Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho USA
Updated March 21, 2017.
The Craters of the Moon National Monument is a craggy, barren landscape. Some might say it’s out of this world, almost lunar.
When I first glimpsed it, the breath caught in my throat . . . The sheer vastness of the quiet desolation was overwhelming.
Imagine a terrain blackened with cinder, pumice and lava flows as far as the eye can see.
How despairing it must have been for the pioneers who, with their wagons and oxen, bumped up against this impassable swath. Like a fiery oven during the summer months with little, if any respite.
Finding a way around the black blight binding the land must have been an unbearable toil.
Though all but the most intrepid of emigrants and early settlers avoided the lava fields, the Bannock and Northern Shoshone forged trails, and built shelters here, part of their annual migrations to and from the Snake River.
The unbelievable scenery astonishes visitors from around the world. . .
. . . and the Peaks to Crater Scenic Byway wends its way around it, through it, and in and out of it, for miles upon miles.
About Craters of the Moon National Monument
While the craters look like those seen on Earth’s moon, which are made by meteorites slamming into the surface, these are of volcanic origin.
Vast volumes of lava spewed from many deep fissures, known as the Great Rift, spread across the Snake River Plain. Small volcanoes dot the site.
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After years of exploration, a mounting concern over the preservation of the area prompted President Calvin Coolidge to proclaim Craters of the Moon a National Monument in 1924.
Since that time, more lava fields were added to the monument and development made for visitor access.
Explore Craters of the Moon National Monument
Click on the links below to find fantastic places to see and thrilling things to do.
the journey begins here . . . live the adventure!
Map Your Road Trip
Use the map below to locate the destination of your choice in the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Click on the red pins to get more information.
How to Get There
From the west on I-84 in Idaho, take Exit 173/Twin Falls. Turn north on US-93 to Shoshone, ID. Turn East on US-93/US-26 to Craters of the Moon National Monument.
From the east on I-15 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, take Exit 119 from the north or Exit 118 from the south. Go west on US-20/W. Broadway Street. The highway changes name to US-20/W Arco Hwy. as it leaves Idaho Falls. US-20 will merge with US-26. Continue east on US-20/US-26 to Arco, Idaho. Turn left/east onto US-20/US-26/US-93 to Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Drive the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway
Craters of the Moon National Monument lies on the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway between Carey, Idaho and Arco, Idaho.
Of the many scenic byways we’ve toured in central and southern Idaho, this is the one that deserves mention.
Consider extending your road trip by taking in all there is to see and do along the way.
Soak up more volcanic vibes by staying overnight at Lava Flow Campground. Designed to minimize impact on nature these rustic campsites offer a get back to nature experience.
That life of any kind can survive the extreme conditions and harsh weather is miraculous. The flora is highlighted against a backdrop of cinders.
I’m always on the lookout for that special photo. This Limber Pine was one of the most beautiful trees in the park.
In contrast, many trees face a deformed demise in this unforgiving place.
Glowing like sunshine, this flowering shrub lit the land.
Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center for more information about the National Monument, and enjoy the small museum inside.
Points of Interest
Big Cinder Butte is one of the more prominent of the 25 cinder cones dotting the park. Note the large caldera, a dark blot near the top of the butte. See the fascinating tree molds in the foreground.
Paisley Cone was a colorful marvel in a charred country; photographed from the foot of Silent Cone.
Lava Cascades is all about drama.
Imagine a massive flood of molten lava rushing, forever changing the desert. Sweeping streams elegantly flow. . .
. . . curling into fragile ribbon bows . . .
. . . and ebbs lay like coiled rope, forgotten by time.
The coal black cinders of Silent Cone crunch under our feet as we hit the North Crater Trail. The breathtaking 360 degree view from the top makes this climb worth the hike.
Spatter Cones Trail leads to a view of the caldera inside this mini-volcano, one of many throughout the National Monument. This trail is disabled accessible, though it becomes steep and narrow as it winds to the top. Many of the trails in the park are disabled accessible as well.
Tree molds are distorted structures of wood created by molten lava flowing through a grove of trees in a bygone time.
Along the Tree Molds Trail are many wonderful specimens of this phenomenon.
The Devil’s Orchard Trail winds through a weird garden assaulted by a wall of lava.
An eerie gloom hung over the place as if cursed.
Walking into this place you can almost hear the trees and rocks crying out their story, one of twisted treachery.
At every turn a knarled curiosity confounds the senses. . .
. . . and dark lava tubes lure the unsuspecting who dare to venture close.
Visiting the home of wildlife is always a privilege. We did see Pronghorn in the distance at the park, but were unable to capture them in a photo as they were on the move. I guess that's no surprise considering they are one of the fastest animals on hoof in the western hemisphere.
Tracking wildlife is not one of my talents. However, I do capture a photo of a track now and then. This Pronghorn track was a luck find!
We know the creatures are around somewhere, as evidenced by critter tracks indelibly stamped where our feet tread.
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