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Lava Beds National Monument Guide — Camping, Visitor Center, and More

Amar Hussain's image
Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

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Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Keri Stooksbury

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Lava Beds National Monument offers visitors incredible opportunities to explore a land created by volcanic eruptions over the last 500,000 years. Lava tube caves, Native American rock art, cave systems, and historic campsites and battlefields are just some of the things you will see at this park.

Fewer than 100,000 visitors explore this phenomenal park each year to discover the land’s rugged beauty and the mesmerizing story of its past. 

How To Get to Lava Beds National Monument

Where Is Lava Beds National Monument?

Lava Beds National Monument is a remote park in a rarely visited northeastern corner of California. This park stretches over 73 acres of land with over 800 caves, high desert wilderness, and a diverse volcanic landscape. Medford, Oregon, and Reno, Nevada, are the closest major towns to this park.

Lava Beds National Monument Opening Seasons and Hours

Lava Beds National Monument is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is closed on Christmas Day and sometimes closes due to inclement weather. The typical hours for the visitor center are from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Nearest Airports to Lava Beds National Monument

Several options can be used when flying to Lava Beds National Monument, but there will be a lengthy drive to get there due to the park’s remote location. Below are the 2 closest options for flying to the monument. Read about their benefits and drawbacks to see if you can determine an option that will work best for you. 

Rogue Valley International Medford Airport (MFR)

Rogue Valley International Medford Airport is located in Medford, about 2 hours from Lava Beds National Monument. This is the closest airport option to the park. 

This airport offers nonstop service to 12 destinations, including Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco. Airlines serviced include Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, and United.

Bottom Line:

Opting to fly into Rogue Valley International Medford Airport is ideal for those who want to maximize their travel time. This will get you as close to the park as possible.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO)

Reno-Tahoe International Airport is the closest major airline to Lava Beds National Monument. This option is located in Reno, approximately 4 hours from the park. 

Over 20 nonstop flights are offered from this airport, with more than 130 arrivals and departures daily from hubs such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, and New York. Several well-known airlines are serviced by this airport, including American, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country, and United. 

While this option is a bit further from Medford, it may be great if you prefer to fly into a larger city. Once you arrive, you can rent a car for the final leg of your journey to the park. 

Driving to Lava Beds National Monument

LABE Fee Entrance Booth
Image Credit: NPS

There are several routes for those driving to Lava Beds National Monument. Check out some of the routes, depending on where you are traveling from.

Don’t forget to fill up your gas tank at one of the surrounding communities before heading to the park. There aren’t any gas stations near the park, which could lead to serious concerns if you don’t plan ahead. 

From the Klamath Falls Area

For those coming from the Klamath Falls area, use Oregon Highway 39 South for about 20 miles until it enters the town of Merril. At one mile south of Merril, turn right onto Malone Road. Travel this road for 32 miles until you reach Stateline Road 161, and then turn left onto Hill Road. Drive 10 miles on Hill Road until you reach the monument. 

From the I-5 Corridor

Many visitors come to this national monument by the I-5 Corridor. From the I-5 Corridor, take U.S. 97 north at Week and then take California Highway 161. This highway is also called Stateline Road. Drive east on this highway through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to Hill Road. Take a right onto Hill Road and follow the signs until you arrive at the monument. This is about a 10-mile drive. 

From the Redding or Lassen Volcanic Park Areas

Visitors from the Redding or Lassen Volcanic Park areas will travel north at Bieber on Hackamore/Lookout Road. Drive north on CA 139 until signs direct you to the monument. Once you turn off CA 139, the road becomes Forest Service Road 97, and then you will take a left onto Forest Service Road 10, which becomes the park road. 

Taking the Train or Bus to Lava Bed National Monument

There is no train or bus service to Lava Bed National Monument.

Getting Around Lava Beds National Monument

The best way to get around Lava Beds National Monument is by private vehicle. Another option is to take advantage of a commercial tour. All the roads throughout the park can accommodate standard vehicles, and there are several places to stop and explore along the way.

Check the Lava Beds National Monument Alerts & Conditions website in advance, as the weather often impacts the roads. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your adventures at this monument. 

What To See and Do in Lava Beds National Monument

There’s no shortage of amazing sights and activities in Lava Beds National Monument. From hiking and guided tours to touring incredible visitor centers and exploring underground labyrinths, there’s something every visitor will enjoy at this national monument.

Caving

Caving Lava Beds National Monument
Image Credit: NPS

Caving is one of the most popular activities at Lava Beds National Monument. There are 24 caves available to explore, and each one is unique. Depending on your ability and comfort level, there are beginner, intermediate, and expert caves.

Some popular caves to explore include Mushpot Cave, Skull Cave, and Golden Dome. Be sure to follow the safety guidelines and read about what you can expect while exploring these underground caverns. 

Gillem’s Camp

Gillem’s Camp is where Army soldiers were stationed during the Modoc War. This area of the monument was home to nearly 600 troops for 7 weeks during the spring of 1873. Life wasn’t easy then due to poor food, isolation, and lack of medical supplies. The troops were constantly under the threat of attack.

