A Comprehensive Travel Guide to Idaho's Craters of the Moon
Welcome to Idaho's hidden gem, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, an otherworldly landscape that promises a unique adventure. This expansive sea of lava, sculpted by fiery volcanic activity, offers an otherworldly experience that surprises and captivates visitors.
At Craters of the Moon, you'll explore a myriad of surreal geological formations, ranging from sprawling lava fields to intricate cave systems. Venture out for an unforgettable hiking experience, or delve into the depths of the monument's ancient lava tubes. Every step you take reveals new secrets of Idaho's fascinating volcanic past.
We had the chance to visit this one of a kind national monument during a road trip in our Sprinter van in October. We had a wonderful time walking around this otherworldly landscape and learning about the history and geology of this unique place. We happened to visit Craters of the Moon right before we visited Iceland and Hawaii which are the only two places on the planet with a similar landscape (more on this later!), so Craters of the Moon also served as a place to educate us and get us excited about those upcoming trips as well.
Truthfully, prior to visiting this park I didn't know a whole lot about volcanic landscapes, lava tubes, or any of the other features in a place like this. However, after spending a day at this national monument I left with a better understanding of volcanos and appreciation for this unique landscape.
Without further ado, strap on your adventure boots and get ready to traverse the lunar-like landscapes of Craters of the Moon National Monument.
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Craters of the Moon is a unique and captivating National Monument located in Idaho, United States. A vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush, this striking landscape appears as though it's from another world. Craters of the Moon is a testament to the raw geological forces that shape our planet. Visitors of this national monument are treated to a rare, otherworldly experience, exploring the eerie volcanic terrain that truly lives up to its lunar namesake.
Where is Craters of the Moon?
Craters of the Moon National Monument is located in the Snake River Plain in Central Idaho, United States. This geological marvel dominates a large expanse of desert between the towns of Arco and Carey, off US Highway 20/26 The monument's Visitor Center is approximately 19 miles southwest of Arco, making it an accessible destination for travelers interested in exploring Idaho's unique volcanic landscapes.
Arco, Idaho to Craters of the Moon: 19 mi | 19 min | Google Maps
Sun Valley, Idaho to Craters of the Moon: 65 mi | 1 hr 18 min | Google Maps
Boise, Idaho to Craters of the Moon: 170 mi | 2 hr 44 min | Google Maps
Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Craters of the Moon: 185 mi | 3 hr 23 min | Google Maps
Bruneau Dunes State Park to Craters of the Moon: 134 mi | 2 hr 16 min | Google Maps
How was Craters of the Moon formed?
Craters of the Moon was formed over the years through a series of volcanic eruptions. The Great Rift, a series of deep cracks, opened up and spewed out molten lava, which spread across the Snake River Plain, eventually cooling and solidifying to form the unique landscape seen today. This volcanic activity created a variety of geological features, including cinder cones, lava tubes, and vast lava fields, which give Craters of the Moon its otherworldly appearance.
Other places on earth like Craters of the Moon
The ethereal landscape of Craters of the Moon is so distinctive that only two other places on Earth bear a striking resemblance — Hawaii and Iceland. These locations, like Craters of the Moon, are also born of intense volcanic activity resulting in expansive lava fields and unusual geological formations. In fact, the lunar-like terrain of Craters of the Moon is so similar to the moon's surface that NASA used it as a training ground for astronauts in preparation for the Apollo missions. Through these training sessions, the park played an instrumental role in advancing our understanding of lunar geology and preparing astronauts for the harsh, alien conditions of space exploration.
Where to stay nearby
When looking for somewhere to stay near Craters of the Moon you'll likely need to broaden your search unless you plan to camp. Craters of the Moon is located in a rather remote region of Idaho with only a couple of small towns nearby. For guests looking for more comfortable accommodations or are looking for better variety to chose from, we'd recommend staying in Sun Valley or Ketchum, Idaho which are a short 1hr and 15 min drive away.
