Snow Cone and Splatter cone are unique in that you can climb into the crater's themself. Both are also unique that there cones are such good insualtors that even during my visit in September their cone's still contained snow from the previous winter.
At the last stop on the 7 mile road around the park, there are 4 caves that we visited. Many of the caves you will need to walk thru with a flashlight. These 4 caves are natural wild caves and expoloring them can be dangerous. The 4 caves at the park are: Dewdrop,Boyscout,Beauty, and Indian Tunnel.
Another flat and easy trail, this time through a number of interesting formations in a cinder beach. Once again, the walk is flat and paved, and it runs about a half mile loop. Some placards point out how people have damaged the park over time and what sorts of actions are being taken to prevent the park from further damage today.
There is a trail which leads to four lava tubes near the end of the Loop Road. The first cave you come to is Dewdrop Cave, which is the smallest cave and the most difficult to enter. The trail splits at Dewdrop. The trail to the left leads to Boy Scout Cave and Beauty Cave. The trail to the right leads to Indian Tunnel. The caves offer a welcome rest from the heat you'll typically encounter aboveground.
About the caves:
Indian Tunnel: This is the largest of the caves, the easiest to enter and walk around in, and, thanks to a large collapse, it does not require a flashlight. If you only have time for one of the caves, this is the one to see. If you're more adventurous and better prepared than I was, you can walk through Indian Tunnel to the far end, then walk across the lava fields to the trail, although I did not do this.
Beauty Cave: The second largest and second easiest to enter, Beauty Cave will require a flashlight, although you're never out of sight of the entrance. You also have to scramble over a rock pile to get into the cave. Beauty is an ice cave, so there is a layer of ice in the back of the cave pretty much year round.
Boy Scout Cave: The entrance is a rocky spiral downward to a low passage into the cave. I did not go into this cave because it sounded like there was some religious ceremony going on inside that I did not want to disturb (chanting and drums).
Dewdrop: The entrance to Dewdrop is a rough and rocky scramble into a small hole in the ground. I did not go into Dewdrop because it did not feel safe for me to go alone and largely unprepared.
An important thing to note is that the trail to the caves is over exposed lava. In the summer, it will be very hot and there is no shelter, except in the caves. Wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water or prepare to be very miserable.
This is the first stop as you leave the visitor center to travel around the park. The trail itself is only about a quarter mile loop from a small parking lot - the trail is paved and doesn't have a ton of elevation change. There are a number of placards that point out the geological formations of one of the younger lava flows in the park.
This is an interesting hike - you park at the base of the cone and can walk up to the top. It's extremely steep, and is done on sometimes very loose cinders, which makes it all the more challenging. Often, you'll look up, thinking you're almost at the crest, only to realize you still have a ways to go. They say it's a half mile, but it feels a lot more than that going up! The views from the top provide a nice panoramic view of the park, including the nearby Splatter cones.
In Craters of the Moon, you can climb on several volcanoes. The largest easily accessible one is Inferno Cone, along the Loop Road. It's a steep rocky climb to the top of the cinder cone, where you'll have a view of almost the entire park.
From the parking lot, the trail looks a lot shorter than it is once you get going. There are two reasons for this:
1: The trail is very steep and on loose cinders. Each step you take feels like three or four.
2: The cinder cone curves, so what you think is the top from the parking lot is only halfway up the side. While climbing, there are a couple of false summits. Don't think you're at the top until you can clearly see you're at the top.
The top of Inferno Cone is a wide expanse with a few rock outcrops and a few areas of low plants that have managed to hold on to the rocks, despite the constant winds. On the eastern side of the summit is one of the toughest trees you'll ever meet, wind-blown, weather-beaten, and with half-exposed roots, it still manages to thrive at the top.
At the next stop on the Loop Road are the Spatter Cones, which are a much shorter and less taxing hike. One of the Spatter Cones has a year-round pile of snow inside, protected from the sun and insulated from the desert heat. The other Spatter Cone has a trail which loops up and around the side, then into the crater at the top.
Finally, you can get to get up close and personal with some craters! The first stop is the splatter cones - mini-volcanoes that had their eruptions start as many as 37 miles within the Earth! Since they are so fragile, they're fenced off, so it's hard to get a good picture of them, you'll just have to go see them in person. From here, you can then take another short, but painfully steep trail to the top of the Big Craters area (this is actually the end of the North Crater trail.) Here, you can see Big Craters, as advertised :) This part of the trail is fairly strenuous, and has a deal of loose rock, so be warned.
Here, you can see a number of the volcanic formations up close as you hike to various caves. There are cave maps that are provided at the beginning of the trail. Even if you don't plan on entering the caves, this is a good stop since you can immerse yourself on the trail in the lava flow - it's a stark landscape. If you do go in the caves, you need to carry flashlights in all but Indian cave, which has a fairly wide opening and a decent amount of natural light. Most of the footing in the caves I could see looked very rock, and there are a lot of sharp rocks around. I wasn't able to take the time to explore any of the caves, but Indian cave seemed to have the most promise.
Indian Tunnel is a cave you can actually climb through and exit on the other side. The trail through the cave is rough and requires proper shoes and a good sense of balance.
This is an older area of flow that largely has been overgrown with vegetation. It can take hundreds of years for the soil to break down enough to support vegetation like this.
This flow area is right near the entrance to the park and contains the remains of collapsed crater walls in addition to the flow field.
This is one of the largest cones and is one of the few you can roam freely on. It offers great views over the park.
Take the Loop Road upon entering the park premises. The road brings you to the major attractions which includes caves, spatter cones and lava buttes.
Camping on the 51- site campground is a first come, first serve basis. Water, restrooms, charcoal grills and tables are provided.
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