyscanner.
To arrange a rental car or an RV, you can use these websites: When you travel to the US from Europe, it’s smart to reserve a car through a European website. In that case, you’ll know that all necessary insurance is included.
- AutoEurope: a great website to reserve a car when you’re traveling to the US from Europe. I usually find the best deals here.
- Rentalcars.com: good deals on rental cars for Americans and Canadians.
- RVshare: one of the best websites to rent an RV.
Would you like to read more about the Northwest of America?
Order these travel guides to get even more ideas for a great road trip in Northwest USA:
Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest’s Best Trips (Trips Regional)
Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West: with the Best Scenic Road Trips
Or check out one of these articles:
- Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary: from Portland to Yellowstone
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: A hidden gem in Oregon!
- Yellowstone vacation: the ultimate guide
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