5 Awesome Adventures in the Lava Beds National Monument

Sitting in the the tippy-top of Northern California is one of the most beautiful, historical parks in all of California. Combining geology with history and just good ol’ fashioned outdoor beauty, this rugged terrain is one of NorCal’s most fascinating and underrated outdoor destinations.

The Lava Beds National Monument is a land of turmoil, both geologic and historic. Over the last half-million years, volcanic eruptions have created a rugged landscape dotted with diverse volcanic features. Lava tube caves, Native American sites, historic battlefields and a high desert wilderness experience highlight an adventurous trip to the park.

Let’s look at 5 awesome adventures in the Lava Beds National Monument:

Going Underground

Although the scenes above ground are beautiful in their own right, the main attraction in the Lava Beds National Monument is its 20 developed lava tube caves that are open to the public.

Many of the developed caves contain trails through the cave and stairways or ladders into the cave. Most of the developed caves are located along Cave Loop, a 2-mile road near the visitor center. Just a short walk from the visitor center, Mushpot Cave contains exhibits and is the only lighted cave at Lava Beds. Developed caves are divided into three groups based on their varying levels of difficulty in the hardest section of the cave: least, moderate, and most challenging.

Read more about An Underground Visit to the Lava Beds National Monument

Visit 6,000-Year-Old Petroglyphs

In the Lava Beds National Monument sits a wall of stone with petroglyphs that are dated as far back as 6,000 years old. The Petroglyph Point rock wall near the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern corner of Northern California sits as an ancient history book of NorCal.

Petroglyph Point is an easy hike in the Lava Beds National Monument, a little under a mile, and can give you some great insight into the ancient history of NorCal. This very short trail begins on the east side of the Petroglyph Point just beyond the bulletin board on the dirt road. The trailhead parking lot is on top of a short rise across from the trail entrance. Hike to the top to enjoy an impressive view of the basin and the Medicine Lake volcano.

Petroglyph Point was once an ancient island on Tule Lake, which is historically home to the Modoc Tribe. The site contains one of the largest panels of Native American art in the United States. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Learn more about the ancient petroglyphs of the Lava Beds National Monument

Adventure Under the Stars

Lava Beds National Monument. Flickr/sodai gomi

With the park being so rural in the upper portion of NorCal, it rarely sees any man-made light, making it one of the best places on the west coast for stargazing. The park’s clean, dry air miles-and-miles away from urban pollution has to be seen to believe. In fact, the park is known as a dark-sky preserve, which means the area naturally restricts artificial light pollution.

A Historical Journey

Illustration of Captain Jack’s Stronghold during Modoc War

According to the National Park Service, the area is one of the “longest continually occupied areas in North America.” It was long a home to indigenous populations, most notably the Modoc and Klamath nations. At several locations in the Monument, petroglyphs can be found. Petroglyph Point is a sheer rock that has been carved into for generations. It is visible from any point of elevation in the park and I remember standing at the Visitor Center of the park looking out across the lowlands and seeing the spiked mountain to the north and the sheer face of Petroglyph Point right beside it.

As settlers expanded westward, displacing the indigenous populations, the local conflict came to a head in the Modoc War (1872-1873). Leading up to the war, the Modoc were forcibly placed in a reservation with one of their historic enemies, the Klamath. The Modoc Leader Kientpoos (also known as Captain Jack) loosely led several smaller groups into an area that is now known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold, a location that can be visited in the Park today. It has deep lava trenches cut through the area, as well as small caves, and can seem labyrinthine and enigmatic to anyone not familiar with the area.

Learn more about The Conflicted History of the Lava Beds National Monument

Become a Junior Ranger

National Park staff invites kids of all ages to become Junior Rangers at the Lava Beds National Monument. Bring the family for a day full of activities, especially designed for those with a curious mind.

The goal of the Junior Ranger program is to introduce children to the natural and cultural wonders all around them and their role in preserving these wonders for the future. Kids will discover native plants with biologists, study caves with speleologists, identify tools with maintenance staff, and learn about snakes, bats and birds with interpreters. While honing these skills, children will also learn about the amazing diversity with Lava Beds National Monument.

Learn more about the Junior Ranger Program at the Lava Beds National Monument

Have fun on your awesome adventure to the Lava Beds National Monument!

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California
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