Cave Loop

Lava Beds National Monument

Warner Mountains + Modoc Plateau, California

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Cave Loop

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  • Parking and the beginning of the hike are at the visitor center.- Cave Loop
  • A sign to the left of the visitor center patio points the way to the footpath.- Cave Loop
  • Tables along the hike provide the last shade you'll encounter, aside from inside the caves, until your return.- Cave Loop
  • A signed fork marks where the Cave Loop path splits from the Mushpot Cave Trail.- Cave Loop
  • One of the lava tunnel entrances located beside the trail.- Cave Loop
  • The few developed cave entries often require climbing down a steep ladder through a narrow cave opening.- Cave Loop
  • The footpath joins Cave Loop Road for most of the hike.- Cave Loop
  • Views become more expansive as the road gains in elevation.- Cave Loop
  • A typical shoulder for car parking marks cave entrances.- Cave Loop
  • It's common to find some caves along the loop road closed due to bat nesting.- Cave Loop
  • The unique coloring inside Golden Dome Cave.- Cave Loop
  • Caves require you to carry lights and crouch or even crawl through small spaces, but some of the features inside make it worth it!- Cave Loop
  • Enjoy the views of and landscape along your hike on the infrequently trafficked road.- Cave Loop
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
An assortment of accessible caves.
Cons: 
Some caves can be closed due to bat nesting activity.
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Region:
Warner Mountains + Modoc Plateau, CA
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
No
Parking Pass: 
National Park Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Pro Contributor

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.

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Nearby Camping + Lodging

(1 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(6 within a 30 mile radius)

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