Guide To Visiting Craters Of The Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Southern Idaho is one of the most unusual national parks. This unique destination shaped by recent volcanic activity offers visitors a glimpse into an otherworldly landscape of immense lava flow, black basalt rocks, cinder cones, and lava tubes.

Volcanic landscapes are not unusual to come across in the United States, especially in the western half of the country. Places like Mount St Helens, Mount Rainier, and Lassen Volcanic National Park spring to mind when you think about volcanic environments.

However, Craters of the Moon is different because the land here was not created by the eruption of a single volcano, but rather eruptions that happened from vents and cracks within the earth’s crust as recent as two thousand years ago.

Craters of the Moon encompasses three major lava fields that lie along the Great Rift of Idaho and has some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world. There are excellent examples of almost every variety of basaltic lava, cavities left by lava-incinerated trees, and many other volcanic features you’ll be able to see.

Is Craters Of The Moon Worth Visiting?

Yes! Although off the beaten path, Craters of the Moon is worth a visit to see the unusual volcanic landscape, especially if you’re really into geology. It is best visited as a day trip from Twin Falls or Sun Valley and also makes a great addition to your road trip itinerary if you’re heading east to Grand Teton National Park (three hours away) or Yellowstone National Park ( four hours away).

Craters of the Moon is one of the highlights on the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway, a 140 mile long stretch of highway through one of Idaho’s most scenic regions. This scenic byway runs parallel to the Lost River Mountain Range and offers plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.

It can also be combined with the Salmon River Scenic Byway and the Sawtooth Scenic Byway to complete the road trip as a loop. If you’re looking for road trip inspiration, in my opinion, this is one of Idaho’s best road trips!

Photos From Craters Of The Moon

Planning Your Trip To Craters Of The Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon has a fascinating landscape full of peculiar natural wonders. Only the northern section of the park is accessible by vehicle so most visitors will only explore this section of the park.

Some of the best things to do at Craters of the Moon is to go hiking, climb up cinder cones and spatter cones, view lava fields, and explore lava caves. There is also a scenic seven mile loop road that takes visitors to all of the park’s highlights.

Exploring the southern section is also possible with a backcountry permit which is free and can be easily obtained from rangers at the Visitor Center.

Hiking At Craters Of The Moon

There are eight hiking trails in Craters of the Moon National Monument and the majority of them are easy to moderate with only one strenuous hike at the park. See hiking trails below.

  • North Crater Flow Trail – 0.30 miles
  • Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail – 0.50 miles
  • Inferno Cone – 0.50 miles
  • Spatter Cones – 0.80 miles
  • Caves Trail – 1.5 miles
  • Broken Top Loop Trail – 1.8 miles
  • North Crater Trail – 3.5 miles
  • Wilderness Trail – 8 miles

Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail – This is a short and easy hike through bizarre landscape made up of lava flows, lava rocks, and oddly shaped trees. See Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail Details.

Inferno Cone Trail – This trail is steep but short and travels up the wall of a cinder cone offering expansive views of the park and Southern Idaho. See Inferno Cone Trail Details.

Caves Trail – This trail leads to several lava tube caves including Indian, Dewdrop, Beauty, and Boy Scout Caves. A permit is required to enter all caves and can be obtained for free from the Visitor Center.

Broken Top Trail – This 1.8 mile hike loops around a cinder cone. Buffalo Cave can be accessed from this trail.

North Crater Trail – This trail is 3.5 miles in total and leads hikers to North Crater and Big Crater. The trail is usually hiked from the North Crater trailhead to the Spatter Cone trailhead. For a shorter hike, begin at Spatter Cone to hike to Big Crater.

Wilderness Trail – This is the longest hike in the park at eight miles and begins at the Broken Top trailhead and leads into Craters of the Moon backcountry. Permits are necessary and can be obtained from the Visitor Center.

Caves At Craters Of The Moon

Best Things To Do In Craters Of The Moon National Monument

One of the coolest features of Craters of the Moon are the lava caves. Unlike most caves, these ones are a result of volcanic activity and were formed by lava flows. They are essentially lava tubes and the good news is visitors are allowed to explore them!

