As anyone who has traveled the United States by car extensively will tell you, sometimes you just happen to come across a landscape during your travels that so completely blows your mind that it renders you speechless. For me, one of these is undoubtedly the kind of weird, extremely cool, and very unique landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho. If you aren’t familiar with this park, you are definitely missing out. If you were to take a road trip thru Idaho, the contrast between the black lava formations and craters found inside the national monument and the landscape found throughout the rest of the state is nothing if not striking.
Spanning over 750,000 acres (or over 1,100 square miles), Craters of the Moon is an extremely large national monument that protects some of America’s most awe-inspiring geological history. Formed in 1924, the national monument protects the amazing lava formations that were formed roughly 15 million years ago and includes some of the best-preserved lava formations in the country outside of Hawaii. In addition to being an amazing place to learn about the geological history of the area, the Craters of the Moon also has some top-notch hiking trails and a wide variety of wildlife for visitors to enjoy. This includes foxes, bobcats, skunks, mountain lions, nighthawks, owls, bats, and other small animals. Whether you plan on exploring the back-country of this amazing park or just taking a drive-thru the park roads to see the amazing landscape, Craters of the Moon National Monument is definitely a stop I would make room for on the itinerary of your next road trip thru the Western United States.
In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip. In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are. With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.
How to Get There
Craters of the Moon National Monument is located in Southern Idaho and is a reasonably short drive from Boise, Idaho, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Bozeman, Montana. It is also an easy day trip from Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, so if you are staying at those parks for an extended period of time and are looking for a good day trip to take, Craters of the Moon National Monument is a great suggestion. For more information on how far Craters of the Moon is from other large cities in the Western United States, I have included a table of driving distances from nearby large cities and a map for you to review below.
|Boise, ID||170 miles||2hrs 42min|
|Salt Lake City, UT||263 miles||3hrs 49min|
|Bozeman, MT||282 miles||4hrs 47min|
|Missoula, MT||310 miles||5hrs 19min|
|Billings, MT||445 miles||6hrs 45min|
|Casper, WY||454 miles||7hrs 46min|
|Portland, OR||597 miles||9hrs 23min|
|Denver, CO||679 miles||10hrs 28min|
|Sacramento, CA||674 miles||10hrs 30min|
If you are visiting from outside of the United States and would like to visit Craters of the Moon, I would suggest flying into either Boise, Idaho, Salt Lake City, Utah, or Bozeman, Montana. If you are visiting from inside the United States and are planning a road trip out west, I have included a map below that outlines where Craters of the Moon National Monument is in relation to the large cities in the region.
Even though the total size of the park encompasses over 750,000 acres (which is more than 1,100 square miles), the amount of park that is accessible via road is much smaller. However, if you are visiting to just get a glimpse of the amazing and unique landscapes within the park, the park loop road and viewpoints may be exactly what you are looking for. If you would like to do some hiking and explore the back-country, there are some great trails for you to do that as well. In order to assist you in better understanding the layout of the park, I have included the park map (with a link to a downloadable PDF map) for you to review below.
When to Visit
Before you start planning your trip to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and the surrounding area, it is important to decide it makes the most sense to plan your trip. Depending on what you plan to do during your trip, different times of the year are going to be better for you to visit than others. Among the factors that you will want to consider when deciding what time of year is the best for your trip include the average temperature, the average amount of precipitation, and the average number of visitors in the park. In order to assist you in making the decision that is best for your trip, I have included data on all three of these factors for you to review below.
Average Temperature (°F)
One of the most important factors that you will want to consider when deciding on the best time to visit the park is what the average temperature will be when you visit. Because of its elevation, Craters of the Moon can get quite cold during the winter months of December thru February. If you plan on visiting during this time, it will be important for you to dress appropriately and plan on the possibility of driving in snowy conditions. Because the snow can cover the landscape, which is one of the biggest draws of this park, the winter months are undoubtedly the least attractive months for visitors.
On the contrary, the summer months of June thru August can get quite hot in Craters of the Moon. If you plan on visiting during these months, it will be important for you to make sure you bring enough water with you when you visit. This is especially important if you plan on doing a lot of hiking. If you are looking for moderate temperatures inside the park, your best bet is to target the spring and autumn months as the average temperatures in the park in late spring and early autumn are much more comfortable.
Average Precipitation (Inches)
Craters of the Moon National Monument doesn’t get an overwhelming amount of rain and snowfall throughout the year, but it does get some. If you are planning on spending a lot of time hiking in the back-country, the average amount of precipitation will likely be an important factor for when you plan your visit. If you would like to visit when the park is the dryest, your best bet is to plan your trip during the months of July thru September. However, these months also tend to be some of the hottest months of the year in the park, so you will need to make sure you bring enough water with you.
Average Visitors (Park Visitors)
Because most visitors come to Craters of the Moon National Monument to view the amazing lava formations, it should come as no surprise that the summer months where the weather is nicest and there is no snow on the ground are the most popular months of the year with tourists. In fact, the month of July, which is the middle of the summer in North America, is the busiest month of the year for the park. If you would like to avoid the crowds, but still want to have comfortable weather when you visit the park, I would suggest looking at the shoulder months of May and October. The weather should be reasonably nice and the crowds of visitors will be much smaller.
