One of the most unearthly places in the United States has to be the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Idaho is a secretly stunning state that many write off as potatoes (even their vehicle license plate says "Famous Potatoes"). But there are many stunning sights and things to discover in this underrated state, it is full of volcanic landscapes, mountains and forests, hot springs, high desert, and much more.

This volcanic preserve and monument are one of the Lower 48's best-preserved flood basalt areas. It is easily accessed and easily explored. There is no actual accommodation on the site - although there is camping. It is definitely worth a visit - just as Hawaii is worth visiting just for its volcanoes.

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About The Caters of the Moon

  • Date: The Monument Was Established In 1924
  • Managed: By Both The National Park Service and The Bureau of Land Management

The Craters of The Moon is a stunning sight encompassing three major lava fields - and around 400 square miles of sagebrush steppe grasslands surrounding those lava fields. The lava fields are all part of the Great Rift of Idaho and have some of the best open rift cracks of anywhere in the world.

  • Size: 1,117 Sq Miles or 2,893 Sq Km

Craters of the Moon is midway from the Idaho capital of Boise and the geological wonderland of Yellowstone National Park. The combined US Highway 20,26-93 cuts through part of the northwestern part of it and provides access to it. Branching off from the highway, there is only one paved road running through it at the northern end.

  • Volcanic Cones: Contains Over 25 Volcanic Cones
  • Lava Flows: 60 Distinct Solidified Lava Flows
  • Age: 15,000 Years To 2,000 Years Ago
  • Elevation: 5,900 Feet or 1,800 Meters Above Sea Level

Related: 25 Cities That Could Be Buried By Lava At Any Moment

Some of the older lava flows are being colonized by hardy vegetation, while the newer lava flows remain incredibly hostile and few plants can take root. From the distance, the area can appear black and utterly desolate.

Like other lava flows in the western United States, one can find lava fields, lava tube caves, tree molds (molds left by lava-incinerated trees), and much more.

Visiting the Craters Of The Moon

  • Opening Time: The Visitor Center Parking Lot is Always Open 24/7.

Unlike many national parks, there is less to do here. Most activities include hiking the trails and gazing out at the foreign landscapes and the Crater's caves and trails are all located on the 7-mile Loop Road. So it is possible to do and see quite a lot in a short time. While exploring this wonderland, be sure to take one's time and explore caves, snap pics, hiking and picnic in this strange place.

For those wanting to visit the park, the National Park Service has the following recommendations (or spring, summer, and fall). They say on their website you have:

  • 30 minutes: Take in the view along the scenic 7-mile Loop Road.
  • One Hour: Visit Inferno Cone and the Spatter Cones. If you have time, walk the Devil's Orchard Trail.
  • Two Hours: Hike to Big Craters from the Spatter Cones parking lot. Explore Indian Tunnel. Pick up a free cave permit from the visitor center.
  • Half a Day: Hike the Broken Top Loop or Tree Molds Trails.
  • One Day or Longer: Explore the Craters of the Moon Wilderness. Take a long day hike along the 4-mile Wilderness Trail (8 miles round-trip), or pack your gear for an overnight backpacking trip.

Admission Fees

  • Private Vehicle: $20.00 - Good For Seven Consecutive Days
  • Per Person: $10.00 (Hiking/Cycling etc.) - Good For Seven Consecutive Days
  • Winter Recreation Access: Free (Access Is Free When The Loop Drive Is Closed By Snow, At This Time Access Is Available by Skiing, Snowshoeing, or Hiking only)

The visitor center is the only entrance and it provides various displays and educational videos about the history and geology of the area. In the summer, there are some Ranger-led walks, so check out the National Park Service website to see what's on.

Related: 20 Active Volcanoes You Can Actually Hike Up

Accommodation & Camping

Inside Craters of the Moon, there is only one campground - the Lava Flow Campground. The campsites are surrounded by a young lava flow and are near the visitor center. See here for other places one can camp next to a volcano in the United States.

  • Season: The Access Road Is Generally Closed In The Winter Season From Late November to April or May

If one is keen enough, one can hike to the Lava Flow campground when the road is closed. And then snow camp during the winter months.

  • Water: Water is Seasonal And Turned Off In The Winter
  • Facilities: Each Site Has A Charcoal Grill and Picnic Table
  • Payment: Via Automated Fee Machine Onsite (Credit Card Only)

Next: Hawaii vs Iceland: Which Islands Have The Most Awe-inspiring Active Volcanoes