RV Sidetrip: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon is a U.S. National Monument and National Preserve in the Snake River Plain in central Idaho that is like no where else on earth, a volcanic wonderland that is easy and fun to explore in one of the weirdest landscapes you can find anywhere.

And it’s perfect for Class B recreational vehicles.

Craters of the Moon formed during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago. Lava erupted from the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles (84 km.) to the southeast. During this time the Craters of the Moon lava field grew to cover 618 square miles (1600 square km).

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Mossy wildflowers are growing out of the volcanic ash

And it’s still pretty active. Over the past 30 million years, this region has experienced extensive stretching. A recent example of these on-going forces was the 1983 Mount Borah earthquake. During that event the highest point in Idaho, Mount Borah, got a bit higher when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake occurred across the base of the Lost River Range.

As Jennifer and I toured the preserve, National Park Service rangers told us the volume of past eruptive events suggests that slightly over one cubic mile (4.2 cubic km.) of lava will be erupted during the next event. And that is expected within the next 1,000 years – relatively soon on the geologic time table.

The park is very accessible to cars, small trucks and small RVs. A seven mile loop road takes you past all the major interest points, with comfortable walking trails everywhere.

Here’s a video virtual tour:

The area has numerous caves, but to enter them requires a permit from the visitor’s center. The permit is free and really a formality. They advise you that it’s treacherous footing getting down to the caves and that you should have a flashlight. If, however, you’ve recently been in a cave area where white nose syndrome has been prevalent among the bat population, they ask you to stay away from the caves at Craters of the Moon.

Looking out from one of the lava caves at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Looking out from one of the lava caves at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

White Nose Syndrome is is a poorly understood disease associated with the deaths of at least 5.7 million to 6.7 million North American bats in recent years and scientists are trying to halt its spread.

There’s a nice first come, first server $10 a night campground at Craters of the Moon, right on the lava beds. The 51 sites sites are perfect for tents, Class B or Class C motorhomes but too small for big rigs, though there are a couple if sites one could squeeze into. There is fresh water and restrooms but no hookups, showers or waste water dump.

There's a nice campground with no hookups for $10 a night at Craters of the Moon that is perfect for small motorhomes

There's a nice campground with no hookups for $10 a night at Craters of the Moon that is perfect for small motorhomes

To get there, plan on driving two-lanes. Craters of the Moon is located 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 24 miles northeast of Carey, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 84 miles from Idaho Falls, and 90 miles from Twin Falls.

Give yourself two to four hours to see it all, longer if you want to walk to the top of the cinder cone or check out  the caves.

It really does look like a moonscape

It really does look like a moonscape