Airbnbs are a great option for families or couples who enjoy having a more home-like feel while traveling. Amenities including kitchen, laundry, wi-fi, and more are perfect for those looking to settle in and spread out for a few days while traveling.
This Airbnb is located ~25 miles south of Craters of the Moon in the town of Carey, Idaho. This home has raving reviews from past guests who praise the hosts standard of cleanliness as well and the comfort and views from the peaceful farm-like setting. The home features 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and can comfortably sleep up to 6 adults.
This 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo in Ketchum, Idaho is a guest favorite for its modern and clean feel combined with the comfortable king size bed. The condo features a gas burning fireplace and mountain views, perfect for those who are looking for a relaxing place to hangout between adventures.
Camping in Craters of the Moon will be your best way to experience all that this nation monument has to offer. Camping allows you to get up close and personal with the landscape and experience the park and its differences from hour to hour.
The Lava Flow Campground is the only campground in the Craters of the Moon National Monument. This campground, nestled amidst the surreal black lava fields, offers a unique camping experience. With 42 sites available, it operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Besides basic amenities, it provides an excellent base for exploring the wonders of the national monument, under Idaho's star-studded skies.
The KOA - Craters of the Moon / Arco is a well-equipped campground located just a short drive from the national monument. With spacious sites for tents and RVs, this campground offers amenities like Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, and a dog park. Its proximity to Craters of the Moon makes it a convenient base for visitors looking to explore the area's starkly beautiful, lunar-like landscapes.
Hotels are the best option for those looking for a stress-free trip to Craters of the Moon. Daily maid service, fitness facilities, and outdoor pool are all available at different hotels in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. While this is just over an hour drive to the national monument, the additional amenities combined with the greater food and beverage variety in these towns make it worth the bit of extra driving.
Hotel Ketchum is a vibrant, welcoming hub for visitors in Ketchum, Idaho. With its blend of modern amenities and rustic charm, it is the perfect place for adventurers who love comfort. Guests can take advantage of the hotel's many facilities, including a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center. Its convenient location provides easy access to downtown Ketchum's shops, restaurants, and galleries, as well as the stunning natural beauty of Sun Valley and Craters of the Moon.
Address: 600 N Main St, Ketchum, ID 83340 | Google Maps
The Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, Idaho, is an ideal accommodation choice for winter visitors to the Craters of the Moon area. Featuring a modern alpine aesthetic, it provides a cozy retreat after a day of exploring the stark, snow-dusted lunar landscapes. What sets this hotel apart is its close proximity to Sun Valley, renowned for its world-class ski resorts. With heated outdoor pools and hot tubs to soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes, the Limelight Hotel offers the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation for ski enthusiasts visiting the region.
Address: 151 S Main St, Ketchum, ID 83340 | Google Maps
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Hailey Sun Valley
The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Hailey Sun Valley presents a cost-effective accommodation option without compromise on comfort or cleanliness. Nestled in the picturesque town of Hailey, Idaho, the hotel offers well-appointed rooms, ensuring a restful stay for guests. Its reputation for maintaining high standards of cleanliness is highly appreciated by visitors, as is its commitment to providing all the necessary amenities for a comfortable stay. This budget-friendly hotel thus provides a perfect blend of value and comfort for visitors exploring the Craters of the Moon area.
Now that we've covered where to stay during your visit, let's dive into the heart of the adventure: exploring Craters of the Moon. This section will guide you through the myriad of activities available at this unique geological wonder. From scenic drives and breathtaking hikes to wildlife viewing and stargazing, there's no shortage of ways to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of Craters of the Moon.
Start at the visitor center
The Craters of the Moon Visitor Center is a great starting point for your adventure. Here, you can learn about the history and geology of the area through informative exhibits and a short film. Additionally, rangers are available to provide maps, guides, and tips to help you make the most of your visit. Don't forget to check out the gift shop for educational books and souvenirs to commemorate your trip.
