Frequently Asked Questions


Visitation Questions

What is there to do at Craters of the Moon?

The park offers a variety of scenic trails for those interested in hiking. Most trails in the park are 1.8 miles (2.9 km) one-way or less with the exception of the Wilderness Trail. Many people like to hike several smaller trails during their visit. During the summer and fall, two lava tube caves are open for caving as conditions allow to those with cave permits. A few trails are fully accessible. Backcountry camping is available for the adventurous camper. On average, most visitors spend 2-4 hours at the park. For those shorter on time, the scenic Loop Road is nine miles round-trip and takes about 30 minutes to drive.

During the winter, the Loop Road is closed to vehicles but groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. A 1-mile snowshoe only trail is also set and marked near the visitor center. While those interested in skiing must bring their own ski equipment, when open, the visitor center provides snowshoes for a suggested donation through the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association.

Read more about things to do at Craters of the Moon.

When is the best time of year to visit the park?

It depends on what you're interested in doing or seeing.

Summers are hot but provide the greatest access to the park and trails. In the winter, the Loop Road closes to vehicles but is groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. During the spring and fall, there is a period of time where the Loop Road is closed to vehicles but open to hiking and biking. This is the best and safest time to bike in the park as bikes are not permitted on trails and the Loop Road is narrow and does not have a shoulder. Late spring is popular for those seeking to view the park's annual wildflower bloom. Learn more about the seasons at Craters of the Moon.

Check current conditions at the park

Does the park have any special events planned for the Centennial?

Yes! The park has events planned from May through September 2024, from astronomy programs to special guided hikes and more. Learn more about special Centennial events at Craters of the Moon...

What is the busiest time of the year?

Peak season for Craters of the Moon is June through September, with July being the busiest month.

Are dogs allowed on the trails?

Pets are not allowed on any trails in the park or in buildings or caves. Leashed pets are welcome anywhere cars can be in the park, in other words, roads, parking areas, and in the Lava Flow Campground. Never leave your pet unattended. Parking areas do not have shade and air temperatures can exceed 90°F (32°C) in the middle of summer.

Lava rocks are rough and jagged. The surface of the dark rocks and asphalt can reach 150°F (65°C) or more in the sun and quickly burns paws.

Pets are not permitted beyond the parking lot in the winter once grooming operations have begun to preserve the groomed track.

How do we visit the caves?

There are two lava tube caves that are open seasonally, Indian Tunnel and Dewdrop Cave. Typically, they open for the season in the summer once snow and ice has melted from the entrances and close in late fall once conditions become icy or snowy on a regular basis. Temporary closures may occur due to early or late ice.

Anyone who is interested in visiting the caves must obtain a free cave permit from the visitor center in-person during business hours. Cave permits are required to protect bats from the spread of white-nose syndrome. All adults in the group must be present to receive a permit. Clothing or other items that have been worn or used in another cave or underground space cannot be brought into the caves at Craters of the Moon.

Once you have received a permit, keep in mind that the caves are undeveloped beyond the entrances and hazards include loose, sharp rock, uneven, slippery surfaces, lingering ice, poor light, and low ceilings.

Can you camp in the park?

Dry camping is available at the Lava Flow Campground on a first come, first served basis, spring through fall. Car or RV camping is not permitted at the visitor center or anywhere along the Loop Road. During the winter, walk-in snow camping is available at certain areas with a free permit.

There are also plenty of places to camp near the park.

Do you sell souvenirs?

The Craters of the Moon Natural History Association manages the bookstore at the visitor center and sells books, postcards, shirts, and hundreds of other items.

Please note that it is illegal to take items like rocks from the park.

Can you fly drones in the park?

Drones and other unmanned aircraft are not permitted at Craters of the Moon as per the Superintendent's Compendium.

Read more about drone use in the national parks.


Geology Questions

Where is the volcano?

After driving past miles of rugged lava flows, you may have arrived here expecting a gigantic volcano with steep slopes and a crater at the summit like Mount St. Helens. The volcanoes at Craters of the Moon do not fit that description. The eruptions here, called "fissure eruptions", occurred along cracks in the earth's crust. This series of cracks extends over 52 miles across the park, creating an area known as the Great Rift. The eruptions were of very fluid basaltic lava from which gases could easily escape. Without high gas pressure, eruptions tend to be very mild and produce small cinder cones and extensive lava flows. There are more than 25 cinder cone volcanoes at Craters of the Moon.

