nps abbreviation is crmo
LOCATED IN IDAHO
ESTABLISHED IN 1924
ELEVATION 5900 FT.
visited in june
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a lesser known and lesser visited park but that doesn’t mean it’s any less special. In fact, it’s one of my favorite park experiences. I visited Craters with my daughter as part of a 5500 mile road trip. Driving from Montana, we arrived at sunset and were amazed at how the lava looked against the glow of the setting sun. The unique landscape made us feel like we were on another planet.
What’s So Special About Craters of the Moon?
It’s a National Monument + Preserve
Craters of the Moon was originally declared a national monument in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge. The park has been expanded a couple of times. In 2000, 410,000 acres were added and then declared a national preserve by President Clinton.
Craters of the Moon lies on what scientists call the Great Rift. It’s a 52 mile long chain of deep cracks in the earth. When the underground volcanoes erupted those cracks allowed the lava to pop and burst through to the surface. Depending on how easily or how forceful this happened the lava spewed is what formed the landscape in Craters. This accounts for the variety of shapes and colors in the park.
Astronauts Trained at Craters of the Moon
We weren’t just dreaming about that otherworldly feeling. The landscape at Craters is so out of this world and similar to that of something in space, the Apollo 14 astronauts visited Craters in 1969 during their training before the lunar landing.
Dark Sky Park
Craters of the Moon is far enough away from major cities that in 2017, it was designated as an International Dark Sky Park. Dark Sky parks are some of the darkest places in the country. Even the communities around a Dark Sky park cooperate by installing special lights that minimize glare and reduce light pollution.
When is the Best Time to Visit Craters of the Moon?
Craters is open year round, every day. However, since it’s at quite a high altitude, it experiences weather extremes. Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Summer is hot and winter season, November through mid April, it could be snowy and the loop road impassible.
We visited in July and it was really hot. The black lava makes it seem even worse. But even with the heat during the day, after the sun went down, it was perfect sleeping weather. We left the fly off our tent and literally slept under the stars.
Southerner Says: The park is open every day but the visitor center is not. Check nps.gov for hours.
How to Get to Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon is located in a somewhat remote area of southern Idaho so getting there isn’t the easiest. Is Craters of the Moon worth the drive? Definitely yes! The nearest towns are:
- Arco -18 miles
- Sun Valley – 70 miles
- Idaho Falls – 90 miles
- Twin Falls – 94 miles
- Boise – 174 miles
- Jackson, Wy – 179 miles
As I mentioned, we traveled to Craters from Montana and included it as we traveled south on Interstate 15. You could easily include Craters on a road trip from Twin Falls or Idaho Falls. Or include it in a trip from Jackson, Wyoming.
How Much Does Craters of the Moon Cost?
Entrance fee to Craters is $20 per car and $15 per motorcycle unless you have a park pass. Learn why you should invest in a America the Beautiful park pass.
Craters of the Moon only has one entrance off of US Hwy 20/26/93. Since there’s no entrance station with a ranger when you enter, stop by the Visitor’s Center to pay your fee or if you prefer to pay with a credit car, there’s a machine you can use. There’s no fee to drive the loop road in winter.
Where to Stay at Craters of the Moon?
In the Park
The Lava Flow campground is the only campground inside the park. It has 42 campsites and is a first come first served campground, so there are no advance reservations. The are are a few sites for RV’s but there are no hook ups or dump stations.
The campground is open mid April through November depending on weather. The campsite fee is $15, unless the water has been turned off for winter, then it’s only $8. There’s an automated machine that allows you to pay with a credit card. No cash or checks are accepted. The campsite fee is half price with the Senior America the Beautiful Pass.
Sites #34, 35, 42 & 3 are fully accessible. Site #34 contains an electrical outlet for use by those with medical needs.
The campground is one of the most unique campgrounds I have stayed in a national park. All the sites are on the lava beds and the view of the park and the surrounding area are gorgeous. By the time we arrived at the campground, it was just about full. We were able to get site number 22, in the middle of the park with great views of the area. It was perfect.