Other Things to See in the Area
In addition to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, there are plenty of other amazing things to see and do in Idaho and the surrounding region. Among these other attractions are Shoshone Falls, which is one of North America’s largest and most beautiful waterfalls and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, which sit on the border of Idaho and the states of Wyoming and Montana. If you are going to be in the area and would like to fill out your itinerary with some additional attractions, I have included a link to my Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks Visitor Guide for you to review below.
|Yellowstone and Grand Teton Visitor Guide|
Where to Stay
When visiting the national parks and monuments of the United States, it is a really neat experience to camp out during your visit. Some of the best campgrounds in America can be found inside the country’s national parks and monuments and the surrounding areas. If you are interested in camping out during your visit, I have included a map and list of some recommended campgrounds for you to review below.
|Lava Flow Campground|
|Silver Creek West Campground|
|Oregon Trails Campgrounds1|
|Mink Creek Group Campground|
|Goodenough Creek Campground|
|Elks Flat Campground|
If camping is not your speed, you need not work as there are a variety of good hotels for you to choose from in the area as well. If you are in the process of planning your trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument and are looking for recommendations on hotels in the area, I have included a map and list of recommended hotels and different price points for you to review below.
When planning any trip, you can never have too many resources at your disposal. In addition to the information I have provided you in this guide, I have linked to a number of other official resources from the US National Parks Service below for you to use to plan your trip as well.
- Operating Hours and Seasons
- Permits and Reservations
- Park Map
- Lodging, Campgrounds, and Restaurants
- Park Activities
- Park Plants and Animals
Activities in the Area
If you have some extra time while you are in the Craters of the Moon National Monument and surrounding area and are looking for some activities to do during your visit, I have included a list of suggestions below for you to review.
- ATV and Recreation Motor Sports
- Horseback Riding
- Mountain Biking
- Zip Lining
- Amusement and Water Parks
- Zoos and Wildlife Parks
Top Things to See and Do
Craters of the Moon National Monument is a big park and there are a lot of really interesting and fun things to see and do while you visit. If you are looking for a list of the can’t miss things to see and do when you visit, I have compiled a list of my favorite things for you to review below.
North Flow Crater Trail and North Crater Trail
If you like to hike, then you definitely won’t want to miss out on hiking either the North Flow Crater Trail or the longer North Crater Trail. Not only will you get to see some of the park’s most extraordinary craters and landscapes, but you have a really good chance of seeing some wonderful wildlife. The North Flow Crater Trail is a short, 0.3-mile loop hike that takes you onto the North Crater Flow, which was formed roughly 2,000 years ago. You will get to see the amazing landscape created by the flow and marvel at the geology.
If you are looking for a longer hike, then the North Crater Trail is a great option. This 3.5-mile, the one-way trail traverses the North Crater before dropping down into the crater mouth. As the trail continues on to the rim of Big Craters before ending near the Spattered Cones, you will get to see some truly spectacular landscapes during the hike which you won’t soon forget. If you do decide to hike this trail, please remember that no off-trail hiking is permitted to protect the lava formations, so please stay on the trail and leave no trace.
Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail
If you have kids with you, one of the top activities that I would recommend in the park is to take a hike along the Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail. Even if you are traveling without kids, the nature trail is an easy trail to hike and is a great way to see the wildlife that lives within the park. Some animals, such as Garter Snakes, Western Skinks, Western Yellow-Bellied Racers, Black-tailed Jackrabbits, Bushy-tailed Woodrats, Coyotes, Chipmunks, Mountain (Nuttall’s) Cottontails, Mule Deer, Northern Pocket Gophers, Red Fox, Western Harvest Mice, Yellow-bellied Marmots, and numerous species of bats are visible in the park year-round while animals such as Pronghorn Antelope, Red Squirrels, Moose, Pika, and Elk are visible in the park seasonally.
The Park’s Many Caves
Some of the more popular attractions in Craters of the Moon National Monument are the many caves that can be found throughout the park. Some of the lava formations have created unique caves that are fantastic to explore. You would be surprised to see how big some of these caves can be. There are five caves that you can explore while visiting the park and four of those caves are close together along the caves trail. In order to protect the bat species in Craters of the Moon, the other caves inside the national monument are off-limits to visitors. Please refer to the NPS website for more information on caving inside Craters of the Moon National Monument.
No stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument is complete without taking a short walk up the cinder path to the top of the Inferno Cone. This short 0.5-mile hike to one of the highest points in the park gives you some of the most amazing views of this beautiful national monument. While you are enjoying the breathtaking views of the landscape, enjoy the fact that you are standing on one of the largest cinder cones in the national monument.
Big Sink Overlook
When you visit the park, you will be amazed at how far the lava formations extend throughout the landscape. One of the best places to really get a good view of the massive expanse of lava is at the Big Sink Overlook. Make sure you have your camera with you when you visit as you will get some really amazing shots from this spot!
Craters of the Moon National Monument is one of the most unique and interesting landscapes that you will find in the United States. I was able to capture a lot of great shots while I was in the park and have included some of my favorites in a gallery for you to review below.
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