While there are numerous caves throughout the park, only five of them can be assessed by visitors. All other caves located within the park are closed to visitors. The caves that can be accessed are the following:

  • Indian Tunnel
  • Dew Drop Cave
  • Boy Scout Cave
  • Beauty Cave
  • Buffalo Caves

All of the caves are hikes you can do on your own without a guide or ranger. If you want to hike through any of these caves come prepared with appropriate clothing and a flashlight.

The first four caves listed above can be reached along the Caves Trail. The Buffalo Cave can be reached via the Broken Top Loop Trail, a trail made of lava debris.

Some of the caves are beginner friendly to visit like Indian Cave which has ladders that help hikers descend into it. This cave is the largest tube measuring 30 feet tall and 800 feet long with several huge skylights that let sunlight in so you won’t need a flashlight.

Other caves are more difficult to access such as Boy Scout and Buffalo Caves. For example, the entrance to Boy Scout Cave is so small you have to crawl inside and barely have room to stand. These two caves are completely dark so hopefully you are comfortable with this.

To visit the caves you will need a special permit which is completely free and can be obtained from the Visitor Center after undergoing a quick screening process. The screening process aims to protect bats inside caves from a disease called White Nose Syndrome that can be introduced by humans.

Camping At Craters Of The Moon

Camping At Craters Of The Moon National Monument

There is one campground inside Craters Of The Moon National Monument. This campground has 42 sites and is first come, first served. The campground is called Lava Flow Campground and it sits on one of the youngest flows in the park. Imagine waking up to a sea of pitch black basalt rocks. Sounds wild right?!

The Lava Flow Campground accommodates both tents and RVs but note there are no hookups. Each site does have a picnic table and charcoal grill. Running water is available during the summer but does get turned off during the shoulder season.

Campsites cost $15 per night during the summer and $8 per night during the shoulder season. Payment can only be made with a credit card, no cash or checks are accepted.

Note that the campground is only accessible by vehicle from May to October but visitors are allowed to access the campground after October, whether on foot or snowshoe during the winter.

One thing to be mindful of if you are planning on camping at Craters Of The Moon is that there are no nearby grocery stores or restaurants. For that reason, you should come well prepared, especially if you are planning on camping here for a few days. The nearest place to pick up food is in Arco (20 miles away) or Shoshone (60 miles away).

Wilderness Camping At Craters Of The Moon

Backcountry camping is allowed in the Craters of the Moon Wilderness Area with a permit for the adventurous traveler. Permits are free and available from the Visitor Center during open hours.

The permits allow the National Park Service to monitor how many people are using wilderness areas and to ensure campers return safely.

If you do decide to go backcountry camping make sure you pack out what you pack in!

Campgrounds Near Craters Of The Moon

The nearest campground to Craters Of The Moon (outside of the park) is the Craters Of The Moon KOA which is 19 miles away in Arco. This campground has tent sites, Pull-Thru RV Sites (max 75 feet), and even cabins for travelers without camping gear.

Amenities at this KOA include a heated outdoor pool, cable TV, free Wi-Fi, laundry room, bike rentals, a volleyball court, horseshoes, a gift shop, and a snack bar.

For breakfast you’ll be treated to free Belgium waffles and coffee.

And if you’re too tired to go get dinner after a long day of adventuring, guests of KOA can have a hot dinner delivered to their campsites from the Paper Plate Kafe. Their menu includes burgers, fries, pizza, fried chicken, and fish or shrimp baskets.

One of the best things about staying at this campground is that they have daily ice cream socials. Ice cream is made fresh daily from a local dairy and the staff pick up bowls every day for guests from Memorial Day to Labor Day! 

On weekends, adults can enjoy wine tasting on Friday and Saturday evenings which happen after the ice cream socials.

There is another campground in Arco called Mountain View RV Park. This campground offers pull-thru sites with full hookups, BBQ grill, picnic table, and free Wi-Fi. The park also has a coin-operated laundry room. An onsite restaurant provides delicious meals that include ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, beer, and wine.

Free Camping Near Craters Of The Moon

Idaho has tons of BLM land so you don’t have to go too far to find free camping opportunities. If you’re looking for free camping near Craters of the Moon, the Fish Creek Reservoir Campground offers a primitive campground on the shores of Fish Creek Reservoir. To get there, head south on U.S. Highway 26 until Fish Creek Reservoir Road. Follow this gravel road to the reservoir. Read reviews here.

