Lava River Cave (Lava Tube)

Lava Tube Sign

Explore the volcanic history of Northern Arizona firsthand by taking a hike into Lava River Cave, near Flagstaff.  The hike is approximately ¾ mi each way, a total of about a mile and a half through a tube or cave made of lava.  It was formed about 675,000 years ago from a lava flow that erupted a few miles west of there. As the lava flow cooled and began to harden, it formed a hard shell, tube-like cover. The lava flow continued through the tube until it stopped and sealed off. Lave tubes are usually sealed on both ends, but in some cases the surface collapses, which creates an entrance into the tube.Lava Tube1

At Lava River Cave, near Flagstaff, you must access the entrance by taking forest roads, then park and walk a short distance to the walled entrance area. Any vehicle should be able to drive easily down the dirt roads. We took our van. There is a posted sign with information right next to the entrance.

Lava Tube2To get into the actual lava tube, you have to climb down a rocky entrance. Once you get into the tube, it opens up and you can easily walk. Some areas in the cave are easily 30 feet high, while others are quite a bit lower.  I highly recommend wearing sturdy, comfortable hiking boots or athletic shoes. The walk through the cave is over rocky, rough, hardened lava.  As you walk along, you can notice the different formations, such as ripples in the floor, and hanging icicles from the ceiling that were formed when another volcanic blast caused the ceiling to re-melt temporarily and then re-harden. Lava Tube3

Be prepared! The temperature inside the Lava River Cave is a consistent temperature of about 40 degrees all year long. You will need a sweatshirt or jacket! Also, I have to stress wearing proper foot-wear again. The rough terrain would be difficult in flip flops for sure. Because of the rough terrain, and low temperatures, I would also recommend wearing long pants or jeans.  But, the most important items to have with you, besides water, are flashlights! At least 2 per person and extra batteries are best.

The entire hike inside the lava tube is in complete darkness! Therefore, if you only have one flashlight and it goes out, you will be in complete darkness!  We really like the LED lights and the headlamps worked great with the kids.  The last time we hiked the tubes, we had 7 people and 11 flashlights between us, and 7 of our flashlights went out on the way back! I’m not kidding! It was eerie. But, we were fine because we stuck together and had brought extra lights and batteries.  

It is really fun to gather your group close together and turn off your lights. It is so dark that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face! The teacher in me thinks that this is a great opportunity to learn about light! The kids just thought it was “wicked cool.”

Lava Tube4There are even a few geocaches around the Lava Cave area. We always like combining activities with geocaching if possible! The whole adventure takes a couple of hours at most. However, there is no place to go to the bathroom inside the cave, but there are plenty of trees to hide behind on the outside.  They also ask that no pets are taken into the cave. 

This is an awesome adventure for all ages! All of my kids were able to do this easily. The last time we went, my son was 3 and he walked, holding our hands. I would highly recommend hiking the Lava River Cave. If you have time, check out some of the other volcanic areas, like Sunset Crater National Monument. You could have a volcanic adventure!

To get to the Lava River Cave:Lava Tube5

From Flagstaff, go northwest on US 180 to mile marker 230 (9 miles). Turn left (W) on FR 245 and follow it 3.6 miles to its intersection with FR 171. Turn left (S) on FR 171 and go 1.0 miles to FR 171B. Follow this .25 miles until its end and park in the parking area. The cave entrance is east of the end of the road. Look for a large circle of rocks that mark the cave entrance.

GPS coordinates are N 35° 20.525 W 111° 50.136