By Michael Lanza
Few places bear a name as simultaneously hyperbolic and yet as descriptively true as Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in south-central Idaho. Over the past 15,000 years, eight distinct lava flows erupting from fissures in the earth have created the largest lava field of its kind in the continental United States, made up of about 60 flows and 25 cones and sprawling over more than 600 square miles. Explore the place with young kids and they just may believe you’ve transported them to the moon.
I’ve been wanting to post a photo gallery from Craters for a while. These pictures are from a family camping trip over a Memorial Day weekend several years ago, when our kids were seven and five—good ages for exploring the volcanic features of Craters, many of which are reached on short hikes. Those include the half-mile round-trip hike up 6,181-foot Inferno Cone, with its sweeping panorama of the Craters moonscape and the distant Pioneer Mountains and Lost River Range; the fascinating, nearly two-mile hike along the North Crater Trail, with its stark, yet colorful landscape and lava tubes we crawled inside with the kids; and walking the length of the cave-like, 800-foot-long Indian Tunnel lava tube.
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Craters is also the place where I shot one of my all-time favorite photos of my children (lead photo, above), hamming it up in the twisted and desiccated trunk and branches of a dead tree along the North Crater Trail.
Scroll below this photo gallery for some info on visiting Craters of the Moon, and read about the proposal to make Craters of the Moon a national park. And see all of my stories about family adventures, all of my stories from trips in Idaho, and my All Trips page at The Big Outside for ideas on where you take your next family adventure.
Season Late May through June, when wildflowers peak, and late September through October, the least-windy time of year, are the best times of year to camp and hike in Craters. July and August in the high desert (at an average elevation of 5,900 feet) have cool nights, mild mornings, and hot afternoons.
Getting There The campground and entrance to Craters of the Moon is along US 20/26/93, 18 miles southwest of Arco, 24 miles northeast of Carey, 84 miles from Idaho Falls, and 90 miles from Twin Falls.
Camping Lava Flow Campground operates on a first-come basis and has water and bathrooms.
Contact Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, (208) 527-1335, nps.gov/crmo.
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