Updated: Sep 28
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve will make you feel like an alien, right here on earth.
There is nearly 760,000 acres of strange and mysteries land to be explored. From huge, extinct volcanic formations, rough and rugged lava rock and sage brush to an underground labyrinth with exotic wildlife, you will feel as if you stepped off a spaceship onto a new planet.
For generations the strange land was avoided and unexplored, but today a visit to Craters of the Moon allows you to be an explorer.
It is a place of discovery where not only adventurists go, but scientists, geologist and even NASA Astronauts visit and stay to learn more about earth.
The park is open every day. Some park facilities and the loop road are closed during the winter. Find out the Current Conditions before making a trek out in the winter months.
When the loop road is open to automobile traffic an entrance fee is charged of $20 per automobile.
Craters of the Moon's visitor center is located 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho on U.S. Highway 20/26/93. It is 24 miles northeast of Carey, Idaho on U.S. Highway 20/26/93. The physical address is 1266 Craters Loop Road.
We highly recommend you visit the Robert Limbert Visitor Center first to orient yourself to the park, get staff guidance and safety instruction and to use washroom facilities before venturing out on your own adventure.
Things to Do In Craters of the Moon
The seven-mile loop road provides unequalled opportunities to explore Craters of the Moon; including access to trails that take you over, under, and around various volcanic features. Allow half an hour for the drive itself and several hours for stopping at viewpoints and for hiking the trails.
North Crater Flow
A short trail of only a quarter mile crosses one of the youngest flows to monoliths-crater fragments rafted here by lava flows. A nearby longer trail (3.5 miles) winds through the vent of North Crater, past the Big Craters to the Spatter Cones parking lot.
Island-like lava fragments stand in a sea of cinders. Take the spur road and short half-mile mile accessible walk through these weird features.
Take in the view from the overlook or climb the steep half-mile cinder path to the top of the cone. Either way the views are magnificent.
Take the short accessible trail to view these miniature volcanoes. You can also view the spectacular Big Craters by hiking a steep half-mile portion of the North Crater Trail that branches off to the west.
Tree Molds and Broken Top Loop
A spur road just past Inferno Cone leads to this trail head. View the imprint of lava-charred trees along the two-mile Tree Molds Trail. Broken-Top Loop Trail circumnavigates a cinder cone and The Wilderness Trail leads to molds of upright trees called lava trees and the vast wilderness area beyond.
See lava tubes-Dewdrop, Boy Scout, Beauty, and Indian Tunnel-via a half-mile mile trail across the lava. Wear sturdy close-toed shoes and bring a flashlight and a cave permit.
There are five caves you can explore within the Monument. Four of these caves can be found along our Caves Trail, the other is located on the Broken Top Loop Trail. All other caves found in the monument are not open to visitation in order to help protect the bat populations.
There is a 3 mile trail to access the main caves which is paved; trails into and through the caves are very rough and rocky with uneven natural lava surfaces and loose materials on the path. Collapses require bouldering ability to traverse over. You can access four caves along this trail:
Indian Tunnel: 800 ft long, stairs provided at entry EASY
Dew Drop Cave: Open, bouldered entrance, MODERATE
Beauty Cave: Open, bouldered entrance, MODERATE
Boy Scout Cave: Tight, rocky entrance, DIFFICULT
Explore the North End
The North End is where Craters of the Moon meets the Rocky Mountains. Located across Highway 20/26/93 from the Visitor Center, the northern portion of the monument extends into the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains. This area covers less than 1% of the monument, but includes immensely different and important habitat types. In contrast to the developed loop drive, the North End’s lava flows and cinder cones are older and therefore densely vegetated with sagebrush, aspen, willows, and Douglas-fir trees.
The slopes of the Pioneer Mountains also contain numerous springs that feed small creeks and wetlands. While exploring this vastly different landscape, visitors may encounter several species of water-loving plants, waterfowl, and perhaps even a moose or black bear!
Whether hiking or camping in the group site, the North End is a great place to explore the rich diversity that this national park has to offer.
Public access to the North End is restricted to protect sensitive biological resources, the park’s drinking water supply and your safety.
All users must obtain a free permit from the Visitor Center before visiting this unique area. No permits will be issued during periods when big game hunting is authorized by state law on adjoining lands.
Access to caves and mine shafts in this area is prohibited for the protection of sensitive bat species that reside here. Please do not tamper with any park utilities or equipment.