Hike the Inferno Cone
The Inferno Cone presents a not-to-be-missed opportunity for hikers. This moderately challenging trail takes you up a steep, cinder-covered hill to the top of Inferno Cone, one of the park's tallest volcanic features. The strenuous climb is well worth the effort as the summit offers panoramic views of the surrounding lava fields, cinder cones, and distant mountains. This short but rewarding 0.4-mile round trip is an excellent way to appreciate the stark, moon-like landscape that makes Craters of the Moon National Monument such a unique destination.
Explore Indian Tunnel
The Indian Tunnel is one of the most popular attractions at Craters of the Moon National Monument. This expansive lava tube, stretching over 800 feet long, provides a fascinating peek into the geological processes that shaped this landscape. Visitors can walk through the tunnel, where parts of the roof have collapsed, allowing daylight to illuminate the path. It's a relatively easy and safe exploration, with a self-guided, 1-mile loop trail. Remember to wear sturdy shoes and bring a flashlight to fully enjoy this subterranean exploration that feels like an adventure on the surface of the moon. This trail guide from the National Park Service provides more information about the Indian Tunnel hike.
Take a Drive on Loop Road
Loop Road is a picturesque 7-mile drive that winds its way through the Craters of the Moon National Monument, offering breathtaking views of the park's rugged lava fields and unique geological features. Considered the heart of the park, it provides access to key points of interest, including the Inferno Cone, Spatter Cones, and various trailheads. There are numerous pullouts along the road, allowing you to stop and marvel at the otherworldly landscape, take memorable photos, or embark on a spontaneous hike. A drive down Loop Road is undoubtedly a must-do activity during your visit, offering an immersive experience of the park's distinctive lunar-like scenery.
Savor the night sky
One of the most mesmerizing experiences at Craters of the Moon National Monument is the opportunity to savor the celestial spectacle of Idaho's night sky. Camping within the park's boundaries offers an unmatched perspective of this awe-inspiring sight, away from the city's light pollution. As darkness descends, the sky transforms into a canvas of twinkling stars, constellations, and occasionally, the ethereal glow of the Milky Way. Stargazing programs are often offered during the summer months, providing an informative and enchanting journey through the cosmos. There's truly no better way to cap off your adventurous day at the park than by camping under the stars, fully immersed in the natural wonders, both terrestrial and celestial, that this unique destination has to offer.
Photograph the wildflowers
In the spring and early summer, Craters of the Moon National Monument bursts into color with an array of vibrant wildflowers. Amidst the stark, black lava fields, these resilient blooms provide a stark contrast, creating a photographer's paradise. From the bright yellow hues of the dwarf buckwheat to the delicate purple petals of the scorpionweed, the wildflowers here offer an unexpected and delightful spectacle in this rugged landscape.
Snowshoe or cross-country ski
During the winter months, Craters of the Moon transforms into a serene winter wonderland. With much of the park's rugged terrain blanketed in snow, it presents an ideal setting for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The park's Loop Road becomes a groomed ski trail that meanders through the park's surreal, snow-covered lava fields. For snowshoers, the park offers a 1-mile trail that starts at the visitor center. These activities offer a unique perspective on the park's lunar-like landscapes, providing a tranquil, yet adventurous way to appreciate the beauty of Craters of the Moon in winter.
Walk the Tree Molds Trail
The Tree Molds Trail is yet another fascinating feature that Craters of the Moon National Monument has to offer. This moderate, 2-mile round-trip trail gives visitors a glimpse into the volcanic past of the park. As you venture along this path, you'll come across several "tree molds" - impressions in the lava where trees once stood. These unique geological artifacts provide tangible evidence of the fiery eruptions that occurred here over 2000 years ago, a testament to the intense natural forces that shaped this extraordinary landscape.
Picnic at sunset
End your exploratory day in Craters of the Moon National Monument with a peaceful picnic at sunset. As the day transitions into evening, the setting sun casts a warm glow over the rugged landscape, intensifying the stark beauty of the lava fields and cinder cones. Pack a basket with your favorite snacks and find a comfortable spot to relax, soak in the unique scenery, and watch as the sun dips below the horizon, gradually giving way to a star-studded night sky. This simple yet memorable experience is the perfect way to conclude your adventure-packed day in this remarkable corner of Idaho.
