Lava Beds National Monument


Near California’s northern border lies isolated Lava Beds National Monument.  There are 700 lava tubes within the monument and many of them are open for self-guided caving.  Lava tubes form when the rapidly cooling surface solidifies into rock and free flowing lava drains out beneath.



Skull Cave, Golden Dome, Petroglyph Point, Captain Jack’s Stronghold

Must-Do Activity

Only one cave near the visitor center is lit, the others all require flashlights, with hardhats and kneepads recommended for some of the tighter squeezes.  Explore as many lava tubes as you have time for, like Skull Cave with its wide entrance or one of several caves that contain ice year round.

Best Trail

1.5-mile roundtrip hike to top of Schonchin Butte where a fire lookout offers panoramic views across lava flows to Tule Lake, Glass Mountain, and Mount Shasta.

Instagram-worthy Photo

All you need is a flashlight to walk less than half a mile underground to Golden Dome, the most spectacular feature of the park.  The gold flecks are actually colonies of hydrophobic bacteria that thrive in this humid, lightless environment.  Other caves containing them include Thunderbolt and Blue Grotto.


Peak Season

Open year round, but due to its elevation (5,000 feet) the aboveground surface can get a bit hot in summer and cold in winter, but it is usually nice inside the lava tubes.



$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The entrance road from Oregon and Cave Loop Road are paved, but most are dirt south of the park in Modoc National Forest.


Indian Well Campground is located near the visitor center and Cave Loop Road.  Dirt roads in the neighboring Modoc National Forest provide free dispersed camping.


Standing in the wide entrance to Skull Cave.


Lavasicles hang from the ceiling inside a narrow section of lava tube.
Hydrophobic bacteria light up in Golden Dome
Group shot under the Golden Dome.
Tiff with our guidebook in the Catacombs.
This is what Lava Beds looks like above the surface.

Explore More – How did 60 Modoc warriors led by Captain Jack keep 1,000 U.S. troops at bay for six months in the 1870s?



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