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Lava Beds Wilderness

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Photograph taken in  the Lava Beds Wilderness


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 Wilderness, located in the Lava Bed National Monument. Despite this, even the youngest cinder cones—hardly more than 1,000 years old—are now covered by vegetation which supports a variety of wildlife. Ground squirrels, deer, marmots, jackrabbits, and rattlesnakes are abundant. Plant species such as desert sweet, purple desert sage, yellow blazing star, spreading wood fern, western swordfern, as well as a variety of lichens and mosses are also common. 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, and thousands of migratory birds pass through each 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.

The Wilderness is split into two sections, bisected by a road that runs through the monument. Maintained trails give access to the Wilderness, and off the trails, hiking can be strenuous. You must carry all your water. Cold weather has been recorded in every month of the year. Winter temperatures typically range from 31.5 degrees F – 68.0 degrees F with freezing temperatures occurring between September 23rd and June 7th. In the summer, there is an average of 21 days in which temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. The Wilderness receives 14.8 inches of rainfall, annually, as well as around 44 inches of snowfall.

Planning to Visit the Lava Beds Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Lava Beds Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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