The Craters of the Moon National Monument was established in 1970 and was expanded in 2000 to include the Bureau of Land Management’s 495 000 acres of land that was adjoining the monument, which are now designated as part of the wilderness and national park area. The BLM land remains undeveloped and provides an excellent natural area for wildlife habitat and backcountry recreation. The Craters of the Moon National Monument and preserve now has a total of 750000 acres of unique geological wonders centered along the Great Rift, a 52 mile long crack in the earth's crust which results in a volcanic landscape complete with fissures, lava fields, lava tubes, craters and cinder cones on the Snake River Plain in Idaho.
Recreational use of the Bureau of Land Management backcountry is permitted, but limited, and requires overnight camping permits for backcountry users. Visitors to the backcountry area should be prepared for primitive conditions, and as a result, the area is largely undisturbed and secluded, ideal for visitors that want a truly natural experience. The climate at Craters of the Moon is characterized by extremes with hot summers and cold severe winters. It should be noted that the area is snow-covered for ⅓ of the year and mostly inaccessible. Visitors looking to access the BLM backcountry at Craters of the Moon mostly use the Wilderness Trail and the camp at Echo Crater. Equestrians can use the trail for day use only, no overnight camping with horses is permitted in the backcountry.
For more information on amenities and recreation while visiting check out Craters of the Moon National Monument. Also, visit the Petrified Forest National Park which is located nearby. Need an RV to visit the area? Try RV Rentals Craters of the Moon.
When traveling to, and throughout the Craters of the Moon National Monument, you should not rely on digital navigation systems, as cellular data access is limited. Be sure to have maps and directions for vehicular travel in the developed monument area, and for any travel on foot in the wilderness areas. The visitor center is located 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho, on US Highway 20/26/93. Access to the visitor center is via a paved highway, and the monument loop drive is paved, with limited cellular service. Visitors planning on touring the BLM backcountry are advised to visit the Robert Limbert Visitor Center where staff can provide information on safely navigating the area. Backcountry roads require four wheel drive vehicles with good clearance, on a rough naturally surfaced road.
Weather conditions in the region are extreme with very hot summers and heat reflecting from lava and rock surfaces and drying winds and snow-covered terrain in winter with average snow depths varying from two inches at the south end to 26 inches at the north end of the monument. While traveling in the area you need to be prepared for extreme weather. Do not leave children or pets in vehicles during the summer months and ensure you have plenty of water on hand for hiking or biking travel in the park. During the winter, the Loop Drive is closed and area road conditions can deteriorate rapidly with winter storms. Check Road Conditions Craters of the Moon especially when traveling during the winter. Winter tires provide more control on icy roads and visitors traveling with RVs and tow trailers in icy conditions should leave extra room and time for braking and turning.
Got a large group that wants to explore the Craters of the Moon National Monument? Check out the Group Campground, which is situated just behind the Sunset Cinder Cone site.
The group campground is located on the northside of US Highway 20/26/93 on a gravel road just a short distance east on the highway from the visitor center. The camping area accommodates large groups of up to 30 people and is available by reservation only. The area is available for tent camping only; no RVs are permitted at the site.
Amenities at the site include picnic tables, drinking water supply, a vault toilet, campfire ring, and charcoal grill. The campground has accessible facilities, but trails to the washroom and picnic area may be somewhat difficult for mobility-impaired patrons who may need assistance. There is no wood gathering on-site, and visitors planning on using the campfire ring will need to bring their own wood. Tents must be set up on bare soil, not on vegetation. Visitors to the group camping area will need a day-use permit to hike or bike outside the group campground to BLM lands.
Camp amongst the lava flows for a one-of-a-kind experience while staying in this “unearthly” terrain at Lava Flow Campground. The campground is located near the visitor center where information, such as maps of trails and highlights like local caves and other geological features, can be found.
The campground is generally open from May to November, depending on weather conditions. There are 42 sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The campsite does not have hookups available, except for Site #34, which has an electric outlet for the use of those with medical requirements only.
There is a drinking water supply on-site during the warmer months. Restrooms with flush toilets are located here, but there is no RV dump station or showers. Campsites have charcoal grills and picnic tables, but no wood fires are permitted. Campsites are accessible for RVs and tow vehicles with a few sites that can accommodate large RVs and trailers. Quiet time is between 10 PM and 6 AM, and generators can not be run during this time. Pets are permitted in the campground but are limited in other parts of the monument.
