The Craters Of The Moon National Monument & Preserve is the home of one of the largest lava flow areas in North America, so this destination is a must to visit when doing a western volcano theme tour. The ancient black lava fields literally stretch out to the horizon and the barren volcanic landscape looks as if it belongs on another planet, so the name of this National Monument certainly is appropriate!
Craters Of The Moon covers a lot of ground in a remote location, so the best touring plan is to campout in the local area. It can take a few days to do all the hiking trails and explore the caves, so camping on site will save commuting back and forth from town. Highway 26 and Highway 20 share the same road in this area and this highway is the gateway to this park. There are several campgrounds, RV parks and old fashioned motels located in the small towns along the way, so there are alternative options nearby. Camping inside the park is best, because the campsites are located in the North Lava Flow and by taking two steps out of the tent a world of adventure awaits to be discovered.
On a side note, using an automatic mapping function to plan a route to Craters Of The Moon is not a good idea in this region of Idaho. This is a National Monument & Preserve and the big Craters Of The Moon National Preserve surrounds the National Monument. Mapping systems do not always differentiate the two areas and they often route visitors deep into the National Preserve on rough dirt roads in the southern end of the park, instead of directing visitors to the National Monument entrance at the north end of the park on Highway 26, which is a paved road. To make things worse, the southern end of the National Preserve borders upon an endless maze of vast Idaho potato farms, so it is possible to become hopelessly lost in this featureless flat landscape. For this reason it is best to double check the GPS and make sure that it is pointing toward the right place!
When approaching the Craters Of The Moon on Highway 26, the features of the volcanic landscape become more noticeable. Volcanic plume mounds and cinder cones dot this big valley and where the ground turns black is where the Craters Of The Moon begins. There are several scenic overlooks and hiking trailheads along the highway that are well worth checking out, so be sure to set aside some extra time when passing through.
After passing through the entrance gate, the best place to start the Craters Of The Moon venture is the Robert Limbert Visitor Center. This is a big visitor center by standards and a wealth of information can be found in this place. The building serves as a museum and learning center that covers every topic that a volcanologist could possibly dream of. Detailed maps of the hiking trails and cave permits can be found here. The Park Rangers freely provide plenty of advice for everything from the right kind of footwear to White Nose Bat Fungus prevention, so be sure to make the Visitor Center the first planned stop.
The Visitor Center is directly across the street from the Lava Flow Campground, so it does not get much more convenient than this! Lava Flow is no ordinary campground, because the tent pads and RV parking slips are squeezed between the tall mounds of the black lava flows. Some campsites are even perched on top of the lava mounds, so this is quite an odd campground to see during an initial visit. By far, the Lava Flow Campground is the best place to set up a basecamp for a Craters Of The Moon adventure.
If looking at ancient black lava just is not enough to satisfy the yearnings, there are plenty of other points of interest nearby. The Idaho Potato Museum, EBR-1 Museum and a few other notable atomic age destinations are within a one hour drive, so there is plenty of cool things to experience in this neck of the woods. Craters Of The Moon most definitely belongs on the lifetime travel destination list simply because this place demonstrates just how wild and inhospitable planet earth can really be. When doing a volcano tour of the west, it is well worth doing the long drive through Idaho potato land to get to this majestic destination!
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