Via Flickr/cifraser1

Natural beauty can take many forms. Sometimes it’s an alpine lake, or an oceanside waterfall, or a mountain adorned in fall colors. Other times, it’s more dramatic and unusual. Such is the case with Craters of the Moon National Monument, a landscape unlike any other. Forged from the lava and ash of thousands of years of volcanic activity, it’s a spot that’s invented its own kind of natural beauty.

via Flickr/BLMIdaho
via Max Pixel

Craters of the Moon protects lava fields in South-Central Idaho. Within the preserve, you can find the remains of more than 25 volcanic cones and 60 ancient lava flows. Eruptions here occurred between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. That means that Native American tribes like the Shoshone likely witnessed some of the later eruptions, and stories from their culture seem to corroborate this; they tell of an enormous serpent who, angered by lightning, coiled around a mountain so tightly that it exploded in a firey eruption of molten rock.

Flickr/Bureau of Land Management
via Flickr/Kam Abbott

Pioneers more or less avoided the area, as it was too rocky for crops or cattle, so it wasn’t until the early 20th century that people started to explore it. In the 1920s, Calvin Coolidge proclaimed in a National Monument in order to “preserve the unusual and weird volcanic formations” (yes, he actually called this place “weird.”) In 2017, the Idaho State Senate voted to petition the federal government to declare it a National Park. Interestingly enough, it’s thought that the hotspot underneath the Yellowstone Caldera (the Supervolcano) was actually located here years ago, and moved to its current position as plates shifted. And as for the “moon” part of things, it got its name from its striking similarity to the rocky, barren landscape of the moon. In fact, in 1969, a group of astronauts (they would become the second men to walk on the moon) visited here to study and adjust to the harsh environment.

Wikimedia Commons/Supercarwaar
via Flickr/Doug Kerr

It’s quite an exciting place to explore. See the purple-blue obsidian embedded in the North Crater Flow, explore the Devil’s Orchard, a collection of cinder cone fragments, hike to the top of Inferno Cone, look at the tree molds (formed when the bark of ancient trees left prints in lava), camp out, cruise Loop Drive through the stark landscape, and spend a few hours exploring the lava tubes in the cave area. It’s a pretty special place that’s quite unlike any other park in the country and will have you re-thinking your bucket list of beautiful parks entirely.

via Flickr/D.Taylor in Idaho
via Flickr/pfly
via Flickr/Doug Kerr
Wikimedia Commons/Doug Kerr


  1. Long ago we and the children walked through CotM alone in the moonlight. Climbed down into the caves (flashlights and good shoes — lava is nasty stuff) and turned off the flashlights to climb back in total darkness.

    One of the best thengs we’ve ever done.

  2. Paul S.
    We were there in September of 2016. Stayed at an RV park in Arco and made 3 daily trips to the monument. Awesome place. Hike to the top of Inferno Cone for a great view.

  3. It’s well deserving of National Park status. It is so totally unique – more like Hawaii than anything on the mainland. Just its status as the historical location of the Yellowstone caldera is enough. It’s worth the visit, and I hope to get back there soon.

  4. I live in Idaho not to far from Craters of the Moon. It’s an eerily beautiful place. In the COTM Park you cannot rock hunt, but fortunately not to far from it are some amazing places to find obsidian, crystals, geodes and more. Idaho is an amazing place that host some of the most unique and mysterious places. Our COTM is one of our jewels!! Ya’ll come back now, ya hear!


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