Take the Wilderness Trail to Echo Crater
If you're up for a more challenging adventure, take the Wilderness Trail to Echo Crater. This backcountry trail promises an immersive experience into the heart of Craters of the Moon National Monument. The trail 7.3 mile out-and-back trail leading you deep into the Monument's wilderness to the Echo Crater. The terrain can be rough and the sense of solitude profound, but the rewards are well worth the effort. As you stand on the rim of the Echo Crater, you'll be awed by the panoramic views of the lava landscape that stretches out in front of you, truly embodying the park's lunar namesake. Remember, this trail requires a free backcountry permit, which can be obtained at the visitor center. Always carry a map, plenty of water, and be prepared for the unpredictable weather conditions that can occur in this high-desert environment.
Is Craters of the Moon worth visiting?
Absolutely, Craters of the Moon is a must-visit for any adventurer, nature lover, or photography enthusiast. Its unique and otherworldly landscapes offer an unforgettable experience. Whether it's hiking the cinder cones, exploring the lava tubes, or simply marveling at the stark volcanic features, there's plenty to do and see. The monument's remote location also makes it an ideal spot for stargazing, with clear, dark skies that offer a spectacular celestial display. Plus, with camping options nearby, you can fully immerse yourself in this unique environment.
Keep in mind that Craters of the Moon is pretty far from any interstate or main highway so getting there is a bit of a jaunt. That being said, it's just a couple of hours from other really amazing places such as the Sawtooth Mountains and Grand Teton National Park. I wouldn't say that Craters of the Moon deserves a full trip dedicated to just it, but it would be a great addition to any itinerary when visiting some of the other attractions within a couple hour radius (more on this below).
Other things to do nearby
As you plan your visit to Craters of the Moon, you might be wondering what else there is to do in the surrounding area. The good news is, this region of Idaho is teeming with a variety of attractions and activities well worth exploring. Let's delve into some of the other fantastic destinations you can incorporate into your itinerary to make your journey even more memorable.
Discover Bruneau Dunes State Park
Just over a two-hour drive from the Craters of the Moon National Monument, you'll find Bruneau Dunes State Park, boasting the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America. This unique natural feature, reaching up to 470 feet, is a paradise for hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, and stargazing. With facilities including a campground, picnic areas, and a small lake where fishing and boating are permitted, the park promises a fun-filled day out. Additionally, don't miss the Bruneau Dunes Observatory, where you can explore the night sky through high-powered telescopes. Whether it's sliding down the massive dune, exploring the surrounding desert habitat, or simply marveling at the stars, Bruneau Dunes State Park offers a diverse experience for all visitors.
Address: 27608 Bruneau Sand Dunes Rd, Bruneau, ID 83604 | Google Maps
Visit Sun Valley, Idaho
Just a short drive away from Craters of the Moon, Sun Valley is another gem in Idaho that you wouldn't want to miss. Renowned as a premier ski resort, Sun Valley offers a wide range of outdoor activities, from exhilarating winter sports to tranquil summer hikes. The resort also boasts of luxurious hotels, fine dining experiences, and a vibrant arts scene, making it an excellent destination for both adventure seekers and those who prefer a bit more leisure and luxury. The natural beauty of Sun Valley, combined with its plethora of attractions, surely makes it a worthy addition to your Idaho itinerary.
