Volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have
created an incredibly
rugged landscape punctuated by cinder cones, lava flows, spatter cones, lava tube caves and pit craters. During the Modoc War of 1872-1873, the Modoc Indians used these lava flows to their advantage. Under the leadership of Captain Jack, the Modocs took refuge in "Captain Jack's Stronghold," a natural lava fortress. From this base a group of 50 men and their families held off US Army forces of nearly 1000 men for five months. Visitors can tour both the geologic and historic wonders of this great National Monument.
Basic Information for Lava Beds National
Operating Hours for Lava Beds National Monument
Lava Beds National Monument is always open to visitors. The visitor center
hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during winter season and 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.during summer season (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas).
PLANE - Klamath Falls International Airport
CAR - Visitors travelling south on Highway 139 (from Oregon)
will see signs four miles south of Tulelake directing them into Lava Beds.
Visitors travelling north on Highway 139 (from Alturas) will see signs
27 miles north of Canby directing them into Lava Beds.
Weather & Climate
The weather in northeastern California is particularly unpredictable and visitors should be ready for all conditions throughout the year. Generally, however, summers are sunny and warm while winters are cold with below-freezing nights and occasional snow. Visitors should always have warm clothing, sturdy boots, gloves, and protective headgear available if they plan to visit the lava tube caves. Bumpcaps for caving are sold at the visitor center. Bike helmets also work well.
The visitor center, restrooms, and one campsite are accessible.
Camping at Lava Beds National Monument
Indian Wells Campground
Open All Year
Indian Well Campground in the south end of the park has 40 campsites suitable for tents and small to medium-sized RVs. Fees are $10.00 per night, per site. Water and flush toilets are available. One group site is available by reservation, the other sites are available on a first-come first-served basis. Fire wood collecting is not permitted at the campground but is allowed 1/4 mile from the developed area and at least 100 feet from any road or trail. No lodging is available within the monument.
Activities and More Information for Lava
Beds National Monument
Go to Visitor Center
The visitor center is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm during the summer season, 8 am to 5 pm after Labor Day. Exhibits and video programs interpret the cultural and natural history of the area. A booksales area operated by the Natural History Association provides a variety of educational materials, postcards, bump caps and posters. Rangers are there to answer questions and provide information. Lanterns, on loan, for exploring the caves are also available.
Visit a Lava Tube
Caves can be explored on your own or with a ranger. For a safe adventure you should have at least one light per person. Helmets are highly recommended. Please do not eat or smoke in the caves. The caves come in varying degrees of difficulty, ranging from a lighted cave, Mushpot, in the center of the parking lot, to the mile-long Catacombs, with long stretches of duck walking or crawling. Drop in at the Visitor Center. A ranger will be happy to recommend a cave or caves that would be just perfect for you, your family, or friends. Dont leave Lava Beds without trying one of these gems.
Go on a hike
Trails range in length from .75 miles to 9.5 miles one way. Be sure to carry plenty of water and wear sun protection. A trail brochure is available at the visitor center. Pets are not allowed on the trails. The Bunchgrass Trail begins across from site B-7 in the campground. It follows an old roadbed around the northeast side of Crescent Butte and is approximately 1 mile long. The Three Sisters Trail also begins at the campground from Loop A. This trail travels out into the back country and ends at Skull Cave, about 8.75 miles distance.
Other trails include Big Painted Cave and Symbol Bridge which begins on the Skull Cave road and winds .75 miles past lava tube collapses to view pictographs at the bridge and cave. Heppe Cave Trail, .75 miles, can be found on the road to Mammoth Crater. View an enormous lava tube collapse and follow the trail down into Heppe Cave which has a large opening at both ends.
Longer trails include the Whitney Butte Trail, 3.5 miles one way, that begins at Merrill Cave and the Lyons Trail which connects the Skull Cave parking lot with Hospital Rock, 9.5 miles one way.
Scale a Cinder Cone
Cinder cones are easily eroded so please stay on the established trails and dont take shortcuts. Frothy lava, cooled in the air, created the large cinder cones throughout the monument. Schonchin Buttes .75 mile trail leads you to a panoramic view from the historic fire lookout. The lookout is staffed from June to September. Children of all ages can earn a Junior Fire Lookout badge.
Explore the Battlefield Sites
Battlefield sites include the Thomas-Wright battlefield, Gillems Camp, Canbys Cross, Captain Jacks Stronghold, and Hospital Rock. Explore these sites to learn the history of the Modoc war. Gillems Camp, US Army Headquarters during the Modoc war, Canbys Cross, where E.R.S. Canby was killed, and Hospital Rock can be visited by a short walk from the parking lots. A walk to the top of Hospital Rock leads you to an interpretive sign explaining the significance of this area of the monument. It also affords you a beautiful spot to view and photograph Mt. Shasta.
For a longer tour, hike the 1.2 mile trail from the Black Crater parking lot to the site where Captain Evan Thomas and Lieutenant Thomas Wright lost half their men. A self-guiding brochure is available at the trailhead at Captain Jacks Stronghold. As you travel through this lava fortress you will see how the Modocs held off a force 10 times their strength. Inner loop .6 miles, outer loop 1.1 miles. Be prepared for rough terrain.
Check out a Crater
Mammoth Crater and the nearby Modoc Crater is the source of lava that created many of the caves in the monument. Drive to Mammoth Crater and Hidden Valley on a dirt road just north of the visitor center. Hidden Valley, across the road from Mammoth Crater is a large conduit for the lava which flowed from the crater toward Tule Lake about 30,000 years ago. Experience the solitude of the ponderosa pine forest on a short trail that leads to the bottom of the valley.
Ranger Led Programs
Ranger-guided programs are conducted daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. No reservations are necessary. Walks and cave tours meet at the visitor center porch. Activities include a morning walk at 9 am, an afternoon cave tour that begins at 2 pm and an evening campfire program at the campground amphitheater. During the winter programs are available with advance reservations.
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