How to: Enjoy Craters of the Moon in 24 hours

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How to: Enjoy Craters of the Moon in 24 hours

We took this trip on our Americas big trip when our kids were 5 and 7 years old. If you do not have kids, we still think this itinerary gives you a great deal of highlights with a nice level of exercise to do so. Fitter and wanting to stretch yourself more? Bike the entire road (a good climb up on the one-way loop!) and add the Wilderness or Tree Molds trail to your hikes.   

11:30                 Arrive at Craters of the Moon

As the campsite is first-come-first-serve, you need to make sure (in high season at least) you get there on time to claim a spot. The scenery is fun and eerie as you literally park between lava rock, and spaces are very diverse (pull-through, tent sites, etc), so take your time and choose your favorite! After this, head out to the Visitor Center a short walk away, paying the camping midway (don’t forget your America the Beautiful Pass, it gets you 50% off and you need to tap in the number when you pay at the machine). Of course the Junior Ranger Activity books have to be claimed as well! (Spoiler alert: the badge is a neat silver aerospace type one – COOL!)

12:00 – 13:00    Lunch and bike prep

Get those bikes off the car while stuffing the tummies ready for some action!

13:00 – 13:30    Bike to the Cave Area

Now here is the trick: There is a one-way road in the park, which forces you to loop a beautifully scenic 5 mile around the Inferno Cone by car. It also climbs 300ft which is no fun with kids, so we decided to do the illegal thing and go against the (very limited) traffic for 0.5 miles to go directly to the Cave Area, avoiding the climb altogether and getting us to the destination in less than 20 minutes.

13:30 – 16:00    Caves galore!

There are several caves to get into of varying size and difficulty, and the hike there gives you the opportunity to mix the caves in any order you like, depending on your preference. Pick up the map of the caves and info from the metal box at the start of the trail before you head out! What we recommend;

  1. Dewdrop Cave: As small as a … yup, basically a dip in the ground, but a great introduction to the existence of caves and right at the junction on the trail.
  2. Indian Tunnel: The longest and biggest ‘cave’ but also with the most sunlight as there are big holes in the ceiling as well. No flashlight needed, and the fun part is you can get out at the end of it and find your way back over the lava, seeking out the metal poles.
  3. Beauty Cave: This starts to be a proper cave – darker, colder, and have your flashlight ready! More challenging to get into and
  4. Boy-Scout Cave: Now this is a REAL cave! If you are lucky there is still ice on the ceiling (even in summer) and you can experience underground life to the fullest. Go right first, which will already give you a good idea, and for those that really like an adventure, go left after this. When you enter the left cave, don’t think it is small… that little flat hole at your left you can actually get under to a next room and out to a secret exit. If some are too chicken, don’t tell them about the exit and scare them when you head back out to the entry 😊.

16:00                 Back to camp?

If you still have some stamina left, take the exit towards the Devils Orchard for the small loop hike there, if not just pedal back to the campsite and enjoy the kids rambling on the rock while you make dinner. Don’t forget to have them work on that activity booklet! It is filled with tons of fun work and information about the area and the actual moon it was named after.

08:00                 An early rise the next morning!

For those with stamina / up for a challenge (or the parent that needs a break from the kids) – head out to the North Crater Trail from the campground. The trail is strenuous and bounces up and down through the different types of crater valleys, but makes for a great exercise early morning before the heat hits you.

09:00 – 10:00    Climb the Inferno Cone together and gaze into the Snow & Spatter Cones

Join up as a group/family with those that drove up and hike up the Inferno Cone together. It is a very small hike but steep, kids will love it though as it is as close to climbing a mountain as it gets in these surroundings, and walking the cinder here gives a fun feeling under your feet. Once down, drive on to the small parking lot for the Snow and Spatter Cones you can actually walk into and see how deep they get!

10:00-11:30      Broken Loop Trail (1.8 mile)

Another loop, this time a longer one, which will take you through all the different types of volcanic landscape you can think of. Before you exit the parking lot, don’t forget to take a paper guide out of the metal box so you can read up at every number you pass along the way.

11:30                 Lunch at Devils Orchard (0.5 mile)

If you did not walk the Devils Orhcard the day before this is your chance. Those that are tired from all the morning activity can sit this short hike out and work on their activity book instead. Too early for lunch? Head on out after the Devils Orchard hike and enjoy the rest of the day! Before you leave the park though – don’t forget to pick up that shiny badge!

So there you have it, the highlights of the Craters of the Moon National Reserve, all done with kids and in 24 hours… Let us know what you think, and keep enjoying those amazing NPs out there!

Check out our other blogs about travel with children and traveling through the Americas.

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