16 Apr
2015
Posted in: photography, travel
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Take a Trip: Craters of the Moon

Cinder cones at Craters of the Moon

I’ve been sorting through the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past few years for a photo project and have become nostalgic for past road trips. I’m asked quite often for travel ideas by people who want to add to their adventure list or start down the road of family road trips. We’re heavy users of National Park Service entities and most travel inquiries I receive have to do with whether or not we’ve been to a certain national park.

Indian Paintbrush at Craters of the Moon

Over the next few weeks leading into summer, I’ll share a few past road trips to places within Wyoming or places run by the National Park Service. One of the most unique places we’ve visited is Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve located in southern Idaho. I’m not sure why this is labeled a monument instead of a park. Craters of the Moon encompasses over 750,000 acres of surreal landscape. Somewhere between 15,000 to 2,000 years ago lava erupted from the Great Rift in eight eruptive periods. Much has happened over thousands of years to add to what is now Craters of the Moon. Visitors will find cinder cones and caves dotting the expansive lava flow. Sagebrush dots the black landscape adding to the weird, desolate, science fiction feeling we experienced the first time we laid eyes on the landscape.

family hiking at Craters of the Moon

It’s surreal to drive the highway adjacent to the park entrance and see a vast wasteland of blackened lava flow on one side and green-grassed hills on the other side. I wasn’t prepared for how mesmerizing and beautiful I would find the land. It’s like nothing I’ve seen on our numerous vacations.

hiking Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

panoramic view from Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

There are several hiking trails ranging from less than a quarter-mile to eight miles in length. My favorite hike was the 1/2 mile steep trek to the top of Inferno Cone. We visited in late spring, and the morning we hiked Inferno Cone the wind was fierce and the air was chilly. It was worth the climb to the top of the cone. The panoramic view is spectacular. Craters of the Moon is not a park to hike around in sandals or open-toe shoes. The ground is covered in rock, which can be sharp and makes hiking surfaces uneven in most places.

junior ranger patch from Craters of the Moon

The less than 2-mile Broken Loop Trail gives visitors the chance to see most of the geological features the park contains. The visitor’s center is a great place to familiarize yourself with different formations before heading out on a hike. If you’re traveling with kids, we always recommend the junior ranger program. It’s a great way to keep kids engaged in what they’re seeing and learning. Complete junior ranger booklets earn kids a plastic badge with the name of the park service entity on it. Some parks, like Craters of the Moon, also have a patch that can be swapped for the badge or purchased separately. The patch from Craters of the Moon is one of the best we’ve seen. Our kids found the lava bombs and the rope-like pahoehoe fascinating.

inside a tunnel cave at Craters of the Moon

Hands down our favorite part of the monument/preserve was exploring the caves. All visitors must get a cave permit at the visitor center before touring any of the caves. Craters of the Moon boasts over 300 documented caves. Boy Scout Cave requires some hands-and-knees crawling and has ice year-round. Confined spaces aren’t my thing, so I didn’t venture into this cave. My husband and sons would rank it at the top of their must-do list for the monument.

two children hiking in Craters of the Moon

Beauty Cave has a large opening that you climb down into and is spacious. Indian Tunnel was my personal favorite. Entering is easy and daylight is present for most of the cave length of 800 feet. There are rock cairns in the cave to follow if visitors choose to find the end of the tunnel and exit there. We walked the length of the tunnel. Exiting requires climbing over a pile of rocks and crawling out a small opening. The tunnel shouldn’t be missed.

Arco, Idaho city hall

We stayed in nearby Arco, Idaho, a small town which has an interesting museum dealing with atomic power and its connection to the area. There’s also part of a submarine in a park, numbers written on a hill and we learned why sometimes its OK to talk to strangers. I’ll save those stories for a future post.

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