Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve looks like – well – craters of the moon. So much so that NASA even uses it for astronaut training.
Pretty amazing, although I’m sure my uncle Gerry would say “That’s just a big pile of rocks!”
This is a very unique area where the Great Rift of Idaho opened up and spatter cones spewed lava out, creating cones, lava tubes, and flows as recently as 2,000 years ago.
In geological time, that’s pretty recent, and as these events seem to happen about every 2,000 years it looks like it should happen again any time.
While the park itself is a massive 753,000 acres, very few people wander into the backcountry to experience life beyond the north trails around the Visitor Center.
We know that first-come first-served campgrounds in popular areas fill up quickly, so we researched the campsites we preferred and headed out from our hotel in Idaho Falls at noon. Two hours later, we scored the primo spot we wanted across the park road from all of the other campsites – more road traffic during the day but less generator noise after hours.
You can knock out the accessible part of the Park in a day – drive, simple hikes, exit stage right. This was our original plan as I had intended to bag the Idaho highpoint Borah Peak. With the late snowfall, Borah is holding a lot more snow than usual, and "Chicken Out Ridge" is more like "Charlie Foxtrot Ridge". I didn’t bring crampons or an ice axe along on this trip, so Borah will have to wait for another year.
That leaves us with two extra days, so we get an extra day here in Craters of the Moon and we’ll make a stop in Sun Valley to use up our other extra day or push along to the Sawtooths NRA earlier than planned.
We are pleasantly surprised with the lack of generators here in the campground. Usually there are the usual Dodge diesel-toting-massive fifth wheel toy haulers that pull in, set up, and immediately fire up the noisy generator so they can watch TV, but here it’s total silence. We see the generators on truck beds and plugged in on the ground, but something about this place makes people sit outside and just enjoy the silence. We like it!
Early Saturday morning, hit all of the highlights before the crowds roll in. Nothing to write about the highlights themselves that isn’t readily available on the NPS site, other than start early, bring water, and enjoy the little things.
With all of the accessible highlights done by early afternoon, we get a rare afternoon to sit around, read our Kindles, watch the nonsense in the campground, and think about what’s next on our list – Sun Valley and the Sawtooths!

Craters of the Moon Sign Shot

Craters of the Moon Sign Shot
Of course, the mandatory sign photo with the Craters of the Moon National Monument entry sign.


Desolate Landscape

Desolate Landscape at Craters of the Moon
The Inferno Cone cinder cone trail is arguably the most popular hike/walk within the park.


Inferno Cone Peak

Inferno Cone Peak at Craters of the Moon
Looking out to the east from the peak of Inferno Cone.


Small but Mighty

Small but Mighty
I keep telling Colette to stop pushing trees over everywhere we go…


Cooling Flow

Cooling Flow
Pretty sweet looking at the lava streams in the splatter cones.


Big Big Cone

Big Big Cone
Standing inside one of the splatter cones looking up.


Life Among the Desolation

Life Among the Desolation of Craters of the Moon
This mountain bluebird has created a nest in one of the tunnels in this splatter cone.


Bloom Where You Are Planted

Bloom Where You Are Planted
The plethora of flower and plant life in this inhospitable environment is amazing. This Dusty Maiden (Chaenactis douglasii) is growing in a small lava bowl, rooted in a tiny amount of dirt that has blown into the bowl over the years.


End of Maintained Trail

End of Maintained Trail
I do believe that Maintained is a relative term. This is where the Tree Molds trail ends and the true backcountry begins.


Top Of The Crater

Top Of The Crater
Walking around the edge of a deep crater.


The Dish

The Dish
The craters have a very well defined dish shape. It’s amazing how green and lush the background looks here when it’s really a hot, dry, dusty landscape.


Cinder Garden

Cinder Garden
A Cinder Garden of tiny Monkeyflowers.


Short and Short-Lived

Short and Short-Lived
These little monkeyflowers only bloom for a few weeks in late spring following rains.


No-Mans Land

No-Mans Land at Craters of the Moon
Impassable lava flows stretch to the horizon.


Devil’s Orchard

Devil's Orchard in Craters of the Moon
It’s easy to see why this was named Devil’s Orchard.


Craters of the Moon Official Video


A very well-done video by the National Park Service

Astronauts at Craters of the Moon


Astronauts remember their training at Craters of the Moon