Dispersed, informal, primitive camping is permitted in Craters of the Moon wilderness areas, at the National Park Preserve, and the Bureau of Land Management Monument areas. You will need a backcountry permit which is available at the visitor center during regular business hours to conduct overnight camping in the backcountry.
The Bureau of Land Management areas feature rough terrain with occasional extreme weather conditions. Hiking and overnight camping in these areas should only be undertaken by visitors who are appropriately equipped, outfitted, and experienced. Backcountry camping is limited to certain locations to reduce the impact on the natural habitat and unique geological features in the area.
The Echo Crater is the most commonly used backcountry camping area. While BLM camping, campers are required to “leave no trace”, pack out all trash, do not move rocks or logs, bury human waste six inches deep in cinder areas, and disturb vegetation as little as possible.
Craters of the Moon is a designated International Night Sky Park. In remote wilderness areas in the BLM sections of Craters of the Moon National Monument visitors can enjoy dark sky viewing where excess “light noise” is reduced and does not impair the visibility of the night sky as much as in more populated areas. View the heavens with the naked eye, binoculars, or portable telescopes from remote areas. In the main section of the monument, “Star Parties” are held during the spring and fall seasons, hosted by the Idaho Falls Astronomical Society, which provides telescopes to enhance viewing of the night sky features.
For a unique adventure ar Craters of the Moon try some “spelunking”, the term used for cave exploration. There are five caves open for exploration in the monument, four of which are located along Caves Trail and the fifth on the Broken Top Loop Trail. Other caves in the monument and BLM areas are not open to the public due to sensitive bat populations and hazards.
The four caves along the Caves Trail are Indian Tunnel, which is 800 feet long with stairs providing easy access, Dew Drop Cave and Beatify Cave, which have bouldered entrances and are moderate in difficulty, and Boy Scout Cave, which is rated as difficult and has a tight rocky entrance. The Buffalo Cave on the Broken Trail Loop has a tight rocky entrance and is rated as difficult.
Cave guides can be found at the trailheads to the caves. You will need to obtain a caving permit at the visitor center, where visitors are screened for white-nosed syndrome which can affect local bat populations. Please do not bring shoes or other items that have been in other caves of mines. Do not bring food or leave trash in caves to protect the sensitive ecosystem.
The Wilderness Trail is most commonly used access to the Bureau of Land Managements backcountry areas. This trail leads from the Tree Molds parking lot to the Sentinel area, a stretch of four miles. Echo Crater and Lava Trees areas can be accessed from the trail and Echo Crater is the most popular for overnight backpack camping, although Sentinel and othe
r backcountry destinations also have primitive camping opportunities. There are many additional trails in the main Craters of the Moon National Monument that takes you to interesting geological sites such as caves, craters, lava flows, cinder beds, and lava cones. The 1.8 mile Broken Top Loop Trail will take you to several different volcanic features and through fascinating geological formations.
During the winter, Craters of the Moon National Park experiences significant snowfall with deeper snow occurring at the north end of the monument The Loop Drive is closed to traffic in the winter, and groomed for cross country skiing. The seven-mile loop road is open for cross country skiing usually from mid-December through February, depending on the snowpack.
The trail is relatively level and can be completed in 2-4 hours. Bring your own equipment, dress in layers, and pack lots of water, then head out on the loop to enjoy the winter wonderland.
The seven-mile Loop Trail is closed to traffic and groomed during the winter for both cross country skiing and snowshoeing. There are also many hiking trails throughout the park where you can snowshoe, including the 1.5 mile Snowshoe Loop Trail. Most of the park trails can be completed in 2-4 hours during the winter when snow park permits snowshoeing. There is no fee to enter the park during the winter, and it should be noted that pets are not permitted on groomed snow trails during the winter months.
Organized snowshoe walks are scheduled throughout the winter. These walks are ranger guided and allow exploration of the monument features including a two-mile trek where you can look for tracks and climb a volcano on snowshoes! Reservations are required for guided walks. Snowshoes are available by donation at the visitor center.
The Robert Limbert Visitor Center is open during the winter, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. View exhibits and attend an audio-visual presentation to learn more about the unique natural and geological features of Craters of the Moon National Monument from climate-controlled comfort in the winter months!
You can obtain maps and information on the BLM backcountry and plan a trek for the upcoming season. The visitor center is open during the winter from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. You can even do some shopping at the visitor center book and gift store.