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.
Thunderbolt (Northern portion connecting to Labyrinth-Lava Brook)
Big Painted Cave (Closed Due to being in the burn area)
Symbol Bridge (Closed Due to being in the burn area)
Unless noted above, the reason for these cave closures are for the purposes of protecting hibernating bat colonies in the monument. The closures are in accordance with the park's white-nose syndrome (WNS) Response Plan, which calls for targeted cave closures aimed at protecting significant bat hibernation sites. These closures target caves where populations of Townsend's big-eared bats (Corynorhinus townsendii) and other bat species congregate during the winter hibernation season. The intention of these closures is to provide bat populations with undisturbed hibernation and to prevent the possible introduction of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (the fungus associated with WNS) fungal spores during the time period when bats are most susceptible to WNS.
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.
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:
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:
Balcony & Boulevard
These caves have some portions which require crawling. Using all recommended safety gear will protect you from injury.
Most Callenging Caves:
How The Caves Were Formed
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
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.