Adventure Guide

10 Must-Visit Caves at the Lava Beds

Unearth Lava Beds' Secret Chambers

Step into the underground realm of Lava Beds National Monument, where over 800 lava tubes beckon the intrepid explorer in you! Forget the ordinary; this is caving with a twist. Dive in solo, pick your challenge level and embark on a spelunking spree like no other. Ready for the ultimate underground bucket list? We're unveiling the top 10 must-visit caves that promise to ignite your wanderlust and etch memories of a lifetime. Dive deep, embrace the darkness, and let the adventure begin!

Before you embark on this subterranean journey, it's essential to understand the unique caving system of Lava Beds and the importance of preserving these natural wonders. With a three-colored challenge system in place, you can choose your adventure based on your comfort and experience level. But remember, every cave demands respect and preparedness, no matter its challenge level.


Cultural Attractions
National Parks



Choose Your Adventure

Before you embark on this subterranean journey, it's essential to understand the unique caving system of Lava Beds and the importance of preserving these natural wonders. With a three-colored challenge system in place, you can choose your adventure based on your comfort and experience level. But remember, every cave demands respect and preparedness, no matter its challenge level

  • Green Circle: Perfect for beginners. These caves boast high ceilings and smooth trails.
  • Blue Square: For the more adventurous. Expect to stoop and navigate rough terrains. Equip yourself with kneepads and gloves.
  • Black Diamond: Only for the seasoned spelunker. These caves challenge with crawling sections and maze-like passages. Preparation is key.

As you venture into these caves, always stick to designated trails to minimize environmental impact. The caves are delicate ecosystems, and it's our responsibility to leave no trace. Pack out everything you bring in, and refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking inside. You must also refrain from using caves as a bathroom. Marvel at the cave's formations and the enchanting glow of hydrophobic bacterial mats from a distance, ensuring their longevity.

Come prepared with equipment, food and water (there are limited services inside or nearby the park). Electric flashlights are your best companions in the dark, and ancient paintings and artifacts should be viewed with eyes, not hands. For your safety, helmets are highly encouraged, and dressing appropriately with long sleeves, pants, and shoes that grip is crucial. Always share your plans with someone not in your group and familiarize yourself with your route using detailed cave maps from the Visitor Center.

By adhering to these guidelines, you're ensuring a safe and memorable adventure and playing a pivotal role in preserving these subterranean wonders for future explorers. As you delve into the depths of Lava Beds, remember that every step you take is a step into history, mystery, and unparalleled beauty.

Happy caving!

Mushpot Cave (Blue)

Discover lava tubes here

Located directly adjacent to the National Park Service Visitor Center, Mushpot is the perfect introduction to the world of lava tubes. This beginner-friendly cave is illuminated, featuring interpretive signs that delve into the formation and significance of lava tubes. It's an educational experience ideal for families and first-time cavers. The proximity to the Visitor Center also means easy access to amenities and information.

Skull Cave (Blue)

Huge and chilling

Skull Cave, known for its impressive height, has a chilling history. Inside, explorers once stumbled upon a wagon filled with both animal and human bones. Its depth and size make it a fascinating exploration, revealing layers of volcanic history. The cave's naturally cool interior also provides a refreshing escape, especially during warm summer months.

Valentine Cave (Blue)

A glowing phenomenon

Valentine Cave is a marvel of nature, home to hydrophobic bacteria that emit a soft glow on the walls. Guided tours in summer months offer a deeper dive into this natural phenomenon. The cave's intricate formations are enhanced by unique bacterial formations that make the awe-inspiring Valentine cave shine gold, making it a must-visit. Plus, the guided tours provide valuable insights, enhancing the overall experience.

Merrill Ice Cave (Blue)

Discover year-round ice

Experience the chill of year-round ice formations in Merrill Ice Cave. In days gone by, the cave's icy floor was even used for ice skating. This unique environment starkly contrasts the warm surface, making it a popular spot for visitors seeking a cool retreat. The presence of ice also adds an element of wonder, showcasing the diverse environments within the park.

Sentinel Cave (Blue)

Take a hike underground

Sentinel Cave is a journey of discovery. As a thru-cave, explorers can hike from one end to the other, starting at the Upper or Lower Sentinel Cave markers on the National Park Service map. Along the way, you'll encounter a variety of geological features, each telling a story of the land's volcanic past. The interconnected chambers and passages make it a favorite among those seeking more extended exploration.

Big Painted Cave (Blue)

Catch a glimpse of ancient cave petroglyphs

Venture a bit off the beaten path to discover Big Painted Cave. This cave is notable for the Native American pictographs near its entrance, offering a glimpse into the heritage of the ancestors of the Modoc people who called this land home for centuries. The short hike to reach it ensures fewer crowds, allowing for a more intimate and reflective experience. The combination of natural beauty and historical significance makes it a unique spot in the park. Plus, if you want to see even more petroglyphs, be sure to hike just a bit further to Symbol Bridge where you can see history scrawled up the side of this partial cave.

Photo: NPS

Golden Dome (Green)

An otherworldly adventure

Venture beyond the beginner caves and challenge yourself at the Golden Dome Cave, a green-level difficulty that offers a slightly more adventurous spelunking experience. What truly sets it apart is the play of light and shadow against the golden hues, produced by the glow of "hydrophobic bacteria" present in this cave. As you traverse its winding passages, you'll be reminded of nature's wonders, even in the darkest corners. Embrace the challenge and let the Golden Dome's allure guide your journey.

Sunshine Cave (Green)

Above and below ancient lava flows

Sunshine Cave offers a unique blend of darkness and light. Thanks to sections where the roof of the lave tube has collapsed, sunlight filters in, allowing vegetation to thrive inside the cave. This creates pockets of greenery in an otherwise dark environment, adding an otherwordly touch to your exploration and features that evoke shapes of natural stone arches. It's a reminder of nature's ability to adapt and flourish in varied conditions.

Hopkins Chocolate Cave (Black)

A sweet challenge for spelunkers

For those seeking a challenge, Hopkins Chocolate Cave delivers. This cave requires some crawling and a sense of adventure. Its name hints at the rich, brown rock formations inside, reminiscent of flowing chocolate. While it's one of the more challenging options, the rewards are worth the effort, with stunning formations and chambers awaiting the intrepid explorer.

Plan ahead: you need to be prepared to crawl and should have caving experience.

Catacombs (Black)

Prepare for a challenge

The Catacombs Cave is a maze of passages and chambers requiring careful navigation. Its multi-level structure and various offshoots make it a challenging but rewarding exploration. Equipped with a map and some prior caving experience, you can uncover its secrets. The cave's complexity offers a sense of accomplishment to those who navigate its depths successfully.

Plan ahead: You’ll need a map and caving experience and will likely have to crawl.

Make it a Double at Crater Lake

After concluding your adventure on the rocks exploring the depths of Lava Beds, consider extending your adventure to Crater Lake National Park. After exploring lava tubes beneath a lava flow, explore the interior of a collapsed mega volcano at Crater Lake, where you can dive deeper into the volcanic landscape and witness the beauty of the nation's deepest lake.

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