Caving at the Lava Beds

Caver in Valentine Cave
Cave entrances can take many forms; from walk-in entrances like Valentine Cave, to entrances that are only accessible by ladders or ropes.

Kenneth Ingham


What You Need To Know Before You Go Caving

  1. Before entering any cave you must be "screened" for white-nose syndrome. If you have boots, clothing or gear that has been in a place where bats roost (caves, mines, buildings, bridges, etc.) outside of Lava Beds National Monument, please leave these items at home. This is an effort to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal bat disease.
  2. Most information you need to know is contained in our caving brochure.
  3. Learn what it means to cave safely and cave softly, and put these ethics into practice during your visit.

Current Cave Closures

  • Blue Grotto
  • Ovis Cave / Paradise Alleys
  • Natural Bridge
  • Thunderbolt Cave (gated area)
  • Balcony Cave

The reason for this closure is for the protection of maternity colonies of Townsend's Big-eared bats. Bats are important components of the ecosystem. They provide insect control and pollination of plants, among other functions. Maternity colonies, hibernating bats, and all roosting bats are very sensitive to human disturbance, such as entry into caves where bats are present. Disturbance can cause drastic declines in bat populations. Observations by National Park Service staff have documented the presence of maternity colonies of Townsend's Big-eared bats in the above-listed caves. This bat is listed by the State of California as a Species of Special Concern due to its extreme sensitivity to human disturbance. Through consultations with bat specialists, we have determined this temporary closure to be appropriate for bat protection.


Exploring the Caves

Many of the developed caves contain trails through the cave and stairways or ladders into the cave. Most of the developed caves are located along Cave Loop, a 2-mile road near the visitor center. Just a short walk from the visitor center, Mushpot Cave contains exhibits and is the only lighted cave at Lava Beds. Developed caves are divided into three groups based on their varying levels of difficulty in the hardest section of the cave: least, moderate, and most challenging.

A caver stands in a large, colorful cave passage.
Caves come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Easy caves are typically defined by high ceilings and smooth floors.

Jesse Barden


Least Challenging

These caves have relatively high ceilings and smoother floors or trails. At the very least you should use the following gear: flashlights, sturdy shoes, and head protection.

Least Challenging Caves:

  • Mushpot
  • Sentinel
  • Valentine
  • Skull
  • Merrill
  • Heppe
  • Big Painted
  • Symbol Bridge
  • Ovis
  • Paradise Alley
NPS staff surveys a wide passage in Golden Dome Cave for microbial life.
Moderately challenging caves may require some stooping and have uneven floors.

Kenneth Ingham


Moderately Challenging

These caves may involve stooping through low sections and/or rough floors. Additional safety gear is recommended for the more difficult spots, including: cave maps, compass, kneepads, and gloves.

Moderately Challenging Caves:

  • Golden Dome
  • Sunshine
  • Indian Well
  • Balcony & Boulevard
  • Blue Grotto
A caver crawls out of a small passage in Catacombs Cave.
Most challenging caves have low, crawling passages and are often easier to get lost in than caves in the other two categories.

Kenneth Ingham


Most Challenging

These caves have some portions which require crawling. Using all recommended safety gear will protect you from injury.

Most Callenging Caves:

  • Labyrinth
  • Lava Brook
  • Hopkins Chocolate
  • Hercules Leg
  • Juniper
  • Catacombs
  • Thunderbolt

How The Caves Were Formed

lave tube formation
Lava Beds National Monument sits on the north face of the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano. The lava tube caves found here were created by flows of smooth lava 10,500 to 65,000 years ago. As the lava flowed it began to cool and solidify on the top and sides. Once the eruption ceased, the tube emptied and drained, and a new lava tube cave is left behind. As the rock cooled, the inner surface of the tube cracked and collapsed, producing openings to the surface.

If you wish to see a lava tube form today, you can take a peak into Lava Beds past by viewing a video of a similar volcano which erupted recently enough for people to be able to capture it on film.

Home To Live In

Grylloblatid 300x152
After cooling, these lava tubes became homes for unique cave life to thrive. When exploring, you may be lucky enough to spot some cave creatures, such as a cave cricket, rubber boa, millipede, or bats. These creatures are not poisonous or dangerous to humans, treat them with respect.

Last updated: May 13, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 1240
Tulelake, CA 96134


(530) 667-8113

Contact Us