NORTH CRATER FLOW
This loop trail takes you onto the North Crater Flow, a pahoehoe flow that spilled from the North Crater vent about 2000 years ago. Signs along this short trail provide an excellent introduction to the variety of features that you will see all along the loop. No off-trail travel is permitted in this area in order to protect fragile lava formations.
NORTH CRATER TRAIL
This one-way trail is especially interesting for its variety. The trail traverses North Crater and drops into the crater mouth, the vent for the North Crater flow. Notice that the northwest flank of North Crater is missing. An eruption tore the wall apart, and a series of flows rafted the fragments away. The trail continues to the rim of Big Craters before descending to the Spatter Cones. No off-trail travel is permitted in the Big Craters area in order to protect fragile lava formations.
This paved trail explores an area of cinder beds scattered with pieces of the North Crater wall. Exhibits along the trail challenge you to consider the difficulties of protecting this fragile environment. This trail is wheelchair accessible.
The trail to the top of Inferno Cone is steep, but rewards you with panoramic views of the Great Rift, Snake River Plain, and Pioneer Mountains. On clear days you may see the Teton Range, 100 miles to the east. Do not climb in high winds! You will be very exposed and the cinders are sometimes picked up by the wind.
Like Yellowstone's Old Faithful, the spatter cone chain at Craters of the Moon best symbolizes the essence of this special place. Created during a dwindling stage of an eruption, the spatter cones formed as hot lumps of lava were thrown a short distance into the air only to fall back to earth around a small central vent. As the still molten blobs landed on top of each other, they cooled and adhered to nearby pieces to form the walls of what could be considered a mini-volcano.
BROKEN TOP LOOP TRAIL
The Broken Top Loop Trail is one of the most outstanding trails within Craters of the Moon. You can observe nearly every type of volcanic feature characteristic of the basaltic eruptions that created this unearthly landscape. Pick up a trail guide at the visitor center or at the trailhead sign and follow the numbered signs along the trail to learn more. This trail also provides access to Buffalo Caves (best entrance is near sign #8). Obtain a free permit at the visitor center, wear sturdy shoes and bring a flashlight before entering this or any other cave in the park.
Follow the paved ramp that goes south of the trailhead sign near the parking lot. This trail winds through shrubs and stands of limber pine within the Craters of the Moon Wilderness before reaching the edge of the Blue Dragon Flow. While still molten, this lava flow knocked down and ignited trees. The charred tree trunks left impressions in the lava rock. In other places, the trees remained standing as the lava encased them, leaving vertical molds in the cooling lava.
You will have a sense of solitude as you travel into the Craters of the Moon Wilderness. Begin the trail on the sidewalk that parallels the roadway and turn right to follow the direct route across a young lava flow near the entrance to Buffalo Caves. Follow the metal posts across the lava. After stepping off of the lava turn right at the trail sign. You then pass between Big Cinder and Half Cone cinder cones. Check out the "lava trees" at the short signed trail that leads to these features. Observe Crescent Butte and Coyote Butte as you travel through "trench mortar flats". Echo Crater is a great place to camp! Obtain a required backcountry permit at the visitor center and be prepared to walk through the sage brush to access the easiest entrance on the north-eastern side of the crater.
THE CAVES TRAIL
On a summer day, the cool, dark lava tubes along the Caves Trail offer a radical change from the brilliant light and blistering heat on the surface. Indian Tunnel, one-half mile from the parking lot, is the largest cave and the easiest to visit. Holes in the ceiling provide some light and entrance stairs provide access to this cave. At the base of the stairs follow the passage to your left to reach the narrow cave exit. Follow metal posts across the rough lava back to the entrance.
Last updated: August 6, 2020