Craters of the Moon:
An Educational Experience
Craters of the Moon was set aside as a National Monument by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. In his proclamation declaring Craters of the Moon a National Monument, President Coolidge stated that the area contained "Many curious and unusual phenomena of great educational value and has a weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself." Preserved because of its geological significance, Craters of the Moon provides a unique opportunity to study a volcanic landscape. Although most of Craters of the Moon is covered by seemingly barren lava flows, it also supports a surprising diversity of plants and animals, e.g. 600 species of plants, 58 mammals, and 212 birds.
Orientations are presented by the ranger staff at the visitor center for as many as 150 students per day during the reservation period. Orientation talks include a brief explanation of the National Park Service mission, Monument significance, safety, and student conduct. Read our School Policy and see the Teacher's page for important information including available dates. These dates have been selected to coincide with the normal opening of the loop drive and trails through the monument as well as periods when adequate staffing is available at the monument to assist school groups. Reservations can be made by calling (208) 527-1335.
Registration guarantees your group an orientation and an educational fee waiver for your visit. For those groups who choose to visit the monument without securing a fee waiver or attending an orientation, the standard entrance fees will be charged.
Field Trips vs Recreational Activities
Craters of the Moon is an exceptional area for the study of volcanic activity along with the plants and animals native to Idaho's high desert. For this reason, we encourage schools to integrate their field trips with their classroom curriculum.
In the winter, Labor Day to mid-June, the Visitor Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In the summer, from mid-June to Labor Day, the Visitor Center may have expanded hours. Exhibits at the Visitor Center include a five minute video on volcanic geology, as well as a wildlife display, and exhibits on geology and the history of Craters of the Moon. There is also a bookstore where books, postcards, posters,and videos for purchase. Space within the visitor center is extremely limited so we ask visitors to be as quiet as possible while inside the building. Restrooms are available at the Visitor Center, Caves Trail parking area, Devil's Orchard, and the Tree Molds parking area. Drinking water is not available once you leave the Visitor Center area. All visitors are advised to carry water whenever they plan to be in the field for more than an hour. Picnic facilities are available at the campground or the Visitor Center.
The following regulations should be discussed with your group prior to their arrival at the monument. All the natural features within Craters of the Moon are protected. Collecting of rocks is strictly prohibited. Since walking or climbing on the fragile lava rock can cause irreversible damage, all visitors to the North Crater Flow, Spatter Cones, and Big Craters areas are required to stay on the paved walkways. If you have an opportunity to view the wildlife found at Craters of the Moon, use caution not to disturb the animals. Feeding, handling, or harassing wildlife is prohibited. All litter must be disposed of properly.
In order to have a safe educational visit, precautions must be taken. Since lava rock is sharp and any fall may result in an injury, running, pushing, or horseplay in general can lead to serious accidents. Because of the danger of falling, extreme caution and supervision is required around the Spatter Cones and Big Craters area. Keep students a safe distance from the crater's edge. The caves, often totally dark with low ceilings, small crawlways and rocky floors, must be approached cautiously with safety a primary consideration. A reliable source of artificial light is needed for all caves. In early spring you may find either all or some of the caves closed because of hazardous ice and snow conditions within them--call ahead and check on their status. Even after the caves are open, some will still contain ice and extra caution should be exercised. In the event of an accident, contact the nearest Ranger.
Group Size and Supervision
Group size should be limited to a maximum of 50 students. Groups larger than this have difficulty staying together on the trail and students may have difficulty hearing the group leader. If your group is larger than about 30 students, we suggest that you divide your group into smaller groups, providing each group with its own leader. The smaller the group, the more individual students will gain from the experience. There should be at least one adult for ten students. Leaders and adults must remain with the group at all times.
The 7-mile Loop Drive through the park is closed from approximately November 1st to April 15th. The weather at Craters of the Moon is unpredictable. At an elevation of 5,900 feet, cold, windy, or snowy weather is often possible even in late May. Canceling a field trip at the last moment is awkward, but trips in snow and rain are rarely enjoyable or safe. There is no sheltered or indoor area groups can utilize. It is advisable to call ahead if bad weather seems a possibility.
What to Bring
Each member of your group should bring the following: lunch if you plan to eat at the monument, a water bottle, clothing layers to stay warm and dry, long pants (shorts offer no knee protection if a student falls down), sturdy shoes or boots (no sandals or open toed shoes), and one flashlight per person if you plan to visit the caves area. A camera, binoculars, or hand lens are optional, but may enhance the experience. All items should be labeled with the person's name, address, and phone number in case anything is lost.
Field Trips - Recommended Itinerary
Because most school groups visiting Craters of the Moon have the same amount of time available, the following sample Itinerary may be useful.
|Arrive at Craters of the Moon Visitor Center. Use the restrooms and tour the Visitor Center.
||Front lawn of the Visitor Center or multipurpose room in bad weather. Orientation stressing monument geology and safety concerns. Plan to divide larger groups in half. The first group enters the Visitor Center while the second group receives an orientation. Then the two groups switch.
||North Crater Flow Trail. This short (less than 1/4 mile) walk winds through a portion of the North Crater lava flow on a paved trail. A wide variety of flow formations can be seen, including aa and pahoehoe lava, blue dragon lava, pressure ridges, squeeze ups, and rafted blocks.
||Spatter Cones. The Spatter cones are located directly off the parking area. These "miniature" volcanoes are thought to have formed during the latter stages of a fissure eruption as thick pasty globs of lava were thrown into the air and piled up around a vent.
||Big Craters. The steep 1/4 mile long paved trail takes you to the crater's rim. Big Craters is actually a "cinder cone complex" consisting of nine nested cones made up of brown, red, and black cinders. Big Craters is an excellent example of how a fissure eruption gradually shifts and changes.
||Drive the loop road back to the campground or Visitor Center for lunch.
||Last stop at the Visitor Center.
||Leave Craters of the Moon.
Visiting Indian Tunnel
will add approximately one hour to this schedule.
The hike around the Broken Top Loop Trail is an excellent substitute for the activities on this itinerary and a Field Trip Guide
is available for this excursion.