Tag Archives: volcano

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Overview

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona is worth a closer look than a drive-by on your way to Grand Canyon National Park.  As its name suggests, this thousand-foot high cinder cone is stained red as though in perpetual twilight.  Volcanic activity last occurred here in the year 1180 AD, but even though geologists consider this area dormant, it is just possible that a new cinder cone might start erupting at any time.

Highlights

Lava Flow Nature Trail, Bonito Lava Flow, Lenox Crater Trail, O’Leary Peak

Must-Do Activity

A 35-mile loop drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument to neighboring Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forest and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert region that is dotted with ruins.  From the road you can see the San Francisco Peaks rising to the west, as well as a series of cinder cones outside the monument’s boundaries.  Several of these mini-volcanoes are accessible by roads, including our favorite: S.P. Crater.

Best Trail

To experience the black cinders you have to get out of your car and hike through them, but take your time as the elevation is around 7,000 feet.  Lava Flow Nature Trail provides interpretive signs along a partially paved one-mile loop.  You cannot climb to the top of Sunset Crater, but you can summit nearby Lenox Crater on a steep one-mile trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Sunset Crater and the Bonito Lava Flow are especially eye-catching when viewed from atop 8,900-foot O’Leary Peak, accessible by hiking to a fire lookout tower in adjacent Coconino National Forest.  The awe-inspiring vista will make you glad that movie producers were stopped from dynamiting Sunset Crater in 1928.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/sucr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle, which also covers entrance to neighboring Wupatki National Monument.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The U.S. Forest Service runs the Bonito Campground across from the Sunset Crater visitor center from May through October.  Dispersed camping is allowed in portions of Coconino National Forest.

Related Sites

Wupatki National Monument (Arizona)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Capulin Volcano National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – How many millions of years of volcanic activity have occurred in the area around Flagstaff, Arizona?

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Overview

If you seek an otherworldly experience right here on Earth, look no further than Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in southeastern Idaho.  In the 1800s, this massive lava flow proved an obstacle to avoid for immigrants on the Oregon Trail.  In 1969 it truly earned its lunar label by serving as a field school on volcanic geology for NASA Apollo astronauts. 

Highlights

Boy Scout Cave, Indian Tunnel, cinder cones, tree molds

Must-Do Activity

The 7-mile loop road is paved and provides parking at several trailheads, including the wheelchair-accessible Devils Orchard Nature Trail.  Cinder cones, lava tubes, and tree molds are some of the unique volcanic features seen from the trails.  If you come here in the winter the loop road closes due to the amount of snow they receive at 6,000 feet elevation, but you can still explore on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

Best Trail

If you cannot make it to the incomparable Lava Beds National Monument in northern California, you can explore a couple of short lava tube caves here.  To explore Indian Tunnel you will need a free permit, but you do not even need a flashlight.  That is not the case inside the pitch black Boy Scout Cave.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Unlike the moon, there is life here despite its blackened, rocky appearance.  Hearty syringa bushes and limber pine trees sprout from cracks in the lava providing food and cover for sage grouse, pika, and other animals. 

Peak Season

Summer, but it can get very hot on the black rocks without any shade.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/crmo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The 7-mile loop road is paved, but other all roads into the monument require a heavy-duty 4×4 with excellent tires.

Camping

There is a first-come, first-served campground near the visitor center off Highway 93 that provides water, but no RV hookups.  Backpacking is allowed in the wilderness area.

Explore More – In what year did the nearby town of Arco, Idaho became the first community in the world to utilize nuclear power?

Mount Rainier National Park

Overview

Only 3 hours from Seattle, 14,410-foot tall Mount Rainier dominates the skyline in all directions.  It spends many days cloaked in clouds, so your best view might be out a tiny airplane window before landing at Sea-Tac Airport.  It is an active volcano, uncomfortably close to a population of millions, but it provides recreational opportunities year round.  The park truly contains the wonderland for which its 93-mile circumnavigating trail is named.

Highlights

Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland Trail

Must-Do Activity

Despite receiving an average of 680 inches of snow annually, the road to Paradise is open all year.  Even in July, you should pack your snowshoes to follow the 5.5 mile Skyline Loop or the 1.2 mile long Nisqually Vista Trail.  This is the jumping off point for most mountaineers attempting to summit the volcano.

Best Trail

A really fun (or scary) swinging footbridge grants access to the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), where giant Douglas-fir trees tower to more than 300 feet in height.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Reflection Lake is right off the main park road east of the Paradise turnoff.  When there is no wind, it offers a stunning mirror view of Mount Rainier.

Peak Season

Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least 9 months a year.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads to Paradise and Sunrise are paved, though the latter is closed October to July, as is the dirt road that accesses Mowich Lake.  The Carbon River Road in the northwest corner was washed out in 2006, but is still walkable for 5 miles one-way to access Ipsut Creek Campground.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds that accept reservations, but White River Campground near Sunrise has 112 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. 


This design we created to celebrate Mount Rainier National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

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