Lava Beds National Monument: Wikis


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Lava Beds National Monument
IUCN Category III (Natural Monument)
Location Siskiyou / Modoc counties, California, USA
Nearest city Klamath Falls, Oregon
Coordinates 41°42′50″N 121°30′30″W / 41.71389°N 121.50833°W / 41.71389; -121.50833Coordinates: 41°42′50″N 121°30′30″W / 41.71389°N 121.50833°W / 41.71389; -121.50833
Area 46,560 acres (18,840 ha)
Established 21 November 1925
Visitors 107,475 (in 2005)
Governing body National Park Service

Lava Beds National Monument, located in Siskiyou and Modoc Counties, California, is the site of the largest concentration of lava tube caves in North America. It was established as a United States National Monument on November 21, 1925, occupying over 46,000 acres. Lava Beds National Monument also includes Petroglyph Point, one of the largest panels of Native American rock art in the United States. The monument offers about ten trails through the high desert. Approximately 25 of the lava tube caves have been developed for public use with marked entrances and developed trails.

The monument lies on the northeast flank of the Medicine Lake Volcano, the largest volcano (total area covered) in the Cascade Range. The region in and around the monument is unique because it lies on the junction of the Sierra-Klamath, Cascade, and Great Basin physiographic provinces. In addition, the monument is geologically outstanding because of its great variety of "textbook" volcanic formations; i.e., lava tube caves, fumaroles, cinder cones, spatter cones, maars, and lava flows. Over 30 separate lava flows located in the park range in age from 2,000,000 years BP to 1,110 years BP. Some of the major Lava Flows within Lava Beds National Monument include: Callahan Flow, Schonchin Flow, Mammoth Crater Flow, Modoc Crater Flow, and Devils Homestead Flow. Schonchin Butte is an example of a cinder cone.

The high elevation, semi-arid desert environment of Lava Beds receives an average of 15 inches (380 mm) of annual precipitation. The climate is characterized by warm, dry summers and cold winters. The average annual high temperature is 60 °F (16 °C) and average annual low temperature is 35 °F (2 °C). Temperature extremes range from 18 °F (−8 °C) to 102 °F (39 °C). Average annual snowfall is 44 inches (110 cm). The lava tube collapse systems and lava outcrops support a great diversity of plant life, from an impressive variety of lichens and mosses to plants such as desert sweet (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) and the aromatic desert (purple) sage (Salvia dorrii carnosa). An impressive variety of fern species are present in cave entrances including the spreading wood fern (Dryopteris expansa) and the western swordfern (Polystichum munitum). These species are well outside of their normal range 90–125 miles (140–200 km) away on the northern California coastline.

Volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created an incredibly rugged landscape punctuated by cinder cones, lava flows, spatter cones, lava tube caves and pit craters.


Modoc War

Captain Jack's Stronghold

During the Modoc War of 1872-1873, the Modoc Indians used these tortuous lava flows to their advantage. Under the leadership of Captain Jack, the Modocs took refuge in "Captain Jack's Stronghold," a natural lava fortress. From this base a group of 53 fighting men and their families held off US Army forces numbering up to ten times their strength for five months. Gen E. R. S. Canby was killed here by Captain Jack at a peace meeting on April 11, 1873.


Despite harsh, semi-arid conditions, native wildlife has adapted to the environmental constraints present in the region. There are no terrestrial water resources in Lava Beds National Monument. Some animals obtain water from caves, while others fly about twenty km (12 miles) north to Tule Lake. Federal and state animal species of special concern in the monument include: Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Fringed Myotis (Myotis thysanodes), Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotic), Long-legged Myotis (Myotis volans), Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus), Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivigans), Townsends Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii), Western Small-footed Myotis (Myotis ciliolabrum), and American Badger (Taxidea taxus).

False-color satellite image of Lava Beds National Monument and surrounding area (more information).