There is a rest area on the corner of Highway 20 and Highway 75 where you can car camp. We have stayed here overnight. It is safe and has clean restrooms. Expect it to be noisy though from truckers leaving their engines on all night. This is a good option if you’re heading north to Ketchum or Stanley along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.

Places To Stay Near Craters Of The Moon

Where to stay if you don’t want to go camping in Craters of the Moon

There are no accommodations inside Craters of the Moon National Monument. The nearest hotels are in Arco, however there are only two hotels here and they are both very simple, no-fringe motels.

If you prefer more upscale lodging, the next closest place to stay is Hailey which is an hour away. The nicest hotel in Hailey is the AmericInn by Wyndham.

Hotels Near Craters Of The Moon

For more choice, the only other lodging options are in the ‘larger’ cities of Twin Falls, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls. Idaho Falls is a good option for motorists heading east to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Pocatello is a strategic position to stay along the Salt Lake City to Yellowstone route.

As for travelers heading south to Nevada, Twin Falls has a wide range of hotels to choose from plus a lot of really cool things to see and do. Here is a guide to the 20 best things to do in Twin Falls if you are planning on heading in that direction.

Places To Eat At Craters Of The Moon

Apart from vending machines inside the Visitor Center at Craters of the Moon, there are no other food services in the area. Be sure to bring your own food with you if you are planning to spend a few hours at the park. There are picnic tables throughout the park to enjoy your lunch which can be accessed along the 7 Mile Loop Road.

The nearest restaurants are in Arco. In Arco, check out Pickle’s Place who specialize in charbroiled burgers but also serve a variety of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that include pancakes, chicken fried steak, and more


Where Is Craters Of The Moon?

Craters of the Moon National Monument is located in Idaho between the small towns of Arco and Carey. The entrance to the park can be found on U.S. Highway 26 which is part of the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway. Here is the official address: 1266 Craters Loop Road, Arco, ID 83213.

How Much Does It Cost To Visit Craters Of The Moon?

Craters of the Moon National Monument charges a fee to enter. Fees are $20 per vehicle or $15 per motorcycle. If you are entering on foot or bike the fee is $10 per person. You can also purchase an annual national park pass which will give you entry into all U.S. national parks for an entire year.

How Much Time Do You Need To Spend At Craters Of The Moon?

If you’re in a rush, you could spend as little as two hours at the park which would allow you to stop in at the Visitor Center and drive the scenic loop road through the park to get a quick overview.

To be able to complete the scenic drive, undertake some short hikes and visit a few caves, plan for at least half a day at the park. A full day will allow you to add some longer hikes to your itinerary.

Staying overnight would mean you could enjoy sunset and sunrise at the park and also cover the park in more depth and at a leisurely pace.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Craters Of The Moon?

Nearly all visitors to Craters of the Moon arrive during summer between July and September, however you should be aware summers at Craters of the Moon are extremely hot, dry, and incredibly windy. If you are visiting in summer, try to experience the park early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The best times to visit are spring and fall. In the spring, cinders are covered with thousands of dime-sized dwarf monkeyflowers. Autumn brings cooler weather perfect for hiking and the days tend to take on a yellow-orange hue that makes you feel good. 

Winter is also quite beautiful when several feet of snowpack turn the landscape into a dramatic black and white scenery. Note the road through the park is closed during winter so you would need to ski or snowshoe in.

What Else Is There To See Near Craters Of The Moon?

Craters of the Moon is quite literally in the middle of nowhere so if you are going to make the effort to visit, you may want to try and see some other places nearby. Just so you know nearby places we recommend visiting are anywhere between one to two hours drive away.

How To Get To Craters Of The Moon

The two largest towns closest to Craters of the Moon are Twin Falls and Idaho Falls, both are around 1.5 hours drive away and both have regional airports. Boise is the capital of Idaho and is almost a three hour drive away.

If you need a rental car we prefer to use Enterprise but you can also use this website to compare car rental prices with other companies. For campervan and RV rentals, check out Outdoorsy or RV Share for nearby availability.

  • Twin Falls – 90 miles
  • Idaho Falls – 86 miles
  • Boise – 170 miles
  • Pocatello – 102 miles
  • Sun Valley – 66 miles
  • Jackson – 175 miles
  • Salt Lake City – 263 miles