The vast region known as Craters of the Moon encompasses three quarters of a million acres of lava flows, sagebrush, rolling hills and a few surprises.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, located along Highway 20/26/93, 18 miles southwest of Arco and 24 miles northeast of Carey, offers visitors a chance to summit volcanoes or explore underground lava tubes.

Photo © Jason Lugo

There are 375 species of plants known to grow in the monument.

In the spring and summer, hikers can find bursts of wildflowers and unique plant life. In the winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers can explore a truly uncanny and inspiring landscape.

The Monument sits on the Great Rift, a 60-mile volcanic zone that extends across the Snake River Plain in Southern Idaho. Eight eruptive periods over 13 thousand years created a line of volcanic cinder and splatter cones. Don’t know your volcanic formations? Cinder cones have sloping sides reaching as high as 700 feet. Spatter cones are shorter with steeper sides.

Craters of the Moon got its name from scientific observation. In the late 1800s, local residents thought the area looked the way the surface of the moon looked when viewed through a telescope. Geologist Scott Hughes knows the Monument’s landscape is nothing like the Moon’s, but he calls the area “one of the world’s foremost outdoor classrooms.” Geologists have identified more than 60 different lava flows that make up the area’s extensive lava fields. Each eruption left a geologic story frozen forever in stone and ready for all to read.

Photo © Jason Lugo

Large openings along the 800ft. Indian Tunnel let the sunlight in.

National park rangers offer a full schedule of activities, including two cave walks a day, throughout the summer, according to Monument Chief of Interpretation Ted Stout. “We also have short presentation four times a day at the Visitor’s Center. It is a good way to get oriented to what the park has to offer,” Stout said.

Travelers are encouraged to check out the Visitor’s Center and pick up more information, especially if you are planning to go into the area’s caves.  The Visitor’s Center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily in the summer.

If you are planning to visit, be sure to bring some water for a hike and a flashlight for exploring the caves. You’ll be surprised by what you find. One pioneer traveler called this area the strangest 75 square miles in North America. But Stout disagrees. He says, “Craters of the Moon is a volcanic wonderland with lots of active things for families to do. This is not a place just to look, it is a place to explore to your heart’s content.”

Planning to go

Websites:  Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Outdoor Idaho: A Trip to the Moon

Get there: The Monument is located18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 24 miles northeast of Carey, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 84 miles from Idaho Falls, and 90 miles from Twin Falls.

To do: Hiking, cave exploring, wildlife viewing, ranger-guided programs, star watching, camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing

Fees: In summer, the entrance fee is $8 per vehicle.  Bicycles, motorcycles or those on foot pay $4 per person.  Those 15 and younger are free.  There is no charge in the winter.  Campsites are $10 per night on a first come-first served basis in summer.