Today, visitors can walk the guided trail to learn more about the Modoc, the Army, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the rangers that hold this location near and dear to their hearts. There is also the opportunity to hike to Gillem Bluff along an old Army route. This bluff rewards visitors with beautiful views of the volcanic landscapes.

Guided Tours

Guided tours and other interpretive programs are offered regularly from Memorial Day to Labor Day. These programs include guided cave tours, nature walks, historic walks, and evening campfire programs. Participating in one of these programs is an excellent way to learn about the cultural and natural history of the park. 

Hiking

There are 13 hiking trails at this national monument. The trails range from easy, short hikes to strenuous treks. Many guests enjoy hiking the Captain Jack’s Stronghold Trail, the Heppe Cave Trail, and the Petroglyph Point Trail. Hiking the trails is an excellent way for visitors to take in the beauty of the park’s landscape, as well as some major points of interest like Petroglyph Point and Hospital Rock.

Hot Tip:

If you plan to hike during your visit, taking plenty of water, sunscreen, and other forms of sun protection is crucial. It is also essential to watch for dangerous wildlife like rattlesnakes and be prepared for sudden weather changes.

Petroglyph Point

Petroglyph Point
Image Credit: NPS

Lava Beds National Monument has an extensive collection of Native American art. Several cultural sights showcase pictures and petroglyphs that are approximately 6,000 years old. The Modoc people and their ancestors made this rock art.

Most of the petroglyphs at this park are located at Petroglyph Point, a former island in the historic Tule Lake. Seeing these ancient relics is an incredible way to understand the culture within this park better. 

Visitor Center

The visitor center at Lava Beds National Monument is a fantastic place to start your adventures. This facility offers unique exhibits that teach about the Lava Beds and its culture and history.

There is an on-site bookstore and a place to purchase drinks and snacks. Visitors can also be screened for white-nose syndrome before heading into the cave (we have more details on this toward the end of our guide). This is also where you can watch a park film and rent hard hats. 

Best Times To Visit Lava Beds National Monument

Any time you can visit Lava Beds National Monument, you are in for an experience of a lifetime. If there are particular events or activities you want to participate in, there may be a better time than others to visit.

Best Time To Visit Lava Beds National Monument for Ideal Weather

The weather can make or break a trip. The best time to visit Lava Beds National Monument for ideal weather is in September. The temperature ranges from the low 50s to the upper 70s, and there’s not a high possibility of rain this month. 

Best Time To Visit Lava Beds National Monument To Avoid the Crowds

Mount Shasta
Image Credit: NPS

Lava Beds National Monument only has around 500 visitors on its busiest day, so any time you visit, you will enjoy a less crowded experience. The best time to visit this park without crowds is in September. Once school returns from summer vacation and Labor Day travel subsides, there is a dip in visitation, making it an even better time to visit. 

Best Time To Visit Lava Beds National Monument for Camping

If you enjoy sleeping under the stars, you won’t want to miss the chance to camp at Lava Beds National Monument. The best time to camp here is in August. Daytime high temperatures reach the mid-80s, and night lows are near 60 degrees. Warm days and cool nights with the slightest chance of rain for the entire year make camping in August a dream. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Lava Beds National Monument

Saving money while traveling may seem impossible, but with some planning, you will find it completely doable. The cheapest time to visit Lava Beds National Monument is mid to late September. Lodging and flight rates are much lower this time of year due to school returning from summer vacation and this being one of the least busy months. 

Annual Events in Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument offers a variety of programs on a regular basis. These events include night sky programs, guided walks and talks with rangers, and ranger-led tours of some park attractions. There aren’t many annual events, but one takes place every few years to commemorate a special occasion. 

Remembering the Modoc War

Remembering the Modoc War is a special event that takes place for milestone anniversaries. This event is always held in April. This event honors the legacy and impact of the Modoc War of 1872-73. This program includes guest speakers from the Klamath tribe, guided walks, tribal storytelling at the visitor center, and other special activities to remember this historic event. 

Where To Stay in Lava Beds National Monument

Nailing down accommodations is always one of the first things to do when planning a vacation. This is a breeze when visiting Lava Beds National Monument. Plenty of options exist within the park’s boundaries and in nearby towns.

Inside the Park

Fog over Tule Lake
Image Credit: NPS

The only option for lodging within Lava Beds National Monument is camping in the great outdoors.

Indian Well Campground is a developed campground open for tent camping, campers, and motor homes and is open year-round. This option is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each site includes a picnic table, fire ring, and cooking grill. There are also restrooms with water, sinks, and flush toilets.

Backcountry camping is also permitted in different areas of the monument, should you seek a more primitive stay. 

Towns Near Lava Beds National Monument

There are several towns where visitors choose to set up a home away from home near Lava Beds National Monument, but each option requires a bit of a drive. Take a look at the 2 closest options to the monument.