Because of a lack of surface water, amphibian presence in the monument is limited. The most common species found in the monument is the Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla). This species is also found in the biologically rich cave entrances in the monument. Reptile species found in the monument include: northern sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus graciosus), Great Basin fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus), western skink (Eumeces skiltonianus skiltonianus), Rocky Mountain rubber boa (Charina bottae utahensis), gopher snake (Pituophis melanoleucus), desert night snake (Hypsiglena torquata deserticola), western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).

Key animal species by habitat:

Geologic formations

Illuminated lava tube - all others here require flashlights (available by loan) or are illuminated by ceiling collapse portals

Roughly ninety percent of the lava in the monument is basaltic. There are primarily two kinds of basaltic lava flows: pahoehoe and 'A'a. Pahoehoe is smooth and ropy and is the type most common in Lava Beds. Aa is formed when pahoehoe cools and loses some of its gases. Aa is rough, sharp, and jagged; an excellent example is the Devils Homestead lava flow, which originated at Fleener Chimneys. Most of the rest of the lava in the monument is andesitic. Pumice, a type of rhyolitic lava, also is found covering the monument; this rained down around 900 years ago during the eruption of Glass Mountain.

The flows from Mammoth and Modoc Craters comprise about 2/3 of the lava in the monument. These flows have been dated to about 30,000-40,000 years ago; most of the caves in the monument were formed from these flows. As the hot basaltic lava flowed downhill, the top cooled and crusted over, insulating the rest of the lava and forming lava tubes. Lavacicles on the ceiling of a lava tube were left as the level of lava in the tube retreated and the viscous lava on the ceiling dripped as it cooled. Dripstone was created when lava splashed on the inside walls of the tubes.

Lavacicles on the ceiling of Mushpot Cave.

Cinder cones are formed when magma is under great pressure. It is released in a fountain of lava, blown into the air from a central vent. The lava cools as it falls, forming cinders that pile up around the vent. When the pressure has been relieved, the rest of the lava flows from the base of the cone. Cinder cones typically only erupt once.

The cinder cones of Hippo Butte, Three Sisters, Juniper Butte, and Crescent Butte are all older than the Mammoth and Modoc Crater flows (that is, more than 30,000-40,000 years old). Eagle Nest Butte and Bearpaw Butte are 114,000 years old. Schonchin Butte and the andesitic flow from its base were formed around 62,000 years ago. The flow that formed Valentine Cave erupted 10,850 years ago. An eruption that formed The Castles is younger than the Mammoth Crater flows. Even younger were eruptions from Fleener Chimneys (the Devils Homestead flow, 10,500 years ago) and Black Crater (3,025 years ago). About 1,110 years ago, plus or minus 60 years, the Callahan flow was produced by an eruption from Cinder Butte. Though Cinder Butte is just outside the boundary of the monument, the Callahan flow is in Lava Beds and is the youngest flow in the monument.

Spatter cones are built out of thicker lava. The lava is thrown out of the vent and builds, layer by layer, a chimney surrounding the vent. Fleener Chimneys and Black Crater are examples of spatter cones.

Gillem Bluff, a fault scarp, was created as the region stretched and a block of earth dropped down along this fault (see Basin and Range Province). The tuff layer on top of Gillem Bluff is 2,000,000 years old, inferring the rock layers beneath are even older. The oldest lava flow from the Medicine Lake Volcano within the monument is the Basalt of Hovey Point, near Captain Jacks Stronghold, which is 450,000 years old. Petroglyph Point was created about 275,000 years ago when cinders erupted through the shallow water of Tule Lake; violent explosions of ash and steam formed layers upon layers of tuff.

The caldera itself is thought to have formed by subsidence, during which basalt and andesite were erupted up on the slopes.[1]


Recent activity

Schonchin Butte cinder cone at dawn, viewed from Park Headquarters.

A series of small earthquakes in late 1988 has been attributed to subsidence in the caldera.

N-NE trending ground cracks, as well as N-NE trending vent series show relationships between tectonism and volcanism. One very prevalent ground crack exists along the northeastern boundary of the monument- "The Big Crack."

