Between 15,000 and 2,100 years ago, repeated volcanic eruptions along the Great Rift spilled huge amounts of basalt lava across the Snake River Plain in south central Idaho. After the molten rock cooled, vast lava fields covering over 700 square miles remained, studded with numerous cinder cones and spatter cones, as well as hidden ice caves and lava tubes. While the landscape may appear black and barren, numerous hardy plants (many which bloom colorfully in spring and summer) and animals live in this dry region. Crepuscular (active at dawn and dust) animals include mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, mountain cottontails, jackrabbits, and many songbirds. Diurnal (active during the day) animals include ground squirrels, marmots, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, and eagles. Nocturnal animals include woodrats, skunks, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats, nighthawks, owls, and most other small desert rodents. While volcanic activity is currently dormant geologists predict the lava will flow in this region again.
A portion of this astonishing landscape, about 83 square miles, was set aside as Craters of the Moon National Monument in 1924. In 2000, an additional 640 square miles of the surrounding Craters of the Moon and adjacent Wapi lava fields were added to the National Park System as Craters of the Moon National Preserve. Most of the Preserve has been recommended for wilderness designation.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Craters of the Moon National Wilderness Area.
The Craters of the Moon visitor center is located 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho, just off Highway 93/20/26. Most visitors access the wilderness area via the Broken Top/Wilderness Trail. The trail head is located on the scenic Loop Road which begins at the visitor center.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Hiking, wilderness camping, back-country skiing and snowshoeing, caving, star gazing, pika peering and cloud watching.
In the wilderness area the Tree Molds Trail provides access to the Tree Molds area west of Big Cinder Butte, while the four mile Wilderness Trail crosses the east flank of Big Cinder Butte to reach Echo Crater. Cross country foot travel is the only way to access most of the rest of the wilderness.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The high (6,500 to 5,200 feet elevation) desert climate produces long cold winters and hot dry summers. Snow typically covers the ground and closes the Scenic Loop Road to vehicles from late November to mid-April. The average high temperature in July is 85 degrees F. High winds and very low humidity are common in the summer.
The lava terrain can be rough on footwear, so sturdy boots with thick heavy soles are advisable.
Safety and Current Conditions
The rarity of surface water and hot dry weather in the summer require wilderness hikers to carry most all of their water. One gallon of water per person per day is recommended during mid-summer.
Snow cover most of the winter makes access difficult but rewarding.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.