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 lot.

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 center.

Valentine Cave
Once you've overcome your fear of caves, you can tackle this one. 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 20.

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 shore.

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 <>