Lava Beds attractions
Just what is there to do at this place?
Here is a list of some of the places to visit in and around the monument with
brief descriptions of each.
- The Visitor Center
- This is a really great place to start you visit because you can
get gobs of good information concerning just about anything in the
park. There's a great museum filled with historical and natural items
that will help clue you in as to what exactly has been happening in
the park all these years. This is also where you pick up helmets,
maps, and flashlights.
- Mushpot Cave
- This is a cave for supra-beginners. Lighted, with information
along the path about various lava formations. A good cave for first
timers. The entrance is in the middle of the visitor center parking
- Indian Well Cave
- This is another great starter cave. If you've never been in any before,
this one has a minimum amount of stooping and a path straight inside.
It is a very short cave, but is enough to get you used to the
experience. It is located across the main road from the visitor
- Valentine Cave
- Once you've overcome your fear of caves, you can tackle
It is well known for its smooth floors and high ceilings. A very
easy and enjoyable cave. It is located along the road to the
southeast entrance to the park, just north of Caldwell Butte
- Cave Loop Road
- This road heads up the hill from the visitor center and will take
you past no fewer than 12 caves. Among these is the 6000 foot long
Catacombs which, for a long time, was the longest known single
entrance cave in California. This is probably where you'll get most
of your cave exploring done.
- The Catacombs
- This cave is on the cave loop and is our absolute favorite. It's
really great. I mean great. I just can't stress it enough.
This cave has pits, balconies, multiple levels, twisty passages,
narrow crawl-ways, and everything!
You need to visit this one, for sure.
- Fleener Chimneys
- These are two large spatter cones which spewed a vast amount of
lava a long time ago. This is a great place for a picnic lunch, after
hiking the short distance to the cones. Don't throw rocks into the
chimneys. Both of them at one time had actually filled up with
rocks thrown by tourists. One has since been emptied using a rope and
bucket and the stones have been dumped between the two spatter cones.
- Black Crater
- A short hike from the main road lies Black Crater. It's another large
spatter cone that offers good views of the surrounding lava flows.
- Mammoth Crater
- If you take a dirt road up into the hills for a considerable
distance, you'll come to Mammoth Crater. This crater is not misnamed.
It is huge. This is the
source of the lava flow that contains the caves along cave loop road.
This is worth seeing for its sheer size alone.
- Hidden Valley
- This is just across the road from Mammoth Crater. It's a very
pretty valley inside a collapse that you pretty much can't see until
you're there. Some broad leaf trees are here that can be found no
where else in the park.
- Heppe Caves
- These small caves can be found along the road near Mammoth
Crater. Named after one of the cave's past residents, these small
caves are fun to hike around.
- Merril Ice Cave, Skull Ice Cave
- These two ice caves are actually part of the same tube system.
Both have ice floors, but you cannot touch the floor in Merril. Skull
Ice Cave sometimes has very nice ice formations deep within the cave.
Both caves are cold, so be prepared.
Please do no disturb or touch any of the ice formations in the caves.
- Big Painted Cave, Symbol Bridge
- These caves are found a short walk down a trail that leads off the road to
Skull Ice Cave. Both have ancient indian markings along the rocks,
although it is difficult to tell which have been left by vandals.
Again, it is a federal crime to deface the markings.
- Schonchin Butte
- A dirt road leads to the base of this mountain, identifiable by
the lookout station at its top. From there, a 1.1 km hike will take
you to the top of this 1601 m high cinder cone where you will be treated
with splendid views of nearly
the entire park, Tule Lake, giant Mount Shasta, and other mountains.
A worthwhile hike. I was told the record for making it to the top was
seven minutes, or some obscene number like that. We usually do it in
- Gillem's Camp
- At the time of the Modoc War, US soldiers camped here at what used
to be the edge of Tule Lake before it was drained. Some remnants of the
camp still exist here.
- Captain Jack's Stronghold
- This is where the notorious Modoc known as Captain Jack and
members of his tribe held off US soldiers for several months after the
soldiers had tried to drive them off their land. There are two easy trail
loops through the stronghold, one of .8 km and one of 2.4 km. Trail
guides, picnic tables and bathrooms can also be found here.
- Canby Cross, Hospital Rock
- More Modoc War related historical sites.
- Tule Lake Wildlife Overlooks
- There are 2 of these within the park that look over Tule Lake
Wildlife Refuge. For more views of birds along the lake, take Hill
Road just east of Gillem's Camp and travel north along the lake's
- The Petroglyph Section
- This is a small section of the park that is actually outside the
main park boundaries. If you travel out the northeast park entrance, hang
a left at the stop sign, and then a right onto the dirt road just past
the railroad tracks, you'll end up by Petroglyph Cliff. It's a large
rock covered with weathered ancient markings.
- Three Sisters Trail
- This trail leads into the Lava Beds Wilderness area from Indian
Well Campground. It is a 14 km hike out Three Sisters Trail, meeting
up with Lyons Trail, and heading back to the Skull Ice Cave parking area.
There are some really neat collapses and cave entrances along the
first bit of the trail that are easily reachable on a short hike from
the campground. I finally hiked this one during my last visit, and it's
pretty nice. It goes right past the Three Sisters, a collection of cinder
cones out in the valley.
- Lyons Trail
- I've never hiked on this trail, but it is a 15.1 km trail which
goes from Skull Ice Cave, past Juniper Butte, all the way to Hospital
Rock. All I can say is, bring a lot of water. :-)
- Whitney Butte Trail
- Another trail I've never been on, this 5.5 km path leads from Merril Ice
Cave around the base of 1525 m high Whitney Butte.
- Benchgrass Trail
- This is a good morning hike from the campground. It is a short 1.6 km trail
that leads east from the B-loop and heads out toward Schonchin Butte. Work up
an appetite before you tear into breakfast and get great views of Schonchin and
the valley at the same time...
- The Stars
- Ok, well, these are in outer space and are not really even near
the park, but they sure seem like it! There is minimal light
pollution at Lava Beds, and that makes for beautiful star gazing. If
you can, try to catch a meteor shower. We've managed to watch the
Perseids a few times in the middle of August.
- Glass Mountain
- This is a large obsidian dome that is well outside the park
toward Medicine Lake. I've only ever been there once because it's
such a pain to get to, but I've not ever seen a larger collection of
volcanic glass in a single place.
Copyright © 1994-2004 Brian "Beej" Hall <firstname.lastname@example.org>