Lava Beds National Monument features the largest concentration of lava tubes in North America (more than 700 caves). Families also enjoy discovering the Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields and campsites, and high desert wilderness. Junior ranger program available.
Index of things to do brochures from the National Park Service http://www.nps.gov/labe/planyourvisit/brochures.htm
Visitor's center open 8:30am-5:00 pm daily.
If you like having seclusion and quiet with your nature, Lava Beds is your spot. It’s remote – located in a corner of California that most people never visit. Most roads into the park wind through mountains and along rivers, making it an effort just to get there. Given the effort it takes to reach Lava Beds National Monument, I highly recommend leaving at least two full days for exploring, more if you prefer to take things at a slower pace.
The 45,000+ -acre Lava Beds National Monument features more than 700 caves – the highest known concentration of caves in the contiguous U.S. The caves were created by flows of smooth lava 10,500 to 65,000 years ago. Which means there’s a lot of cool geological stuff going on here.
There are dozens of developed caves of varying difficulties that you can explore on your own. Exploring caves can be exciting and rewarding, if you take proper precautions and use common sense. A few tips:
• Start at the Visitor Center where you can talk with a ranger to ensure you are properly prepared; you can pick up information about open caves & their difficulty levels, borrow flashlights, & purchase bump hats, batteries & cave maps
• Bring enough light – we each wore headlamps and carried a flashlight (bring batteries, too) & some caves still felt dark
• Long pants, long sleeves, and closed-toed shoes or boots are a must (even when it’s 100 degrees outside, cave temperatures are about 55 degrees)
• Wear a helmet; we used our bicycle helmets but the Visitor Center sells inexpensive “bumphats” if you forget yours at home
• Gloves & kneepads are recommended if you plan to visit more difficult caves
• Choose the right caves for your skill level; all four of us were able to explore the “least challenging” & “moderately challenging” caves, but that might not be the case for every family
• Stay on the trails & leave no trace of your visit; limit what you touch to just what you must to make your way along the trails
By the way, there’s more to do here than just explore caves. You can hike a trail, go bird watching, explore a battlefield, see a crater, and view Native American rock art (there’s more here than anywhere else in California!).
Out in the middle of no where...but SOOO worth the drive!
We drove out there and were impressed by the nice Vistor's Center. Well worth it to leave them your license in exchange for the heavy duty flashlights they will loan you. Purchase the hard hats there...well worth NOT nicking your head on the many rock overhangs while walking in caves. Easily done on your own with the self-guided map. We also signed up for the guided tour to the Chocolate Cave...even though we had never caved before...and with 2 8 year olds...we did great!
We went in summer, and did not need jackets inside the caves, but DO BRING water bottles. You can fill them up at the Visitor Center. Great bathrooms at the Visitor Center too. Little snack stand and many great park items too.
Great story of Indians holding off 'white men' and you actually get to walk the same path...gave me goosebumps!
We all loved it!
I disagree that this is for all ages. It's rough terrain with lots of rocks and brush and there can be snakes. I would say this would be best for around 10 years and older. Definately not stroller friendly. Some caves require climbing ladders. There is one lighted cave at the visitor center that's relatively easy.
Get started on exploring the spectacular, unusual geologic and historic sites at Lava Beds by spending time at the new visitor center, where exhibits and videos explain what you will see.
You can borrow lanterns and helmets here for self-guided and ranger-led tours of the lava tubes— there are more than 400 of them (I recommend only guided tours, for safety’s sake). A popular lighted cave, Mushpot has a mile of fascinating catacombs, and Skull Cave is a 750-foot-tall chamber with ice floors.
Although most of the sights are underground, you can also see a lot on walking trails. The Schonchin Butte 0.75-mile trail leads to a panoramic view from the fire lookout, which is staffed from June to September; ask the rangers about the Junior Fire Lookout badge. There are Modoc Indian War battlefields, spatter cones, craters, lava flows, petroglyphs, and more wild and crazy landscape.