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RV Sidetrip: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

| Updated Nov 6, 2021

Craters of the Moon is a U.S. National Monument and National Preserve in the Snake River Plain in central Idaho that is like no where else on earth, a volcanic wonderland that is easy and fun to explore in one of the weirdest landscapes you can find anywhere.

And it’s perfect for Class B recreational vehicles.

Craters of the Moon formed during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago. Lava erupted from the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles (84 km.) to the southeast. During this time the Craters of the Moon lava field grew to cover 618 square miles (1600 square km).

Mossy wildflowers are growing out of the volcanic ash

And it’s still pretty active. Over the past 30 million years, this region has experienced extensive stretching. A recent example of these on-going forces was the 1983 Mount Borah earthquake. During that event the highest point in Idaho, Mount Borah, got a bit higher when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake occurred across the base of the Lost River Range.

As Jennifer and I toured the preserve, National Park Service rangers told us the volume of past eruptive events suggests that slightly over one cubic mile (4.2 cubic km.) of lava will be erupted during the next event. And that is expected within the next 1,000 years – relatively soon on the geologic time table.

The park is very accessible to cars, small trucks and small RVs. A seven mile loop road takes you past all the major interest points, with comfortable walking trails everywhere.

Here’s a video virtual tour:

The area has numerous caves, but to enter them requires a permit from the visitor’s center. The permit is free and really a formality. They advise you that it’s treacherous footing getting down to the caves and that you should have a flashlight. If, however, you’ve recently been in a cave area where white nose syndrome has been prevalent among the bat population, they ask you to stay away from the caves at Craters of the Moon.

Looking out from one of the lava caves at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Looking out from one of the lava caves at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

White Nose Syndrome is is a poorly understood disease associated with the deaths of at least 5.7 million to 6.7 million North American bats in recent years and scientists are trying to halt its spread.

There’s a nice first come, first server $10 a night campground at Craters of the Moon, right on the lava beds. The 51 sites sites are perfect for tents, Class B or Class C motorhomes but too small for big rigs, though there are a couple if sites one could squeeze into. There is fresh water and restrooms but no hookups, showers or waste water dump.

There's a nice campground with no hookups for $10 a night at Craters of the Moon that is perfect for small motorhomes
There's a nice campground with no hookups for $10 a night at Craters of the Moon that is perfect for small motorhomes

To get there, plan on driving two-lanes. Craters of the Moon is located 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 24 miles northeast of Carey, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 84 miles from Idaho Falls, and 90 miles from Twin Falls.

Give yourself two to four hours to see it all, longer if you want to walk to the top of the cinder cone or check out  the caves.

It really does look like a moonscape
It really does look like a moonscape

Mike Wendland

Published on 2016-12-05

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

8 Responses to “RV Sidetrip: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve”

January 04, 2016at7:20 am, jackie said:

We stopped at Craters of the Moon on our way to California, explored the park and one of the caves, it was really interesting…it kind of felt like another world!

December 21, 2015at5:25 pm, David Gray said:

Amy and I visited a day there a while back. It’s a place we will return to for sure.

December 18, 2015at12:02 pm, Chris Irwin said:

I’ve visited there several times. It’s a bizarre yet beautiful landscape, for sure.

Please be aware that dogs are NOT allowed on the trails at Craters of the Moon. Their paws would get ripped to shreds by the lava. However dogs are allowed in the campground.

October 03, 2014at10:50 pm, Mike Wendland said:

So glad you enjoyed it, Katie. Very interesting place!

October 03, 2014at9:14 pm, Katie Harville said:

My husband and I went there a few days after you posted your article. I would never have known about this place without you. We loved the area and want to thank you for your blog/article.

August 27, 2014at1:20 am, Robert Swihart said:

We almost went there again this weekend, but changed or minds and went to the Tetons instead. We really enjoy Craters of the Moon and I was glad it sounded like you did also. It is very hot there. I never go in the middle of summer.


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