Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
158.00 ft (48.16 m)
Trail type
2.00 mi (3.22 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.

El Malpais National Monument is an extremely isolated park encompassing a vast lava flow that erupted from cracks in the earth 10,000 years ago. The park is lightly visited and offers many opportunities for solitude and exploration. One of the best places to start, particularly when approaching the park  from the west, is the Big Tubes area.

After navigating the 7 miles of dirt  roads from the highway, the parking area for Big Tubes is a welcome sight. There are picnic tables and vault toilets at the trailhead. The marked trail for the Big Tubes area is roughly a figure eight. There are well-placed cairns throughout the trail system, and it is a good thing, because the terrain is very hard to navigate, and it is easy to get disoriented. Even with the cairns, it is necessary to pay attention and locate the next cairn before leaving the current one. The trails generally follow the rim of lava trenches and in some cases cross over lava bridges. There are several access points to lava caves along the route. The  landscape is stark and dramatic, and tthe sheer scope of the lava formations is impressive. Due to the sharp and jagged hiking surface, bringing dogs to this area is not a good idea.

Exploring the lava caves is an adventure in itself, but it requires preparation. First, a permit  is required to do any caving (available at the visitor center). It is best to explore with at least a buddy, but if exploring alone, make sure you have all of the essential safety and survival equipment and appropriate boots and clothes. An accident in one of these caves might mean not being found for days.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Very interesting lava tubes and trenches. Fun route finding. Caving option.


Footing can be tricky in places.

Trailhead Elevation

7,537.00 ft (2,297.28 m)

Highest point

7,657.00 ft (2,333.85 m)


Vault toilet
Backcountry camping
Geologically significant
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Lodging + Camping


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