The leaching of minerals from pumice gravel, soils, and overlying rock provides for deposition of secondary speleothems in lava tubes.


Short video showing sights in Lava Beds National Monument

Wilderness area

The Lava Beds Wilderness is a 28,460-acre (11,520 ha) wilderness area within the Lava Beds National Monument. It was designated by the US Congress on October 13, 1972 with passage of Public Law 92-493.[2] The wilderness protects more than half of the national monument in two separate units. The larger unit is on the eastern side of the monument and contains the extensive Schonchin lava flow. The western unit reflects the monument's location within the transition zone of the Cascade Range's southern end and the arid Modoc Plateau. The plant diversity coupled with different soil types provides good habitat for a wide range of wildlife. The numerous coyotes and foxes, as well as raptors feed on rodents such as the kangaroo rat and jackrabbit. The kangaroo rat is especially adapted to dry, waterless environments because it can go a lifetime without water.[3] A metabolic process occurs where water is synthesized from chemical components in the dry seeeds that the rat eats.[3] Many of the birds seen here are raptors, with 24 species of hawks identified.[4] The monument is located on the Pacific Flyway and the bald eagle winters here in the northern portion of the wilderness. The National Park Service manages the wilderness and has several restrictions in place, such as no camping near cave entrances or trails. Open campfires may be prohibited during very hot, dry weather.

Historic site

The Lava Beds National Monument Archeological District, probably a small portion of the monument, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 21, 1991.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Decker, Robert; Decker, Barbara (2001). Volcanoes In America's National Parks. New York: WW Norton & Company Inc.. p. 160. ISBN 9622176771. 
  2. ^ Public Law 92-493
  3. ^ a b Schrod, J. California Deserts Falcon Press 1988 p. 45
  4. ^ Adkinson, Ron Wild Northern California The Globe Pequot Press, 2001 p.220 ISBN 1-56044-781-8
  5. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Lava Beds National Monument [1] is a United States National Monument in the Shasta Cascades region of California.



The Medicine Lake volcano has erupted intermittently for approximately half a million years. The most recent flows of pumice and obsidian at Glass Mountain (south of Lava Beds in the Modoc National Forest) occurred less than 900 years ago. Since there have been no eruptions within historical times, and there are no signs that the volcano is getting ready to erupt soon, geologists consider Medicine Lake dormant.


The park displays the hardened results of over thirty separate lava flows exposed at Lava Beds. Rocks visible within the Monument range from two million year old volcanic tuff at Gillem Bluff in the northwest corner, to basalt about 1100 years old at the Callahan Flow in the southwest corner. Multiple eruptions of liquid basalt that flowed from Mammoth and Modoc Craters (on the Monument's southern boundary) between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago formed most of the lava tube caves here. This flow covers about 70 percent of the Monument. A different flow in the southeast corner of the park that emerged around 11,000 years ago was lower in viscosity and created smoother textured caves, including Valentine Cave. Cinder cones, spatter cones, and other surface lava flows also appeared periodically between every few hundred and every few tens of thousands of years.

The park's lave tube caves were formed as fluid lava at up to 2000° F (1093° C) flowed down gentle slopes, cooling and solidifying upon contact with the ground and air. Lava touching the ground solidified first, followed by the sides and then the top of the flow. This hard shell of cooled lava insulated the liquid rock inside, allowing it to flow long distances before it cooled and came to a stop. The lava continues to flow until it either drains out or seals the end of the tube. In the millenia since, weather and gravity have punched holes in the ceilings of these extensive tube systems every few hundred feet, leaving behind almost 700 individual caves. These caves now provide not only outstanding opportunities for exploration, but habitat for a host of species ranging from threatened bats and bacteria, to tree frogs and sword ferns that cannot survive in the dry surface environment. The perennial ice formations found in some caves also give scientists an opportunity to study the effects of climate change.

