For families driving through Southern Idaho en route on I-84 or toward Yellowstone National Park, a stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument is well worth the time. This park of lava tubes and geological displays is visually stunning with its rocky volcanic landscape and cinder cone, but the true wonders are below ground. The highlight for our family was certainly the cave exploration within the park.
Start at the visitor’s center at the park entrance, and watch a short film on the park, then obtain a cave permit. (Permits are required to enter any caves in the park in an effort to protect bats from a common bat disease.) Once you have your permit (and enough flashlights or headlamps for everyone in your party), head out on Crater Loop Road, and follow signage to the cave area. You’ll see a parking area and paved path to the lava field with five caves. We toured the Dewdrop Cave (small and good to start with), the Indian Tunnel (large but still well-lit), and the Boy Scout Cave (dark, icy, and requiring much scrambling). If you have adventurous kids in your group like we have, they’ll also want to explore additional lava tubes running throughout the beds.
Note: You’ll want sturdy shoes with good grip in the caves, as well as lights (headlamps are best). Keep kids close to you, because there are many ways to go inside the caves and many small tunnels that are tempting to explore. Be aware of icy rocks.
If cave spelunking isn’t your thing, the Crater Loop Road also includes numerous view points, a short hike up a cinder cone, and day hikes. There is a campground at Craters of the Moon which is visually beautiful but low on shade or wind protection; I’d recommend it for RV campers, not tent campers. The visitor’s center has an indoor atrium where families can eat bag lunches, but no outdoor picnic areas. Don’t forget to get the kids’ National Parks Passports stamped!
Date last visited:
Distance from the Interstate:
1.5 hours (right on US Highway 20).
Car fee is $8. Campground fees may apply.
Visitor’s Center: 8 am to 6 pm during summer months. Call for opening season dates: 208-527-1335
Craters of the Moon is located off US Highway 20/26 between Arco and Carey, Idaho.