Nestled in the heart of Idaho, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a magnificent landscape filled with crystal clear lakes, towering mountains, and abundant wildlife. This vast wilderness provides numerous recreational opportunities, from hiking and backpacking in the warmer months to cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. Its countless trails take you past cascading waterfalls, through lush forests, and to the tops of jagged peaks offering panoramic views. For the wildlife enthusiast, the area is home to a variety of animals including deer, elk, and even the occasional black bear or mountain lion. A visit to the Sawtooth National Recreational Area offers you a chance to immerse yourself in the unspoiled beauty of nature and is a perfect complement to your trip to the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Address: 5 N Frk Cyn Rd, Ketchum, ID 83340 | Google Maps
Check out Shoshone Falls
Often referred to as the "Niagara of the West", Shoshone Falls is a must-see natural wonder situated on the Snake River, approximately a two-hour drive from the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Reaching heights of 212 feet and spanning 900 feet wide, the falls are a truly breathtaking spectacle, particularly during the spring when the water volume is at its peak. The surrounding park area offers various amenities including picnic areas, hiking trails, and viewpoints, ensuring a memorable visit. An on-site visitor center provides educational displays, while boat rentals and tours offer an adventurous way to experience the falls up close. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, an avid photographer, or simply in search of a tranquil escape, Shoshone Falls promises an awe-inspiring addition to your Idaho journey.
Note: Keep in mind that the falls are fueled by snowmelt from the surrounding areas. Therefore, the falls will be strongest in the spring and will gradually become weaker as the summer progresses.
Dedicated to Idaho's most famous crop, the Idaho Potato Museum is a unique stop on your journey. Located in Blackfoot, about a three-hour drive from Craters of the Moon, this quirky museum offers a plethora of information about the humble spud. From its history and cultivation to its significance in the global economy, the museum covers everything you've ever wanted to know about potatoes. You'll find a variety of exhibits, including the world's largest potato chip, a timeline of the potato industry, and even a hall of fame dedicated to influential figures in potato history. Don't miss the chance to take a photo with the museum's giant potato statue and ensure to pick up some potato-themed souvenirs from the gift shop.
Address: 130 NW Main St, Blackfoot, ID 83221 | Google Maps
Hike in City of Rocks National Reserve
Located about three hours from Craters of the Moon, City of Rocks National Reserve is a climber's paradise and hiker's dream. This enchanting area is punctuated with granite structures soaring up to 600 feet into the air, providing phenomenal climbing opportunities for enthusiasts of all skill levels. But there's more to the City of Rocks than its climbing routes. There's also a plethora of hiking trails that wind through the reserve, allowing you to explore the stunning landscape, rich in geological and historical significance. Visitors can also enjoy camping under the stars, bird-watching, or even horseback riding. A journey to City of Rocks National Reserve is sure to complement your Idaho adventure with an infusion of nature, history, and outdoor recreation.
City of Rocks National Reserve: Almo, ID 83312 | Google Maps
Visit Jackson Hole, WY and Grand Teton National Park
Just across the Idaho state line, about a three-hour drive from Craters of the Moon, you'll find the picturesque town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the majestic Grand Teton National Park. The town itself, known for its rustic charm, offers a variety of boutiques, galleries, and dining options, while the surrounding wilderness serves as an outdoor enthusiast's playground. Grand Teton National Park, famous for its towering mountain range that dramatically pierces the sky, offers endless opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and photography. Don't miss the chance to take a scenic boat ride on Jenny Lake, hike the Cascade Canyon Trail, or observe the park's abundant wildlife, including moose, elk, and bears.
Just an hour's drive from the Craters of the Moon, you'll find the Minidoka National Historic Site, an important monument to the Japanese American history during World War II. It was one of the ten camps where Japanese Americans were interned after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, the site serves as a sobering reminder of the injustices faced during a dark chapter in American history. Visitors can take a self-guided tour along the 1.6-mile interpretive trail and learn about the experiences of the internees through various displays and reconstructed structures. The site is an opportunity to reflect on the resilience of those who were interned here and their contributions to preserving democratic values even in times of turmoil.
We hope this guide sparks your curiosity and desire to explore the diverse offerings around the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. Whether you’re a lover of natural beauty, a history enthusiast, or a thrill-seeker, this region has something unique for everyone. Plan your visit to Idaho today and experience firsthand the breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and unforgettable adventures that await. Remember, every journey is an opportunity for discovery – so why not start yours in the heart of Idaho? Safe travels!
Like this travel guide? Checkout these other travel guides to places near Craters of the Moon.
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!