The rounded mounds of many cinder cones dot the Lava Beds landscape. A cinder cone forms when high pressure and dissolved gases in magma cause an eruption that blows a fountain of lava into the air. The cooling lava then falls as cinders around the vent. Many cinder cones also ooze liquid lava from their bases if the eruption's underground magma source changes character, such as the Schonchin Lava Flow emanating from Schonchin Butte. This is the only cinder cone with a trail to the top; please help preserve others by not climbing on them.

Spatter cones are formed by thick blobs of lava resembling lumpy oatmeal that are thrown out of a vent. Thicker than cinders and thrown less high into the air, they form a cone where they land. Black Crater is an example of an impressive spatter cone. A hollow chimney may also form where the lava emerged — those found at Fleener Chimneys are 150 ft (46 m) deep.

Other formations in the park include craters such as Mammoth Crater, which once contained a massive lake of lava that overflowed rather than erupted, and left behind an enormous empty crater. The highly fluid, basaltic lava was transported many miles to the northern part of the Monument, creating networks of lava tube caves all along the way. Gillem Bluff is an example of a fault scarp, a place where large blocks of crust move relative to each other, sometimes during violent earthquakes. Many long cliffs or ridges in this area are found along faults. Gillem Bluff has moved up relative to the basin below, exposing layers of ancient basalt believed to be two million years old.

Flora and fauna

Lava Beds National Monument has over 50 species of mammals, fourteen of which are bats. The most frequently seen are coyotes, ground squirrels, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and groups of mule deer. Kangaroo rats are commonly seen on summer evenings as they run across the roads.

The park spans three very different habitats and is adjacent to the wetlands of Tulelake Wildlife Refuge, and as a result a good variety of birds can be found here. The southern most area of the park is the highest, receives the most precipitation, and supports a ponderosa pine forest. Farther downhill to the north, the middle elevations are a juniper and shrub woodland. Extending to the northern boundary are lower grasslands and sagebrush. These three areas provide habitat to some birds that specialize in living in them, and some birds at are generalists, able to live in some or all of these habitats. A selected few are listed below according to where they are most often found.

The park is also home to 14 species of reptiles and amphibians. Eight of these are snakes, including the Western rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes may be seen on the surface or under a rock outcrop. They may be found near a cave entrance but seldom go inside. Rocky mountain rubber boas are small, gentle, nonpoisonous snakes that live inside caves. Rattlesnakes are poisonous, but no one has reported being bitten by one at Lava Beds since the area became a monument in 1925.

Get in

By car is the only way, basically. The nearest major town is Klamath Falls, so you could fly or train and rent a car from there. Unfortunately, there's no public transportation into the park. The more adventurous can bicycle or hike into the park and save half off the entrance fee!

The main entrance is from the north end of the park, either from Hill Road or from Newell on the main park road. There is also a southern entrance starting from 139 at Perez then passing Tionesta, but the road is rough and might be closed due to snow in the winter.

Another way to the park is from Highway 89 near McCloud up past the scenic Medicine Lake. Turn north off 89 at Bartle and follow the easy-to-miss signs. A good map or GPS is quite useful. If you pass Jot Dean Ice Cave, you're on the right track. This route will close due to snow in the winter. The last stretch of road to the park is about 15 km of graded dirt. Make an easy stop at Mammoth Crater on the way in.

Hikers entering the park from the Newell/Tulelake area can cut diagonally though to the campground and Visitor Center on Lyons Trail (a non-trivial desert hike with no water--be prepared.)


$10.00 entrance fee, good for 7 days. $5 for bicycles, motorcycles, and on-foot. $20 gets you in for a year.


Lava Tube Caves

These caves have relatively high ceilings and smooth floors or trails. A good choice for groups with young children, or anyone who wants a less strenuous experience.