When did the eruptions occur?

Volcanic activity has occurred on the Snake River Plain for many millions of years. The much younger lava flows at Craters of the Moon were formed by eruptions that started only 15,000 years ago and represent the last period of active volcanism in the area. The most recent activity occurred approximately 2,100 years ago. Parts of the youngest lava flows can be viewed at different places along the Loop Road or hiking trails.

Will the volcanoes erupt again?

Craters of the Moon is considered dormant, not extinct. Signs of impending eruptions (earthquakes, the opening of steam vents, and ground swelling) have not occurred recently. However, geologists believe that the area will become active again within the next 900 years.

Where can we see the craters?

Although a few craters can be seen from the highway (such as North Crater), most require at least a short hike to view. Some cinder cones, like Inferno Cone, do not have a visible crater. The most accessible craters are those at the Spatter Cones, which require a 0.1 mile walk from the parking lot to view. The trail to Snow Cone is also fully accessible. The crater of Broken Top is visible near the beginning of Broken Top Loop Trail. If you are prepared, Big Craters, three large, neighboring craters, is a short, steep hike from the Spatter Cones parking area on North Crater Trail. For your safety, off-trail travel is not permitted at the Big Craters or Spatter Cones areas.

Where can we see the Great Rift?

The line of cinder cones that extend from the Loop Road to the southeast show the route of the Great Rift because they formed along it. This line is most obvious when viewed from the top of Inferno Cone. In many places, you could be standing on the Great Rift and not realize it. There are no places along the Loop Road or highway where you can look into the Great Rift.

What is that big mountain east of the park?

East of Craters of the Moon is Big Southern Butte. It was formed when two rhyolitic lava domes combined to create a 2,380 foot high mountain. Big Southern Butte is estimated to be about 300,000 years old and is not part of the park or related to the eruptions here. Two smaller lava domes, Middle Butte and East Butte, are located east of Big Southern Butte.


Nature Questions

Who planted all the flowers?

In the late spring, tiny wildflowers adorn the cinder slopes of the park. Because they are so evenly spaced, they appear to have been planted in neat rows. Not so! Plants here must compete for a very limited amount of water; consequently, they cannot grow too close together and survive. The plants space themselves naturally according to the availability of limited resources.

Is it always windy like this?

No; sometimes it's worse! Because Craters of the Moon is higher than the surrounding area (5,900 feet in elevation), it intercepts the prevailing southwesterly winds. Afternoon winds can be expected almost every day, but usually die down in the evening.

What kinds of animals are found in the park?

The park is home to many small mammals, birds, insects, and a few reptiles and amphibians. The most common large animals to see in the park are mule deer. In the spring and fall, Rocky Mountain elk and pronghorns are seen along the highway as they make their seasonal migrations. On occasion, moose are seen in the park between late fall and early spring.

Large carnivores such as mountain lions, wolves, and black bears have been found in the park from time to time, but are very rare to see south of the Pioneer Mountains just north of the park.

Historical Questions

How did Craters of the Moon get its name?

Local stories made references to the landscape resembling the surface of the moon. Some even referred to the area as the "Valley of the Moon." It became known as Craters of the Moon when Robert Limbert used the name in an article written for National Geographic. Limbert was the first white American to thoroughly explore, map, and promote the area. The name became official with the establishment of the park in 1924.

What Native American tribes lived here?

What is now known as "Craters of the Moon" is part of the ancestral homelands of the Shoshone-Bannock people. They still maintain a connection to this land today.

Did the astronauts really train here?

The second group of astronauts to walk on the moon with Apollo 14 visited Craters of the Moon in 1969. Although they did not actually train here, they did study the volcanic geology. They were also able to explore an unusual and harsh environment in preparation for their trip into space.

NASA has also visited the park more recently in preparation for future Mars missions.

Last updated: March 23, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
1266 Craters Loop Road
P.O. Box 29

Arco, ID 83213


208 527-1300

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