The United States Congress designated the Lava Beds Wilderness (map
) in 1972 and it now has a total of 28,460 acres
All of this wilderness is located in California
and is managed by the National Park Service.
A million years of volcanic turmoil produced the ragged and seemingly inhospitable landscape of Lava Beds National Monument. But even the youngest cinder cones, hardly more than 1,000 years old, are now covered by vegetation that supports a variety of wildlife. Ground squirrels, deer, marmots, jackrabbits, and rattlesnakes are abundant. In the northern portion, grassland dominates, changing as the ground rises southward to juniper woodlands and, finally, pine in the extreme southern portion. Raptors nest on the cliffs overlooking Tule Lake, which lies just outside the northern boundary within the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge; in fact, more wintering bald eagles can be found here than any other place outside Alaska. Thousands of migratory birds pass through in spring and fall. Beneath the surface, at least 500 caves exist, lava tubes formed by flows that cooled on the surface as molten lava still raged below to drain away. These caves, perhaps only a fraction of the miles of caves that have yet to be discovered, lure most human visitors to the area. Elevations range from about 4,000 feet to about 5,700 feet.
The Modoc Indians, abused and murdered by white settlers, made their last stand here, holding off 20 times their number until their final surrender in 1873.
A substantial portion of land has been designated Wilderness on both sides of the road that bisects the monument. Maintained trails give access to the Wilderness, and off the trails, the hiking can be strenuous. Camping is allowed, but not in caves or near their entrances, nor within one-quarter mile of chimneys, overlooks, and trails. Campfires are not allowed. You must carry all your water. Cold weather has been recorded in every month of the year.