  • Mushpot Cave (770 ft/235 m). Recommended as an introductory cave. This cave has lights and interpretive signs explaining the formations.
  • Indian Well Cave (300ft/91 m). This cave has easy access on a wooden walkway, a high ceiling, and unusual ice formations in winter.
  • Sentinel Cave (3,280 ft/1,000 m). This cave's easy main trail requires no stooping or ducking, and has lots of interesting features. This is one of the only developed caves with two entrances.
  • Valentine Cave (1,635 ft/498 m). This cave was discovered on Valentine's Day in 1933, and has large main passages with very smooth floors and walls. It had a different lava source than the caves on Cave Loop.
  • Skull Cave (580 ft/177 m). Named for the bones of antelope and mountain goats, bighorn sheep skulls, and two human skeletons discovered inside. It is a remnant of two very large lava tubes, one on top of the other. This allows cold winter air to be trapped inside and create a year-round ice floor on the lower level, accessible via a smooth trail and down a metal stairway to a platform.
  • Merrill Cave (650 ft/198 m). Visitors once ice skated by the lantern light on an enormous ice floor at the bottom of this cave. Changing air flow patterns are the suspected cause of melting, and today you can see small ice remnants from a viewing platform at the bottom of a stairway.
  • Heppe Cave (170 ft/52 m). Walk a short trail to this short twilight-lit cave with a small pool that is frozen most of the year. A spatter cone, huge collapse pit, and several other short cave passages can also be explored nearby.
  • Big Painted Cave ( 266 ft/81 m) and Symbol Bridge (148 ft/45 m). Historic Native American pictographs adorn the entrance areas of these two shallow caves, and many are visible without lights. An easy 0.75 mi (1.21 km) hike is required to reach them.
  • Ovis Cave (216 ft/66 m). This large cave contained 36 bighorn skulls when it was discovered in the 1890's. Ceiling heights exceed 25 ft (7.6 m), and some outside light is visible throughout. Ovis and Paradise Alleys are adjacent caves; you can enter in one and return via the other.
  • Paradise Alleys (1,033 ft/315 m). Upstream section of the Catacombs tube system, separated into individual caves by a series of collapse trenches. Smooth floors and ceiling heights exceeding 7 ft (2 m) are found throughout this cave.

These caves may involve some stooping through low sections, and/or have areas of rough floor to negotiate. Additional protective gear is recommended for the more difficult spots.

  • Golden Dome Cave (2,229 ft/679 m). Beware of "headache rock" when entering and exiting the cave via the ladder. The downstream portion of this cave (heading north) requires some stooping. The back section where the "Golden Dome" is located is a figure-8; take note of your location so you don't go around in circles. The golden ceiling in this and many other Lava Beds caves is the result of light reflecting off water droplets that bead up on a coating of hydrophobic bacteria. The bacteria are not harmful to humans but are protected, so please do not touch. The upstream portions of this cave require more stooping and some crawling.
  • Sunshine Cave (466 ft/142 m). Two collapses allow sunlight to enter the cave and abundant vegetation grows. Stooping is required in the main passage, and the back section has floors that are steep and sometimes wet, or very rough. There is beautiful hydrophobic bacteria coating the ceiling at the back of this cave, and icicles adorn cracks in the ceiling in winter.
  • Balcony Cave (2,903 ft/885 m) and Boulevard Cave (759 ft/231 m). Short trails lead to these caves from the parking lot. They have sections of low ceilings, and an optional crawl up onto a balcony created by changing lava flow levels. The "boulevard" was named for the smooth floor created by a lava cascade.
  • Blue Grotto Cave (1,541 ft/470 m). Named for the pale blue-gray portions of the ceiling inside the "Blue Grotto". The ceilings are high throughout this cave but the floors are rough.

These caves have some portions that require duck-walking or crawling. Helmets, kneepads, and gloves are a must in these areas to protect yourself from sharp lava. Other sections may be easier. These caves are also more complicated in some places— purchase maps in the Visitor Center to find your way if you intend to explore them completely.

