General Trip Planning Information
IMPORTANT NEWS: If you plan to go caving at Lava Beds and have been caving in the Eastern United States anytime recently, please visit the Lava Beds website for important information on how to protect Lava Beds' bats from deadly White-Nose Syndrome
Lava Beds has twelve hiking trails. The most popular trails are short, but lead to interesting historic sites and geological features. Due to resource concerns, pets and bicycles are not permitted on any park trails, in non-developed area or caves. All trails cross or enter the non-developed backcountry, while the long trails are primarily in designated wilderness areas. Carry plenty of water regardless of trail length—no surface water exists at Lava Beds. Watch for rattlesnakes and wear sunscreen and a hat in summer. Be prepared for sudden weather changes any time of year.
Lava Beds has many lava tube caves that beckon exploration. They vary greatly in difficulty, length, and complexity. Over two dozen caves have developed entrances and trails, and are shown on the Monument's map. Most are open throughout the year to explore on your own.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Summer Weather: Intense sunlight and warm temperatures require plenty of sunscreen, brimmed hats, and a lot of water to drink. In fact, we recommend consuming up to a gallon of water per person, per day. And remember, sweet sports drinks and sodas can do more harm than good in hot weather. They can actually cause cramping and serious medical problems. It's safer to drink water, or water mixed with a small amount of a sports drink for flavor.
Winter Weather: During cooler months, be sure to bring gloves, a warm hat, and be prepared for sudden shifts in the weather. What might seem like a pleasant fall day can quickly become a blizzard, so be prepared for the worst just in case. Waterproof boots are a must for navigating through snow at cave entrances.
Safety and Current Conditions
Caving: Long pants, long sleeves, and closed-toed shoes or boots are a must for all caves. Temperatures in the caves average 55 degrees Farenheit all year. Three flashlights per group is a bare minimum, in case of dead bulbs or batteries, and everyone in your group needs their own. Flashlights can be borrowed from the Visitor Center, but must be returned each afternoon.
Always let someone know where you are going and when you will return when caving. We highly recommend a helmet to protect your head; bicycle helmets work fine, and we sell inexpensive "bumphats" in the Visitor Center. We also recommend sturdy gloves and kneepads if you plan to visit more difficult caves, as you can expect to crawl on jagged lava. Maps of the inside of the developed caves are also available for sale in the Visitor Center, and are highly recommended for the more difficult, more complicated caves.
Rattlesnakes: One poisonous snake, the western diamondback rattlesnake, finds valuable habitat in the park. While exploring the lava beds, never place a hand where you can't see it. If you do encounter a rattler, heed it's warning buzz and back away calmly.
Mountain Lions: Stealthy and elusive, this is mountain lion territory. Always accompany small children and avoid traveling alone in the backcountry, especially if you are of small stature. Be especially wary at dawn and dusk, when lions are most active. If you do encounter a lion that seems curious about you, shout, throw rocks, and make yourself look as big and mean as possible. Do not run away, and contact help if the lion is not scared off.
Diseases: There are several rare but serious infections that can be transmitted by the wild animals who make Lava Beds their homes. If you follow park policy of keeping your distance from wild animals and their homes, you will not only ensure they stay wild, but you will protect yourself from disease and injury.
Although no known cases of bubonic plague have been recorded at Lava Beds, it is usually transmitted when a human is bitten by a flea that has previously bitten an infected rodent.
Hanta virus is transmitted by breathing in aerosolized particles of urine, feces, and saliva left behind by rodents. When caving, try to keep your face away from rodent droppings.
Histoplasmosis is also transmitted by breathing in particles of infected bat guano. At Lava Beds, caves with significant guano deposits are closed in summer to protect maternal colonies.