Lava Falls

Rounded mounds of cracked slabs of rock surrounded by rubble.
Lava flow features like ropy pāhoehoe (pronounced pah-HOY-hoy), ‘a‘ā (pronounced AH-ah), squeeze-ups, pressure ridges, and fissures abound across the landscape.

NPS Photo by John Kuehnert

The Lava Falls Trail forms a one-mile loop with a short spur trail leading into a natural amphitheater of lava. This trail is marked by cairns, or rock piles that serve as trail markers. Although the trail is relatively short, its surface is very jagged and uneven. Hiking here with pets is not recommended. Picnic tables and the pit toilet are wheelchair accessible. Please be prepared before setting out on this or any other hike.

The Lava Falls Trail is located 36 miles south of I-40 on New Mexico Highway 117.

Lava cairns mark the trail at Lava Falls.
Piles of rock called cairns mark the route on many trails at El Malpais. Please do not disturb these cairns or build new cairns to prevent confusing other hikers.

NPS Photo by John Kuehnert

Hiking Cairned Routes

Sometimes the only trail markers along El Malpais trails are cairns: a series of rock piles used to trace a route across the land. Cairns are common on lava landscapes where creating a traditional trail or footpath is impossible because of the extreme nature of the terrain.

Hiking cairned routes requires more attention to navigation. As you travel, make sure you have the next cairn in sight before moving on to the next one. Keep your eyes on the land while walking; the uneven nature of the terrain demands it since there is no even surface. If you want to enjoy the views, stop first to get a secure footing, and then look around. Look back frequently to stay familiar with the landscape as it changes.

Please take care not to disturb cairns as you hike. Do not build new cairns. Building cairns off the intended route may cause other hikers to become disoriented and lost.


Things to Do at Lava Falls

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    Last updated: September 5, 2022

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