Lava Beds National Monument includes over 46,000 acres, 28,460 of which have been designated as wilderness. The monument is located on a volcanic plateau between northeastern California's Medicine Lake Volcano and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Thousands of visitors come each year to view the numerous historical and geological features, including petroglyphs, cinder cones, craters, buttes, wildlife viewing, and a network of lava tunnels. These tunnels formed when the outer edges of lava flows harden, forming a shell around the interior flow that remains after the flow dissipates. Mushpot Cave and Indian Well Cave are two popular examples, and many more can be found along the Cave Loop.
The park also has several hiking trails, including the hike through Captain Jack's Stronghold, which traverses a landscape used by the Modoc people as they resisted the efforts of the U.S. Army to relocate their tribe. Other notable hikes include a 600-foot climb to a fire lookout atop Schonchin Butte, the hike along the Big Nasty Trail, and several other hikes of varying distances to different vistas and features throughout the park.
A primary attraction here are the lava tunnels. Of more than 700 tunnels and caves within the park, over two dozen of them have been outfitted with developed entrances and trails. Though some may be closed seasonally due to nesting by bat populations, many others are open to visitors who have received a permit at the visitor center. As a precaution against the spread of White-nose syndrome that has infected bats, anyone wanting to enter the lava caves must be screened and receive a permit. These tunnels and caves can vary in length and height, and the entrance often leads down steep stairs through very narrow openings. The interior features vary just as much, and different formations and colors are common. Be sure to check out these adventures for more specific information:
Entrance to the monument is $15. Lava Beds National Monument also has a southern entrance, though this road is often closed and inaccessible during the snowy conditions. Visitors can pick up detailed maps charting out the features of each cave along with a description of how difficult an exploration will be. The visitor center also hosts an interpretive center and gift shop that offers helmets, knee pads, and lights for cave visitors.
Though a few caves are accessible from a short walk beginning at the visitor center and parking area, the largest concentration of accessible caves lie along the 2.5-mile Cave Loop Road. Many others are located throughout the park; some are accessible by paved roads and short hikes, and others require drives on unpaved roads.
Though it is possible to explore several caves and trails within a day, the abundance of areas of interest in this park may mean that this monument is better suited to a multi-day trip or repeat visits. If you are creating a multi-day itinerary, nearby Indian Well Campground is located less than a mile from the visitor center.