More Campground Tips
- Every campsite has a grill for cooking (charcoal only, no wood), a picnic table and flat ground with cinder gravel for a tent
- Water is available in season but the park service asks that RVers not fill their water tanks in the park.
- There are bathrooms but no showers
- Pets are allowed in the campground but they must be leashed at all times
Southerner Says: There isn’t a park store so if you need food or supplies, it’s best to buy them at the grocery store in Arco or as you drive in from one of the larger cities like Idaho Falls. We brought food with us but we did eat at Pickle’s Place in Arco the morning we left. We enjoyed the food and liked the opportunity to connect with some local people.
Outside the Park
There’s a KOA in Arco, the closest town. Since it’s just 18 miles from the park, you could easily stay there and still explore the park. Mountain View RV Park and Restaurant is another campground in Arco.
As I researched lodging for the area, I came across a place called Honey’s Park. Apparently it’s a vacant lot that the owner allows people to camp on for free. He now has a website but doesn’t take reservations.
There are a few motels in Arco for those who don’t want to camp but I don’t have any first hand knowledge since we only drove through Arco.
What To Do in Craters of the Moon
The park encompasses a large area but the parts you can actually visit without backcountry permits is fairly small. You can see a lot in a day. A day or two at most would give plenty of time to explore.
The best way to see the park is via the seven mile scenic loop road. All the trails are accessed from this road and there are pullouts for you to get a better view of the various geological features. Pick up a map of the park at the visitor’s center when you arrive. The National Park Service also has a self guided tour with all the stops on their website. Here’s some other things you shouldn’t miss.
Devil’s Orchard + Triple Twisted Tree
The Devil’s Orchard trail (wheel chair accessible) is one of the first trails on the loop road. It’s a easy 0.5 mile one way interpretative trail that takes you an area of lava and rock that eventually crumbled and sprouted trees. One of those trees has become sort of a symbol of the park. The Twisted Tree is important to the park because it has helped scientists date the lava in the park.
North Crater Flow Trail
This area and trail is a great introduction to the park as one of the first stops on the loop road. It’s the shortest trail at 0.25 of a mile. The paved trail crosses one of the youngest lava flows. You can see pahoehoe lava flows and more. If you want to do a longer hike, the North Crater Trail is an additional 3.5 mile trail that starts nearby.
How often do you get to hike up a cinder cone? No matter how intimidating it looks, you have hike up Inferno Cone. At a mile out and back with 500 ft. gain, it’s pretty steep but the park service plows out a trail to make it a little easier to get to the top. Once you are up there, you have amazing panoramic views of the surrounding area. Also, it is surprising that there’s greenery and a few trees on top. It’s definitely a must do.
Snow Cone Trail
Another must do is the Snow Cone Trail. These splatter cones were formed when blobs of molten lava were forcibly tossed into the air at the end of an eruption. The lava then formed these miniature volcanoes. You can hike up and around the cones and there’s a fenced area where you are able to look down to see into the center of the cone. This trail is wheel chair accessible and is a good one for kids.
Craters of the Moon is also known for it’s caves and lava tubes. They can be explored but you need a permit and you need to get a test for White Nose Syndrome. This is a fungus that affects and kills millions of bats. Humans aren’t susceptible but can carry it on clothes and unknowingly affect the bats. You can get a permit from the visitor center
My friend Charli was in Craters recently and explored the caves. Read about her adventures on her blog.
Craters of the Moon Packing List
Craters of the Moon is pretty isolated so it would be best to have everything with you when you go unless you plan on staying in Arco. According to Google, there is a grocery store in town
- food + snacks (there’s no park store and the nearest store is in Arco, 18 miles away)
- hand sanitizer
- appropriate shoes
- a jacket or long sleeved shirt for cool nights + cave exploring
- a hat or head covering
- if you are traveling to Craters in winter, you also need winter gear
More To Do Around Craters of the Moon
Even though Craters of the Moon is quite isolated, there are a few more things to do in the area. Include the Hagerman Fossil Beds site and City of Rocks National Reserve or Shoshone Falls in Idaho Falls in your southern Idaho road trip.