Discover Craters of the Moon in Idaho

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Written by Telea Dodge

Published: November 20, 2023

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What do you think of when you think of the state of Idaho? Idaho is a state in the northwestern portion of the United States, and it has a reputation for potatoes. However, potatoes aren’t the only attraction to be found in the state. Idahoans love a lot more about themselves than potatoes – even if those delicious spuds do top the list. Today, we’re going to look at a beautiful – and strange – location in Idaho that is famous for its unique appearance. This place, called Craters of the Moon, is a national monument and preserve, and definitely worth the drive. Let’s learn a little bit more about it, including where it is and the best times to visit.

What Is Craters of the Moon?

Volcanic activity covered the plains with basalt lava flows at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

©Rui Serra Maia/Shutterstock.com

Craters of the Moons is a strange and beautiful volcanic area in Idaho, famous for its space-like appearance and geology. It is a National Monument and Preserve that boasts plenty of hiking trails, some camping, and a very informative visitor center. It’s also amazing for its low number of visitors. While the nearby Yellowstone National Park draws crowds of over three million visitors a year, this is a lesser-known attraction that only sees about 220,000 visitors per year. Visitors will follow a loop road (open seasonally) around miles of beautiful and rugged lava flows and evidence of fissure eruptions. There are over 25 volcanos in the area, known as cinder cone volcanos. The volcanoes at Craters of the Moon haven’t erupted in a very long time, but they are still considered to be dormant, not extinct.

How was Craters of the Moon Formed?

North Crater Flows, Craters of the Moon National Monument

The North Crater Flows are a popular hiking destination.

©Bartfett/iStock via Getty Images

The Snake River Plain is actually famous for its historically high levels of volcanic activity, which dates back millions of years. The history of Craters of the Moon is actually a lot more recent. About 15,000 years ago, the last period of active volcanism in the area began. This lasted for several thousands of years and created the interesting landscapes we see there today. Volcanic activity in the area occurred as little as 2,100 years ago. Visitors can see the various periods of volcanic activity as they explore the loop road that takes them around the vast oceans of lava flow and basaltic rock.

Where Is Craters of the Moon on a Map?

Craters of the Moon is located in southeastern Idaho, 18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho. It is also 24 miles northeast of Carey, Idaho. We’ve included a helpful map to show you exactly where in the state the preserve is.

How far is Craters of the moon from nearby major cities? Let’s take a look with the help of a handy table.

CityDistanceEstimated Travel Time
Boise, Idaho170 miles2 hours and 38 minutes
Salt Lake City, Utah286 miles4 hours and 14 minutes
Twin Falls, Idaho90.1 miles1 hour and 33 minutes
Bozeman, Montana344 miles5 hours and 11 minutes
Spokane, Washington593 miles8 hours and 43 minutes

Visiting Craters of the Moon

The Loop Road, Craters of the moon National park, Idaho

The Loop Road at Craters of the Moon will take you to most of the popular sights in the preserve.

©Sundry Photography/iStock via Getty Images

The first thing you should know when planning your trip to Craters of the Moon is that there is an entrance fee. This fee is charged from May 1st to November 15th. The fee is 10 dollars per person, 15 dollars per motorcycle, or 20 dollars per private vehicle. Organizations and businesses are charged a separate rate, which can be found in the “Fees and Passes” section of the Craters of the Moon Website.

From November until the end of April, no fee is charged. This is because the loop road is not fully open to automobile travel during this time of year. You will not be able to complete the full loop or see everything the park has to offer if you visit in the off-season, but there is still plenty of fun stuff to do. The most popular time of year to visit Craters of the Moon is in July. This time of year is perfect for visiting, though it is quite hot, so remember to bring lots of water and some sunscreen. We recommend visiting on weekday mornings during the season for the best experience and the fewest people.

There are a few free entry days outside of the off-season. Five days throughout the year offer a fee-free visit to the monument and preserve.

Recreation and Activities

There are so many things to do when you visit Craters of the Moon, from visiting crater caves to going on a number of hikes. The visitor center is a great place to stop in to get more information about the preserve. This center provides educational exhibits, maps, and a film about the park. It also hosts a bookstore! It is the best way to orient yourself before setting off to see everything with your own eyes. The 7-mile loop road is an excellent scenic drive, and you never have to get out of the vehicle to see some of the magical sights that Craters of the Moon has to offer. We’ve detailed just a couple of the cool stops along the way in the helpful guide below.

Spatter Cones

The spatter cones are old lumps of lava that were flung into the air and then landed around a central vent. Now, they form miniature volcanoes that you can peer into to see some wild geological formations. There are two trails to access the spatter cones. Spatter Cones Trail is only 0.1 miles roundtrip, so it is a very short walk to see something incredible. This trail leads you to the larger spatter cone. A wheelchair-accessible trail offers a trip of a similar distance. This fully-accessible trail is a simple and fascinating trail to traverse to see the spatter cones.

Inferno Cone

If you’re looking for good views and a slightly more challenging hike, check out the Inferno Cone. This is a steep 0.4-mile trail that takes you up to see a beautiful view of the area. Look out over the Great Rift, the Pioneer Mountains, and the Snake River Plain from this incredible vantage point. If you can’t make the climb, there is still a pretty good view from the overlook that rests by the parking lot.

Big Craters

Big Craters is one of the largest crater views in the park, and it is a steep but fast climb from a spot near the spatter cones area. You have to gain about 100 feet in elevation for the view, but it is well worth the effort.


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About the Author

Telea Dodge is an animal enthusiast and nature fiend with a particular interest in teaching a sense of community and compassion through interactions with the world at large. Carrying a passion for wild foraging, animal behaviorism, traveling, and music, Telea spends their free time practicing their hobbies while exploring with their companion dog, Spectre.

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