Today is an exciting day for me on Handstands Around the World. Today features my very first guest post! The guest author: my mom. She’s been reading my posts since I started this blog and she’s always been there to help me remember the details of our trips, proofread, and remind me of my propensity to overuse the comma.
This time, she’s the one doing the writing and remembering and comma-using. There will probably be substantially fewer commas in this post.
Anyway, my mom and sister returned to Craters of the Moon last year and were able to explore the newest addition to the park – the Wilderness Trail, which departs from the furthest point on the loop road and extends 5 miles (8 m) across the lava fields.
These are their adventures:
A relatively new trail is the 5 mile (8 km) long Wilderness Trail, which takes you through the park’s designated wilderness area to the Sentinel, a black cinder cone in the farthest reaches of the Park. The trail is relatively flat which makes this an easy hike but you do hike over cinders and through lots of sage so good footwear is recommended. In addition, there are no trees or shade so you are very exposed to the weather and should be sure to wear sunscreen, have extra clothing, and take lots of water.
As you start, you will come to a junction where, if you go left you will hike part of the Broken-Top Loop, or right to go straight to the Wilderness trail, which we did. Initially hiking through characteristic lava features, we continued past Big Cinder Butte, which is the tallest volcanic feature in the park and serves as a good landmark. Out in the distance to the right is Crescent Butte, also a good landmark. On your left, about a half mile beyond Big Cinder Cone, be sure to visit the lava tree molds. These unique features were formed when lava surrounded trees which later died and decayed, leaving just the lava holes. There are 8 of these tree molds and each is a bit different from the others.
Once you pass the lava trees, continue along the trail toward Echo Crater, passing by Coyote Butte off in the distance. Unexpectedly, we saw two elk moving through the tall grasses in this area. We actually kind of spooked them and they ran off before we could snap any good photos.
At 4 miles (6.4 km), Echo Crater is the destination for many hikers. However, we did not stop at Echo Crater on our way out but opted to continue the final mile to our destination at the base of the Sentinel. It’s worth noting that the trail is a bit harder to find once you get beyond Echo Crater, largely because it continues over grasslands and through knee-high sage, but also because few hikers venture beyond that point. However, if you power on and search a bit, it is completely doable. At the five-mile mark, the trail was no longer visible but we had reached our destination. At this point, we had left everyone else behind and enjoyed the absolute quietness of this beautiful area. There are some picturesque outcroppings and flora that few people who visit the park ever see.
After enjoying the solitude as we ate our lunch, we started back and this time, did bushwhack up the side of Echo Crater to the rim. It was a bit of a lung-buster but well worth the effort and the views down into the cone and out over the Great Rift were quite beautiful. We did not go down into the cone but there is a trail that does so and people often camp at the bottom.
After exploring and photographing the Crater, we descended on the opposite side from where we climbed and continued back toward the trailhead, this time veering right to the Broken-Top Loop, which winds past a wide variety of volcanic features, including lava bombs, lava tubes, pahoehoe, pressure ridges, and cinder cones.
Also along Broken-Top Loop is Buffalo Cave. The entry to the cave is pretty low, though we could stand as we got farther back. The cave is small and very dark inside so there wasn’t much we could explore. A flashlight is a must in this cave, as you crawl over boulders getting in and out and there are low rocks overhead.
Even if you do not wish to hike the Wilderness Trail, the 1.8 mile (2.9 km) Broken-Top Loop is one hike that should be on your list.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Arco, ID on US Highway 20/26
- Fees & passes: $10 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted. You’ll need to obtain a free permit at the Visitor Center if you want to enter Buffalo Cave
- Camping: Lava Flow Campground; 51 sites, no reservations (you won’t need them), $15 per night
- Hiking: Wilderness Trail; 10 miles (16km) RT, departs from the very tip of the loop road
- Other: There’s no water beyond the visitor center and campground, so plan accordingly. When you’re out on the trails, remember that the rocks are hot and incredibly sharp, there is no shade, and wind is a constant