  • Labyrinth Cave (1,239 ft/378 m) and Lava Brook Cave (859 ft/262 m). These caves near the Visitor Center are connected by way of a segment requiring crawling and twisting. Ceiling heights vary but tend to be low throughout. Pay attention to your route, as the name Labyrinth suggests! The "Lava Brook" is an interesting pattern left on the floor of one passage by the last lava flow.
  • Hopkins Chocolate Cave (1,405 ft/428 m). Named for the rich brown color of lava coating the ceiling and walls. Stooping is required in a couple places, and there is one passage with a ceiling height of 3 ft (0.9 m) that requires duck-walking.
  • Hercules Leg Cave (1,948 ft/594 m) and Juniper Cave (2,362 ft/720 m). These two caves were connected by the removal of debris in a collapse pit, and together make one long excursion with an entrance and exit. The Hercules Leg portion has generally high ceilings and smooth floors. The connection to the Juniper branch involves crossing a breakdown with a passage height of 2.5 ft (0.8 m), and several low sections thereafter.
  • Catacombs Cave (6,903 ft/2,104 m). This very long cave is easily entered but gradually increases in difficulty. It is possible to walk upright for approximately 800 ft (244 m) to the stairway, after which the ceiling rarely exceeds 3 ft (0.9 m). A few places exist where the ceiling height is less then 12 in (30 cm). A cave map is highly recommended for any group planning to explore the entire length, as multiple levels and numerous side passages can be confusing. This cave is not recommended for inexperienced cavers.
  • Thunderbolt Cave (2,561 ft/781 m). Crawling is required in the downstream portions of this cave where it connects to Labyrinth and Lava Brook Caves. Upstream (right) from the entrance are a few tight areas, one of which is 6 in (15 cm) wide at knee level. There is some stooping before the ceiling height allows walking upright.
  • Bunchgrass Trail (1 mile / 1.6 km). Start across from Site B-7 in the campground. Follow along the northeast side of Crescent Butte to the park road.
  • Missing Link Trail. This trail links the Three Sisters Trail to the Bunchgrass Trail, creating a 10-mile (16km) loop. Missing Link begins on the Bunchgrass Trail about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from B-Loop in the campground. Hike on the Missing Link Trail for 0.7 mile (1.1 km) to reach the Skull Cave road. The trail ends across from the trailhead for Symbol Bridge. Hike another 0.1 mile (0.16km) on the road to Skull Cave to reach the trailhead for Lyons/Three Sisters Trail.
  • Heppe Cave Trail (0.4 miles / 0.6 km). Heppe Cave Trail can be found on the road to Mammoth Crater. This trail begins under tall Ponderosa pines. As you reach the end of the trail, you will view an enormous collapse. Follow the trail into Heppe Ice Cave that has a large opening at both ends.
  • Big Nasty Trail (2 miles / 3.2 km). A loop trail. Named after a brush-covered rough lava area just to the north— "it is big and it is nasty!" From the Mammoth Crater/Hidden Valley pullout, the trail starts along the crater rim. Turn left from the Mammoth Crater Trail.
  • Schonchin Butte Trail (0.7 miles / 1.4 km). This trail climbs to the fire lookout and a panoramic view. Trail has a 500 -foot elevation gain. You can be a guest of the lookout on duty in summer. Please stay on the designated trail and do not shortcut switchbacks.
  • Symbol Bridge Trail (0.8 miles / 1.3 km). Winding past interesting lava tube collapses and other features, this trail leads to many fine pictographs at the bridge and cave. Take the Skull Cave road to the first parking area and trailhead. Across the road from the Symbol Bridge Trail, you will find the Missing Link Trail.
  • Thomas-Wright Battlefield Trail. Volcanism and history are featured here. The hike onto Black Crater is less than 0.3 miles (0.5 km) by bearing right. The battlefield is 1.1 miles (1.8km) one way. View fine wildflower displays in season.
  • Gillem Bluff Trail (0.7 miles / 1.1 km). This trail climbs 550 feet in elevation to the top of Gillem Bluff (Sheepy Ridge), for a view of Gillems Camp and the surrounding landscape.
  • Captain Jacks Stronghold Trail. Two self-guiding interpretive trails wind through the heart of the Modoc's wartime defenses. The inner loop is 0.5 miles (0.8 km), and the outer loop 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Be prepared for rough terrain.
  • Petroglyph Point Trail. This very short trail begins on the east side of Petroglyph Point just beyond the bulletin board on the dirt road. The trailhead parking lot is on top of a short rise across from the trail entrance. Hike to the top to enjoy an impressive view of the basin and the Medicine Lake volcano. Please do not hike to the edge of the cliff to avoid disturbing nesting birds such as prairie falcons, redtailed hawks, and owls. Please do not attempt to hike to the top from the west side of Petroglph Point. A social trail there has caused severe erosion and passes too close to nesting sites.
  • Three Sisters Trail (8.7 miles / 14.0 km). Entered at the campground from A-Loop, this trail loops out into the wilderness and returns to the Skull Cave Road.
  • Lyons Trail (9.4 miles / 15.2 km). A former monument road, this trail crosses park wilderness from south to north between the Skull Cave parking area and Hospital Rock.
  • Whitney Butte Trail (3.3 miles / 5.3 km one way). From Merrill Cave parking area to the west boundary of the monument, this trail crosses the wilderness in an east-west direction, curving around Whitney Butte. Enjoy an impressive view of Mount Shasta and the Callahan Lava Flow.


