Scary Places: Lava Beds National Monument

When we think of scary places on Halloween, our thoughts turn to bats and dark caves. In our travels to visit national park units, it is amazing to think back on how many of these included caves – Oregon Caves, Mammoth Caves, Wind Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, Jewel Cave, to name just a few. But there are lots of national park units that have caves, even though the caves are not really the centerpiece – Coronado, Craters of the Moon, Great Basin.

Caves come in all different shapes and sizes; some are alive with growing stalactites and stalagmites; others have ceased growing. Yet others are volcanic caves; lava tubes created by ancient lava flows.

One of these places is Lava Beds National Monument in California, where 30 separate lava flows from 30,000+ year old vents created lava tubes. There are over 700 caves there; two dozen developed with trails.

About Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1925 to protect this volcanic landscape and the history. It was a place where early settlers clashed with the traditional ways of the Modoc indians who had lived there for centuries. “Captain Jack’s Stronghold” captures this in protecting the place where fewer than 60 held off US troops in the final battle for their homeland.

2 mile hike through the Stronghold

Things to do at Lava Beds National Monument

There are “above-ground” and “below-ground” things to do at Lava Beds. A visit would not be complete without visiting Captain Jacks Stronghold and learning more about the history of the place. Provided you don’t visit in the heat of the summer, there is a campground and great hiking trails with spectacular views out over the lava fields. In the summer, you can escape the heat by visiting below ground.

Vista out over the lava fields (on this day, hazy from forrest fires)

Start at the visitor center. There is a short cave right there that the rangers will guide you through. If you want to visit caves on your own, you have to get a permit from the rangers at the visitor center. They will help you to determine which trails will work best for you. There are many caves of different levels of difficulty and distances. The rangers will also provide you with a flashlight and teach you cave basics, including screening you for “white nose syndrome” – a deadly disease that kills bats. People unwittingly carry this from cave to cave if they don’t take extreme care to not wear anything that has been in another cave.

WARNING: If you going to Lava Beds National Monument and plan to go into a cave, bring shoes and clothing that you have not worn inside any other cave for at least 5 years.

Once you get your permit, drive out the “Cave Loop” road and stop at the caves you have decided to visit. Display the permit on your dash, then make your way down well marked trails to the cave entrance. That’s where things get scary…. as you make your way into the cave it gets darker and darker, and quieter and quieter. You may even be able to hear the bats.

Above a cave entrance

Take a minute in the middle of the cave to turn off your flashlight and imagine in bygone centuries explorers and native americans who could navigate these caves with lanterns or torches. Scary…. Halloween scary???


Need Help Planning Your Visits?

If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.