Merrill, Oregon

Merrill is one of the closest towns to Lava Beds National Monument. This town has several restaurants, lovely places to stay, and many things to see and do. A few locally-owned motels, lodges, and bed and breakfasts make perfect places to stay in this town. Many visitors choose a quiet retreat in nature at one of the rustic lodges. 

There aren’t many restaurants, but this town’s options are excellent, from authentic cultural cuisine to classic diners. If you are looking for something to do in this Oregon town, there are historical museums, unique shops, and lots of hiking, biking, and exploring opportunities.

Bottom Line:

Merrill is only 17 miles from Lava Beds National Monument and has terrific opportunities to make a visit memorable and comfortable.

Tulelake, California

Tulelake, known as The Gateway to the Lava Beds and The Gateway to Adventure, is the closest town to Lava Beds National Monument, only 15 minutes from the park. There are great options for dining, lodging, and recreation.

Historic lodges, family-owned motels, campgrounds, and cabins are just some of the lodging options in this town. No matter your preference, you can find the perfect accommodations here.

There are only a few restaurants in Tulelake, but they are phenomenal. One is a mom-and-pop old-fashioned diner and a delicious, authentic Mexican restaurant. They have a variety of meals that you can try night after night. 

The top activities in this city include exploring the national monument, enjoying the stunning Tule Lake, hiking, biking, and taking in the wildlife at the wildlife refuge. 

With so much to see and do and great options for dining, accommodations, and adventure, it’s no wonder why so many travelers set up in Tulelake when visiting Lava Beds National Monument.

Where To Eat in Lava Beds National Monument

There are no restaurants within the boundaries of Lava Beds National Monument. Some snacks can be purchased at the bookstore in the visitor center, but if you are hoping for a meal of more substance, the best option is to drive to one of the nearby towns. Check out some of the top-rated restaurants near this national monument. 

Mike and Wanda’s Restaurant and Bar

Mike and Wanda’s Restaurant and Bar is a family-owned restaurant serving classic American dishes and drinks. This restaurant is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner. 

Burgers, sandwiches, salads, seafood, and steaks are some of the items found on the menu at this restaurant. Customers rave about the hot beef sandwiches, fish and chips, and clam chowder. When hunger strikes, you will find everything you crave at Mike and Wanda’s. This restaurant is in Tulelake, about 15 minutes from the park. 

Señor Tequila

Señor Tequila is an authentic Mexican restaurant in Tulelake, just 15 minutes from Lava Beds National Monument. This restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The menu features classic Mexican cuisine, such as burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and chimichangas. Popular dishes include the pork carnitas, the fish tacos, and the Chile Colorado. With hearty portions and unmatched customer service, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to dine at Señor Tequila.

Lava Beds National Monument Facts

Winter solitude at at Lava Beds
Image Credit: NPS

1. A New National Monument Established

Lava Beds National Monument was established on November 21, 1925.

2. The Original People of the Park

The original people of the Lava Beds area were the Modoc. This people group inhabited the land from 5,000 BCE to the 1870s. Due to the Modoc War, this group no longer lives there. 

3. An Abundance of Animals

Several animals call Lava Beds National Monument home. These animals include 16 species of bats, an abundance of mammals, several kinds of reptiles, 2 types of amphibians, and a great number of crustaceans and cave invertebrates. 

4. Civilian Conservation Corps

From 1935 to 1942, hundreds of young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the original structure of the monument. You can still explore this original infrastructure from over 70 years ago. 

5. White-Nose Syndrome

Large numbers of bats have been dying in the U.S. and Canada since 2006 from a disease called white-nose syndrome. This condition is fatal and is associated with exposure to a particular fungus. This syndrome does not spread to humans, but humans can spread the fungus throughout the caves, mines, and bat roosting sites. Visitors can be screened to ensure the caves and mines are safe from contamination. 

Final Thoughts

Lava Beds National Monument is an incredible place to explore below and above ground, whether you like learning about culture, history, or nature. Something appeals to every traveler here, from guided tours and caving to hiking and touring ancient battlefields.

Book your trip to this mesmerizing park and discover a world of history, culture, and an unbelievable story of how the land was formed. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Lava Beds National Monument?

There is an entrance fee for entering Lava Beds National Monument. The fee is $25 per vehicle. This fee covers a pass that is valid for 7 days of entry to the park.

How much time should I spend at Lava Beds National Monument?

Spending a minimum of 2 days exploring Lava Beds National Monument is recommended. This park has so much to see and do above ground and below. Taking 2 days allows plenty of time to hike, participate in a guided tour, and explore the underground caves.

What is the weather like at Lava Beds National Monument?

The weather varies depending on the season at Lava Beds National Monument. Winter lows reach about 20 degrees, and summer highs get into the 80s. Summertime brings frequent thunderstorms, and snow has been recorded during all months at this national monument.

Are there any attractions I should check out near Lava Beds National Monument?

There are several popular attractions near Lava Beds National Monument. Some of these attractions include Medicine Lake, the Modoc National Forest, Glass Mountain, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Tule Lake National Monument.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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