Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Craters of the Moon National was established in 1906 with the Antiquities Act to preserve “A weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself”.
Craters is unique in many ways, but one thing that stands out, is that there is a wilderness area within the park. Craters was actually the first NPS unit to do so! A free permit is required to enter the Wilderness and less than 100 people are year do this. When we realized that and saw that we could camp in a crater, we knew we had to take the opportunity to do it while we were there!
Because of all of this, we were looking most forward to this stop on our trip. We planned on hiking the 3.4 miles or so into the Wilderness to camp at Echo Crater! This is why we had to pack so much, because we wanted to backpack overnight at least for this one night.
As we were driving toward Craters from Minidoka, it was just a regular desert/mountain landscape. Out of nowhere…lava fields! We saw the park sign and we were suddenly within park boundaries.
We stopped at the visitor center to pickup our permit and what do you know, the two guys in front of us were also making the trek on that night. 4 of the 100 people a year at the same time!🤷🏼♂️🙃
From this point on, we were on a race to get through the rest of the park and start hiking before these guys did. We wanted to make sure we had first dibs on where to pitch our tent!
We traveled the scenic drive and hiked a couple short trails. The walk up Inferno Cone was quite an experience and had incredible views from the top. The Snow Cone and Spatter Cone trails were also very unique. These cones formed as molten lava shot up a short distance and fell back to the ground, creating a a cone around the vent. Sticking together and then cooling, they look like a mini volcano of their own.
At this point, we were still ahead of the guys and anxious to get on the trail. We had a bit of work to do once at the trailhead, to get all packed up, so we rushed there to get at it. As we started walking away form the car, we saw them pull up and felt that we had a good enough head start. But then, my back and butt felt soaked. My bladder was leaking and the bottom of my pack was drenched in the little amount of water we had on reserve. We returned to the car to refill and I ended up having to CARRY my bladder in one hand and a trekking pole in the other🤦🏼♂️.
I would have just drank from my water bottle, but we needed the water for not only the hike in, but for cooking and the way back the next day. We were kind of frustrated at this point and worried that they would catch up, so we just took off. It’s a small walk around a side of the parking lot before you reach the actual trail, but as soon as you do, wow! Straight into the lava beds, with mountains in the back ground; it was a surreal landscape.
The Wilderness trail ends at about 4 miles in and we knew that Echo Crater was between 3 and 4 miles. We had a park map and were relying on our Apple Watches and the map to find the correct spot. Around the 3 mile mark, we spotted something that looked like the crater. I sat my pack down and ventured off the trail to check it out (we knew there was no obvious trail to the crater, off of the main trail). I wasn’t totally convinced that this was it, so I went back to the trail and scouted ahead. After discussing with Kayla, we felt that this had to be it. Based off of the map and the way the trail was headed, it had to be.
I pick up my pack and…my back support is poking through the bottom of my bag. My bladder is broken, my pack is broken, we are somewhat lost and we are not happy. We make it to the crater and find a small way in and then realize there is absolutely no where to pitch a tent in this place. I walk back up and out to scout some more and find a small, flat area between the crater and a smaller hole. We call it good and setup camp.
It wasn’t until a few days later, that we finally were able to do some more research and find out that we were NOT at Echo Crater. It was just around the corner and we didn’t even get to see it. With our high expectations and excitement, I think we left this park a little disappointed. Looking back at it, it was more in our attitudes than the park itself. We felt rushed from the beginning, had two gear malfunctions and didn’t exactly know where we were going. I think we would do this trek again, and make sure we knew exactly were Echo Crater was.
Even though we didn’t make it to THE crater, we still loved our campsite and had an amazing night out on the lava beds. We cooked dinner, played games and had a couple beers. In the morning, we made coffee and packed up the site. And although we couldn’t wait to take those damn packs off our backs, the hike out may have been even prettier than the one in.
Until next time, Craters of the Moon!
Day 3 up next!
This park film is also available online: