Add this National Park site to your bucket list: Lava Beds National Monument is a treasure trove of natural wonders and historical significance. This unique destination, one of the most impressive and engaging National Monuments in the system, is home to the largest petroglyph panel in the National Park Service and over 700 lava tubes. Whether you’re an experienced adventurer or a casual explorer, there’s something for everyone here. From the thrill of spelunking in the extensive network of caves to the awe of standing before ancient petroglyphs, Lava Beds National Monument offers an unparalleled blend of adventure and discovery.
Lava Beds National Monument is not just a place to visit, but a place to immerse yourself in. The monument’s diverse landscapes, exceptional geological formations, and profound historical sites offer an invitation to forge a deep connection with both the natural world and the legacy of the Modoc people who called this place the "Land of the Burnt Out Fires."
Immerse yourself in the same landscapes that once witnessed the intensity of the Modoc War, where battles were fought and stories of resilience unfolded. Many of the trails and camps bear the names of those who played vital roles during this tumultuous period, infusing the very soil with their courage and struggles. Whether you’re drawn to the geology of lava flows, seeking hiking trails that tell tales, or embarking on a voyage through the ancestral lands of the Modoc, there’s something here for everyone.
Embrace the opportunity to uncover the layers of history and wonder that shape Lava Beds, and make memories that resonate for a lifetime. So why not spend a day or two exploring this remarkable place? You won’t be disappointed.
More than 800 caves
The park’s extensive network of over 900 lava tubes, or caves, is one of its most distinctive features. Formed by flowing lava, these caves offer a unique opportunity to explore the park’s subterranean wonders. The three-color system categorizes the caves into least challenging (blue), moderately challenging (green), and most challenging (black). This allows visitors of all ages and abilities to embark on an underground adventure that suits their comfort level.
Begin your subterranean exploration with Mushpot Cave, a beginner-friendly cave that’s lit and easily accessible directly from the visitor center. As you venture deeper into the cave, you’ll be greeted by a fascinating array of rock formations and mineral deposits. Mushpot is a perfect introduction to the world of caving, offering a safe and accessible experience that doesn’t skimp on the awe factor. Then, venture into the depths of Skull cave, the park’s largest, where a wagon filled with animal and human bones was discovered. This cave offers a glimpse into the park’s past and adds a touch of mystery to your exploration. For a truly unique experience, don’t miss Valentine cave, which features bioluminescent bacteria that glow on the walls, creating a surreal and enchanting atmosphere. This rare phenomenon adds a touch of magic to your underground adventure. Want to learn more? Check out our guide to the best caves at the Lava Beds to find your perfect underground adventure.
PLAN AHEAD: Before you arrive, make sure to bring head protection, warm clothes (expect cool temperatures inside caves), sturdy walking shoes, your own flashlight, and ample food and water to fuel your day of exploration. Keep in mind that the monument is a haven of natural wonders, but immediate access to services might be limited. To make the most of your experience, stop by the visitor center before your cave expedition. Gather all the essential information you need, including your Cave Permit, ensuring that you’re well-prepared for an adventure that’s as safe as it is thrilling.
For a panoramic view of the park, ascend Schonchin Butte, a cinder cone that towers over the surrounding landscape. The hike to the top is a rewarding experience, with stunning views of the park and the surrounding area. From the top, you can see the vast expanse of the park and appreciate the scale and beauty of this natural wonder. The view from the top is a testament to the park’s diverse geological features, from its rugged lava flows to its expansive high desert wilderness. The climb may be challenging, but the panoramic views from the top are well worth the effort.
Take a short hike to Mammoth Crater, an awe-inspiring volcanic crater that bears witness to the park’s fiery past. The crater, a result of a massive volcanic eruption, offers a fascinating insight into the geological processes that have shaped this landscape. As you stand on the edge of the crater, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe at the power and beauty of nature. The sight of the crater, a stark reminder of the volcanic forces that shaped this landscape, is a humbling experience that underscores the raw power of nature.
Captain Jack’s Stronghold
Immerse yourself in the park’s rich history at Captain Jack’s Stronghold, the site of the end of the Modoc War. Here, you can explore where Modoc families took refuge as they fought for their homeland, using the volcanic landscape for shelter and refuge. As you walk through the site, you can’t help but feel a sense of respect for the resilience and courage of the Modoc people. The site offers a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by Native American tribes during the era of westward expansion. The stronghold stands as a testament to the Modoc’s resourcefulness and determination, offering a glimpse into a turbulent chapter of American history.
Embark on a hike to Gillem’s Camp, a historically significant site offering a unique perspective on the volcanic landscape that defines Lava Beds National Monument. As you ascend, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas of the surrounding area, capturing the essence of the dramatic lava flows that shape this remarkable terrain. This location holds a special place in the monument’s history, serving as the campsite for US soldiers during the Modoc War—a poignant counterpart to the Modoc families’ refuge at Captain Jack’s Stronghold. The traces of history intertwine with the present as you stand on this historic ground, witnessing both the natural wonders and the human stories that have unfolded here.
Gillem’s Camp is more than a hike; it’s a journey through time and a connection to the struggles and triumphs that have shaped this land. Explore its geological marvels, ponder the historical significance, and immerse yourself in the grandeur of the volcanic landscape that has both witnessed and borne witness to the passage of time.
If you've seen images of other famous Volcanoes like those at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, you might recognize the landscape of the Lava Beds which was formed ages ago from the eruptions of the Medicine Lake Volcano. Take a stop at Devil's Homestead, a convenient pull-out along your journey, to understand more about the sheer scale and power that created this landscape. If you've already learned about the formation of lava tubes elsewhere in the park, this viewpoint offers a unique view above the same flow that created the other volcanic features here. Does this landscape seem otherworldly to you? It may not surprise you to learn that NASA has studied vehicles and equipment here that need to navigate on the unearthly surfaces of the moon and Mars.
Before you finish exploring the Lava Beds, don’t miss Petroglyph Point, home to the largest petroglyph panel in the National Park Service. The meaning behind these ancient carvings remains a mystery, adding to the intrigue of this remarkable site. As you stand before the panel, you can’t help but wonder about the people who created these carvings and the stories they tell. These carvings offer a fascinating glimpse into the past, and stand as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the area. The petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point are a silent testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Modoc people and their ancestors, offering a fascinating glimpse into ancient traditions and beliefs.
After exploring lava tubes and the otherworldly landscape at Lava Beds National Monument, don’t miss the opportunity to explore inside a volcano at Crater Lake National Park. Part of the same volcanic system that created the Lava Beds, Crater Lake is the remnants of ancient Mount Mazama, a volcano that erupted more than 6,000 years ago and created what is now the nation’s deepest lake.