No motorized vehicles are permitted in this area except for visitors with group campground reservations. Day-users must park at the Visitor Center or at the overlook located a quarter mile east of the access road on U.S. Highway 20/26/93.
A segment of the Oregon Trail runs through the monument and may be explored by foot. This alternate route, originally established in 1852, gained popularity with settlers nearly a decade later when relations with Native Americans along the main route of the Oregon Trail became strained.
To avoid conflict, Tim Goodale successfully led 338 wagons across the northern Snake River Plain. Travel around the northern edge of the lava flows was quite a memorable experience for the many emigrants who used this route.
The North End is also home to the group campground for Craters of the Moon. Located in a sheltered area at the base of Sunset Cone, the group site offers the advantage of privacy and seclusion. Wood fires are permitted at this site pending current fire restrictions, but you must bring your own wood to burn. The campground offers a vault toilet and spigot providing potable water. This site is available only by reservation through Recreation.gov.
Hotels Near Craters of the Moon
There is no lodging available in the park. The nearest lodging and other services are available in Arco, 18 miles east of the visitor center on US Highway 20/26/93.
The cheapest rates for any hotels or motels online can be found through Hotels.com. Use the form below and type in Arco Idaho in the search. Often rooms go for $30 to $70 per night.
Camping Near Craters of the Moon
There are three main campgrounds and RV Parks within 30 miles of Craters of the Moon and one within the actual park called Lava Flow Campground. Here you will stay in the lava flow among volcanic boulders. It is simply outstanding! But the campground fills up quickly and is only suited for small trailers and tents. Large RVs would never navigate around the rocks.
Below are some other choices for those with larger RVs:
Arco- Arco KOA
2424 North 3000 West, Arco (800) 562-3408 or (208) 527-8513
Arco- Mountain View RV Park
705 West Grand Avenue, Arco (208) 527-3707
Moore- Moose Crossing RV 3798 Highway 93 Moore, at milepost 100 on N US HWY 93 (541) 808-7391
Restaurants Near Craters of the Moon
Besides vending machines in the visitor center, there is no food service
available in the park. Picnic tables are available on the east side of the visitor center and at various locations around the Loop Road. Nearest restaurants are available in Arco, 18 miles east of the visitor center on US Highway 20/26/93.
In Arco you will have limited options and both times we have visited only one restaurant was open - the World Famous Pickle's Place! Besides fried pickles you will find Atomic Burgers, Fries, Hot Dogs, Fried Chicken, Salads and other American foods.
Other options are the Golden West Cafe, Mountain View Cafe, Deli Sandwich Shop and Lost River Drive Inn. All serve typical American foods.
Tips for Visiting Craters of the Moon
1. Bring sturdy footwear
2. Bring headlamps and flashlights to explore the caves
3. Little ones should wear helmets in the caves (bicycle ones work well), as many people bang their heads against the low rocks
4. Get your free cave permit at the visitor's center
5. Bring snacks and drinks with you as there is no service in the park
6. Use the washrooms at the visitor's center as these are the only ones in the park
7. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat in the summer as temperatures soar and there is no shade available.
8. If you are planing on staying in the campgrounds book well ahead of time
9. Book hotel rooms well ahead of time as they fill up quickly
10. Take lots of pictures at sunrise or sunset and enjoy walking on the moon!
Astronauts at Craters of the Moon
On August 22, 1969, Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Joe Engle, and Eugene Cernan landed at the airport in Arco. They then proceeded to Craters of the Moon where they explored the lava landscape and learned the basics of volcanic geology in preparation for future trips to the moon.
The astronauts came to Craters of the Moon because they were pilots and not geologists. NASA felt that these were men who might someday be walking on the moon. They would also have the rare opportunity to collect samples of different rocks on the moon. Since only a limited amount of material (850 pounds total in 6 moon landings) could be brought back, it was important that they know enough geology to pick up the most scientifically valuable specimens.
Since much of the moon's surface is covered by volcanic materials, it was very important that they know something about the lava they would encounter. This was the reason that the astronauts visited such places as Hawaii, Iceland, and Craters of the Moon. Visiting these places allowed the astronauts to become educated observers who could describe the surface features they were exploring to geologists back on Earth.
In 1999, Astronauts Cernan, Engle, and Mitchell (Shepard died in 1998) returned to Craters of the Moon to help celebrate the Monument's 75th Anniversary, 30 years after training here. When here they all talked about how beneficial their training here had been and how knowing about what was "in their own backyard" prepared them so well for their missions to the moon.