Lava Beds National Monument

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Lava Beds Are Very Cool

Dec 29, 1999 (Updated Feb 4, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lava tubes, Native pictographs/petroglyphs, ranger-led activities, desert hiking, activities for the whole family

Cons:Remote location

My wife and I went to Lava Beds National Monument in July 1999. It was an excellent park and an excellent trip.

Lava Beds is in the far Northeastern corner of California. It's actually pretty hard to get to. We didn't go straight there, but if we did, it would have taken us probably 12 hours from the Bay Area. You really have to want to go.

I really did want to go, and it was worth the trek. The star attractions, of course, are the lava tubes. There are over 30 tubes that are "developed" (i.e. marked), with countless others available for the intrepid. I'm not much of a caver and neither is my wife, but we really enjoyed touring around in the tubes. We went to over a half-dozen, and they were all different. Some were smooth; others were rocky. Some were labyrinth; others were a straight shot. My favorite tubes were the tubes with multiple levels, and on the lower level, the floor of the tube was all ice. You couldn't touch the ice, but it was still really neat. We brought bike helmets to tour around the caves--it is essential that you have protective headgear!--and the park rangers check out flashlights to you. The rangers also lead tours through the caves, which I really wanted to do but we ran out of time. All in all, the tubes were loads of fun.

There's lots more to do at Lava Beds if you want. We went hiking on a few trails. We took the ranger-led hike up Schonchin Butte for great views and a discussion of local flora/fauna. We also walked in the flatlands to some caves with Indian pictographs (and, sadly, some fake ones). There was excellent birding at Tule Lake, a pleasant hike through the site of the Modoc Wars, and Petroglyph Point, the most impressive collection of Indian petroglyphs (and some fake ones, too...) that I've seen.

We didn't need 4 wheel drive for any of this, although a few trailheads were at the end of well-graded dirt roads. However, there were some neat things to see that require 4WD, but we passed on those.

We stayed in the campground, which is almost mandatory because the next nearest lodging is probably 30 minutes away and not all that nice. The campground isn't huge (I think 40 sites) but we had no problem finding a spot mid-week at the end of July. The campground was pretty nice, and except for the accursed amplified music from one rowdy site, was actually pretty peaceful. The rangers had an evening program at the campground's ampitheater at night. The evening we were there, it was on astronomy. The program was led by a college student who knew less than I do but was still a little charming, and the stars were amazing since the park is so remote.

You should note that Lava Beds gets about 6 inches a year of rain, so it's really a desert. So it's not "pretty" the way that other parks in California are. But if you like the desert, the park is great!

Lava Beds is one of the best-run parks I've been too and has great attractions both for the lone wolf misanthrope and the family with young kids. Enjoy!

For more info, this website is great:

Recommend this product? Yes

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