Journey to Another World at Craters of the Moon

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August 29, 2009

General Info: Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, in south-central Idaho, preserves 1100 square miles of volcanic landscape including almost all of the Great Rift area. Backyard geologists will delight at the three lava fields, more than 25 cones and 60 lava flows—ranging in age from 15,000 to 2,000 years old. Big Cinder Butte is one of the oldest basaltic cinder cones in the world. History buffs will enjoy seeing part of Goodale’s Cutoff—part of the Oregon Trail.

Hours and Fees: The park is open all year at all hours. The Robert Limbert Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m between Memorial Day and Sept. 12. The visitor center is closed during winter federal holidays. Daily entrance is $8 per vehicle. Call the park office for visitor information at 208-527-1335 or at 208-527-1300 (after hours).

Activities: Stop by the visitor center for exhibits and films about the park’s volcanic landscape and cultural history. Inside you’ll find the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association Bookstore for literature and mementos of your visit to the park. For your convenience the visitor center has a pay phone, restrooms, and vending machines for snacks and drinks.

craters-of-the-moon-national-monument-trail-and-road-mapThere are several hiking trails in the park of varying length and intensity where you can get a closer look at the unusual lava formations. If hiking in the summer heat doesn’t thrill you, hop in your air-conditioned toad for a drive on the 7-mile loop road, which features several scenic overlooks. You may even choose to explore the lava tube caves for an inside look at volcanic activity. I’m too claustrophobic for this, so leave a comment below and I can live vicariously through your experience!

Pets: Your leashed pets are welcome at Craters of the Moon. Except for service dogs, pets are not allowed in the visitor center or on trails.

Accessibility: The visitor center and its restrooms are fully accessible. The Devil’s Orchard Trail and the “Snow Cone” section of the Spatter Cones Trail are both fully accessible as well.

Weather: Elevation at the visitor center is 5900 ft. Summer high temperatures are in the 80s F and winter lows hover in the teens (with snow). Expect drying winds to pick up in the afternoon (up to 15-30 mph), so bring plenty of water.


Camping Info: The park’s Lava Flow Campground is open from May to October and includes 51 first-come first-served campsites. There are a limited number of larger campsites to accommodate big RVs and trailers. None of the campsites have hookups, but drinking water and vault toilets are available. Picnic tables and charcoal grills are provided, but wood fires are not allowed in the park. Nightly camping rates are $10 in summer and $6 in the shoulder season. There are no food services in the park; the closest facilities are in the town of Arco (18 miles from the visitor center).

devils-orchardIf you’d prefer to camp with a few more amenities, try the Craters of the Moon KOA (formerly Landing Zone RV Park) or the Mountain View RV Park, which are both good bases in Arco for exploring the national park and surrounding area. Both parks have spacious gravel RV campsites and free WiFi Internet.

If you’re from Idaho or have visited Craters of the Moon National Monument in the past, please chime in with your stories and tips! Your insights can help others have a fantastic trip.

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  25. Dave & JoAnn,

    I’m glad you had a nice vacation in the area. Thank you for sharing your tips on where to go and what to see. Those of us that get cranky when they’re hungry (and their traveling companions) will be especially grateful for the information about where to eat!

  26. Dave & JoAnn Sliwka

    We visited Craters of the Moon in July, 2008 and stayed at Mountain View RV Park in Arco. We spent 5 days in the area and enjoyed roaming thru the “moonscape” trails.

    The RV park was very comfortable, the only noises are truckers using the local highway that is close by. The park owners have a small restaurant on the premises that provides a free pancake breakfast to RV’rs, along with a regular menu if you choose. The small restaurant also offers a limited dinner menu. Arco is a very small town, so the extra meal choices were welcome.

    We also visited “the world’s first nuclear power plant” not far from Arco. This is a blast from the past, the 50’s, when nuclear power was just experimental at best. Most of the facility is not open to the public, but the main reactor building is open and you can spend a couple of hours on the tour, marveling at the 50’s style technology.