Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
150.00 ft (45.72 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
2.20 mi (3.54 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The human history at Lava Beds National Monument goes back many thousands of years. Ancestors of the modern Modoc people lived in small bands in this area, catching fish, hunting game, harvesting vegetation, and creating cryptic imagery in the rock. At Symbol Bridge at Big Painted Cave, modern visitors can see remnants of this artwork on the walls of the caves.

This route connects three easily accessible caves as it meanders across the wide, open landscape of Lava Beds National Monument. Start from the Skull Cave parking area and read the interpretive sign before the cave entrance. The sign describes how climate change and human visitation have both taken a toll on the depth and clarity of perennial ice in the cave. If you visit the monument in the middle of summer, however, don't expect to find a subterranean ice rink. But Skull Cave is interesting even without an epic ice sheet. Several metal stairways lead you into the dark depths of Skull Cave—be sure to bring a flashlight or lantern. At the bottom of the stairs, metal bars stand between you and the historic ice structure. Depending on the conditions in the cave, you may find ice or water there.

Walk back along the road to find the trail that leads to Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave. This trail leads 0.75 miles to Symbol Bridge, where you will see several geometric shapes drawn on the rock walls with charcoal. On your way back to where you started, take a short detour to Big Painted Cave. Few petroglyphs remain here due to vandalism and weathering. Take a moment and pause to reflect on the people who lived here many generations ago. Do your part to help preserve this area for future generations to come and enjoy.

If you're staying at the Indian Well Campground, consider starting your adventure from there. Take the Bunchgrass Trail to the Missing Link trail, which connects to Skull Cave Road. This adds only a couple extra miles of walking and provides an opportunity to look for deer, jackrabbits and other desert creatures.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Park entrance fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Nice hiking trails. Interesting geology. Native cave paintings.

Cons

None.

Trailhead Elevation

4,600.00 ft (1,402.08 m)

Highest point

4,700.00 ft (1,432.56 m)

Features

Family friendly
Vault toilet
Historically significant
Wildlife
Geologically significant
Big vistas
Cave
Native artifacts
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

Yes

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

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