Craters of the Moon Loop Road

Gorp.com

Before beginning your exploration of the Loop Road stop at the Visitors Center. The center displays and a short video describe the park's lava phenomena, life, history, and the Earth processes creating them. Check on schedules of conducted walks and evening programs, and examine the sales publications about the park. Ask questions about both the park and your explorations.

The 7-mile loop road takes you deeper into the park's unique scenic attractions. Side trips lead to points outlined below. Most of the drive is one way. Several spur roads and trailheads enable you to explore Craters of the Moon even further. The trails invite foot travel. You can make the drive, including several short walks in your itinerary, in about 2 hours.

North Crater Flow
At this first stop a short trail crosses the flow to a group of monoliths or crater wall fragments transported by lava flows. This flow is one of the youngest and here the Triple Twist Tree suggests, because of its 1,350 growth rings, that these eruptions ceased only 2,000 years ago. You see fine examples of both ropy pahoehoe lava and a'a lava flows on North Crater Flow. Just up the road is the North Crater Trail. Take this longer, steep trail to peer into a volcano vent.

Devil's Orchard
After the road skirts Paisley Cone, on the east side stands Devils Orchard. This group of lava fragments stands like islands in a sea of cinders. A short spur road leads to a self-guiding trail through these weird features. As you walk this 1/2-mile trail, you will see how people have had an impact on this lava landscape and what is being done to protect it today. This barrier-free trail is designed to provide access to all people.

Inferno Cone Viewpoint
A volcanic landscape of cinder cones spreads before you to the distant mountain ranges beyond. Cool, moist north slopes of the cones have noticeably more vegetation than the drier south slopes. From the summit of Inferno Cone—a short, steep walk—you can easily recognize the chain of cinder cones along the Great Rift.

Big Cinder Butte
Towers above the lava plain in the distance. This is one of the largest purely basaltic cinder cones in the world.

Big Craters and Spatter Cones Area
Spatter cones formed along the Great Rift fissure where clots of pasty lava stuck together when they fell. The material and forces of these eruptions originated at depths of nearly 37 miles within the Earth. To protect these fragile volcanic features, you are required to stay on trails in this area.

Trails to Tree Molds and Wilderness
A spur road just beyond Inferno Cone takes you to trails to the Tree Molds Area, Trench Mortar Flats, and the Craters of the Moon Wilderness. Tree molds formed where molten lava flows encased trees and then hardened. The cylindrical molds that remained after the wood rotted away range from a few inches to just under 3 feet in diameter. Note: All backcountry camping requires a permit available at the Visitor Center.

Cave Area
At this last stop on the loop road take a 1/2-mile walk to the lava tubes and see Dewdrop, Boy Scout, Beauty, and Surprise Caves and the Indian Tunnel. You need to carry artificial light in all caves but Indian Tunnel.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 10 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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