The Cave Loop Road/Trail is the premiere area of interest within Lava Beds National Monument. The 3-mile loop begins at the visitor center and circles a path that passes the entrance to 14 different lava tunnels. The trail passes two cave entrances not on the road, as well as passing near the Mushpot Cave/Indian Well Cave hike, which offers access to those two caves.
Though there are over 700 caves and lava tunnels in the area, and only about two dozen have been developed with entrances and access trails. The caves along Cave Loop offer a diversity of features and difficulty levels.
The visitor center is the best place to start, and everyone planning on entering caves and tunnels must obtain a free permit beforehand from the visitor center. The center also provides free maps outlining difficulty levels (determined by factors such as low ceilings, rough floors, and possibly narrow crawl spaces) and rangers who can offer suggestions based on visitors' needs. In addition, the visitor center has lights and protective gear for sale.
The trail leaves on a paved path that passes the entrance to three caves before joining up with the loop road. While the loop road doesn't have a dedicated foot path, forcing hikers to walk along the edge of the road, it sees little traffic and is closed to vehicles every day from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. The road remains open to walkers and bicyclists during those hours.
Along the loop, various accessible lava tunnel and cave entrances are well-marked. In all there is about 300 feet in elevation difference from the low point at the visitor center to the high point along the loop.
Water and bathrooms are available at the visitor center, but there are no amenities along the hike. Aside from the caves themselves, there is also no shade along the hike, so be prepared if you'll be hiking during the warmer months.