Last updated: January 16, 2024
The winter landscape at Craters of the Moon is one of black and white. It is a landscape of dramatic contrasts and rugged beauty. Exploring the winter landscape through snowshoeing or by skiing. Craters in the winter offers a chance to discover the striking contrast of white snow on black lava and provide an excellent backdrop for winter wildlife tracking.
Winter at Craters of the Moon starts as early as November and lasts through March due to the park’s latitude and altitude (5,900 ft / 1.8 km). The Loop Road is typically closed for motorized travel between mid-November and mid-April so that the road can get a good base of snowpack for skiing and snowshoeing. Usually by January, the road is groomed regularly in the winter for cross-country ski track and snowshoeing. Then, you can tour the volcanic landscape on skis and snowshoes.
Come prepared if you are visiting the park during this time and expect snow, ice, and winter conditions. No snow clearing will take place along the Loop Road. When the visitor center is closed, the nearest bathroom facilities are vault toilets located at the Lava Flow Campground, 250 yards from the visitor center. Vault toilets are also located at Devils Orchard and the Tree Molds parking area. RV or car camping is not permitted in the visitor center parking lot. Practice Leave No Trace principles.
Check the Current Conditions page for seasonal updates and the status of the park road.
Weather conditions may change rapidly and skiers should be prepared for the worst. Winter temperatures can dip below 0°F and blizzard conditions can occur during any winter month. The average high temperature for January is 29°F and the average low is 10°F. Even on the best of days, wind is common. When visiting the park in the winter, be sure that you come prepared and check the weather and current highway conditions before leaving home. Motor vehicles are not permitted beyond the visitor center parking lot. Ski, snowshoe, or hike in designated tracks along the Loop Road. Please remember the following:
- Always let someone know where you're going and when you're returning.
- Remember to carry extra clothing, water, and a snack.
- Bring first aid kit and park map.
- Wear hat, gloves, sun protection, and sunglasses. Sunburn can occur even on cloudy days.
- Know your own abilities and do not ski or snowshoe so far that you become exhausted.
- Use caution if you leave the groomed track while skiing. The surface of the lava beneath the snow is very uneven and may conceal cracks, holes, and sharp rocks.
- Pets are not permitted beyond the parking lot once grooming operations have begun. Dogs tear up the groomed track and detract from the skiing experience for others. They may also disturb wildlife.
- Hiking is only permitted along the Loop Road. The Snowshoe Trail is for snowshoers only.
All natural features such as rocks are protected by law and must be left unchanged for others to enjoy.
- Bicycles, including snow bikes, are not permitted on the Loop Road once winter grooming operations have begun.
- Open fires and wood fires are prohibited. You may use a stove or burn charcoal in established fire grills.
Winter Trail Etiquette
- Do not walk or snowshoe on ski tracks. Doing so destroys ski tracks, detracts from the skiing experience for others, and may create hazards to skiiers.
- Snowshoe parallel to the ski track.
- Yield to faster skiers.
- Step out of the track for a break.
Although the Loop Road is closed to motorized travel in the winter, those who are properly prepared can explore the park on the groomed ski trail. The Loop Road is groomed weekly as conditions and staffing allow. This usually occurs from January to March.
The groomed portion of the Loop Road is about seven miles roundtrip with mostly level terrain or gentle hills. There is one steep hill on the southwest side of Inferno Cone. Novices should ski the loop clockwise to avoid coming down this hill. Although skiing time varies with ability and snow conditions, most people can ski the entire loop in 2 to 4 hours. There is no charge for skiing at Craters of the Moon.
For more details on the Winter Trail conditions, visit the Blaine County Recreation District site and click on the "Craters of the Moon" tab at the top right.
The open slopes of the cinder cones scattered along the Loop Drive provide perfect telemarking terrain. Skiers may wish to leave the groomed track and venture onto these slopes to carve some turns! Use caution if you leave the groomed track while skiing because the snow may conceal cracks, holes, and sharp rocks.
During the winter, the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association has snowshoes available to borrow at the visitor center between 9 am and 2:30 pm, Thursdays through Mondays for a suggested donation. Snowshoes must be returned to the visitor center by 3:30 pm. Donations are used for upkeep and repair of the snowshoes.
Snowshoe on Your Own
A ranger will briefly demonstrate how to put on and use the snowshoes, and review basic safety information. Please stay on far right of groomed Loop Road and retrace your steps (far left) when coming back. Stay on the cinder cones and don’t cross the lava flows.
Ranger-led Snowshoe Hikes
Ranger-led snowshoe walks are available on the weekends from late January through February. No prior snowshoe experience is required. A ranger will demonstrate how to put on snowshoes and how to move safely on the snow.
Once basic techniques are covered, the group will head out onto the Snowshoe Trail. This hike is about one mile in length and children must be eight years old or above to attend due to the strenuous nature of the hike. Snowshoes are provided.
Appropriate clothing and footwear are recommended such as water-resistant hiking boots or snow boots, layered clothing, hats, gloves, and sunglasses. Sign up is required. Visitors may sign up in person or over the phone by calling the visitor center at (208) 527-1335. Hikes are limited to 25 participants. Please plan on arriving at the visitor center no later than 10:30 am. Snowshoe hikes are moderately strenuous and last approximately 2 hours. Water and snacks are recommended. Guided snowshoe hikes for groups is by reservation only.
Check the park calendar for a schedule of programs.
During the period before and after the Winter Trail is actively groomed, there is a brief period when the Loop Road is still closed to motorized travel but is open to other types of access. This car-free period is a great time to hike or bike the Loop Road. Bicyclists should be aware that snow, ice, and water are likely to be on the road and depending on conditions, snowbikes may be necessary to ride the Loop Road. Dogs on leash are also permitted on the roadway, but not on trails, during this time. Please pick up after your pet.
Snow removal operations in the spring may require temporary closures. Portions of roads and hiking trails (including the caves) may remain covered in snow and ice well into May, so plan accordingly.
Leashed pets are allowed on the park road except for when it is groomed for winter travel. Pets are not permitted beyond the parking lot once grooming operations have begun. In order to protect fragile resources and to prevent disturbance to wildlife, pets are not allowed on any park trails.
Snowshoes may be borrowed from the visitor center when open for a suggested donation of $5 per pair. There is no entrance fee when the Loop Road is closed to vehicles.
Reservations are required for ranger-guided snowshoe hikes.
Travel through the park is via ski or snowshoe. The groomed ski track is mostly easy to moderate with one steep 10% grade near Inferno Cone. The marked Snowshoe Trail is moderately strenuous with several steep inclines. Pits and jagged rocks may be encountered off-trail.
Roads, walkways, and parking areas may be covered in slippery ice or snow. Hiking trails are completely covered by snow in winter and may have patches of ice or snow from early fall into late spring.