The Visitor Center has some minimal supplies, including some snack food, lip balm, batteries, flashlights, and ice. Of course, they also have plenty of tourist items, and will sell you postcard stamps. For caving, they will sell you bumpcaps (highly recommended, as even a brush with the ceiling can leave you bloody) and will let you borrow flashlights for free. They also have books with maps of the caves and other information.

Straight north of the park where Hill Rd meets Highway 161 at Ainsworth Corner, there is a small general store with food and supplies.

In Newell, northeast of the park, there is a small general store with groceries, video games, and expensive gas.

The town of Tulelake is northwest of Newell a short distance, and has a grocery store.

South of the park, Tionesta has a small store and will sell a limited amount of expensive gas.

North in Oregon, the town of Merrill has plenty of gas and stores. (It's Oregon, so don't try to pump your own gas!)


The Visitor Center only has a small selection of snack food, so there's no real way to get food in the park.

The neighboring towns of Newell, Stronghold, Tulelake, Tionesta, and Merrill have restaurants or general stores, and Tulelake has a supermarket.



One main campground serves the park: Indian Well Campground. Sites are $10 per night and no reservations are required, generally. A group site sits on the north side of the campground for $3 per person per night, with a max of $60 per night.

There are two loops: A and B. A-loop tends to be quieter, and the two A-loop sites on the "shoulder" of the loop facing the valley offer commanding views.

Water from the faucets around the campground is drinkable and tasty.

If the campground is full or you're visiting on the cheap, you can camp for free in Modoc National Forest just south of the park. (Campfires will require a permit, if they are allowed at all; check with the Forest Service.) Look for places to camp off Tichnor Rd ("Tickner", "Ticknor") which runs east/west about 1-2 km south of the park. The road can be rough, but a passenger car can drive it in the summer--watch for mud and snow in other seasons.


Two wilderness areas are present at Lava Beds: Schonchin and Callahan. You can access Schonchin via Three Sisters Trail and Lyons Trail, and Callahan by Whitney Butte Trail. Overnight camping is allowed, but must be 400 m from any trail. No fires are permitted; gas stoves are allowed. No surface water exists in the park, so all water must be packed in.

There are few or no bears in the park, but there are mountain lions. Rattlesnakes are common, but they just want to be left alone.

Stay safe

Mountain lions have been spotted; beware walking alone near dusk especially if you're of small stature.

Bears are not a problem near the campground and are rarely sighted, if ever.

Deer can be pesky, so keep your food deer-proof.

Ground squirrels can sometimes be present en masse; they'll chew into your tent to get your food if you put it in there.

Rattlesnakes like to rest near cave entrances. Don't put your hands and feet where you can't see!

Bubonic plague is present in the park; it is a once-quite-popular disease that spreads through the bite of fleas which have fed on infected rodents. Don't sleep near rodent holes, and steer clear of rodent nests which are commonly found in caves.

Hantavirus has also been detected in the park.

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