Thing to Do

Backpack the Craters of the Moon Wilderness

A hiker with a large backpack traverses a lava field.
Backpacking is a unique way to experience the Craters of the Moon Wilderness.

Fewer than 100 visitors obtain a backcountry permit for the Craters of the Moon Wilderness each year, making this a unique wilderness experience and an excellent opportunity for quiet, solitude, and stargazing.

The Wilderness Trail

The Wilderness Trail stretches about 4 miles from the Broken Top Loop trailhead to The Sentinel.

Begin your hike at the Tree Molds and Broken Top Loop parking area. Walk back along the sidewalk approximately 75 yards to the Broken Top trailhead, where the trail immediately splits. Take the right fork to follow the Wilderness Trail directly across the young lava along the southern edge of Broken Top cinder cone. (A scenic alternative route on the way to or from the wilderness is available following the Broken Top Loop trail, via the left fork, along the forested northern part of the cone.) Follow the posts over the lava to reach the entrance of Buffalo Cave. (A free permit, separate from the backcountry permit, is required to enter any cave.)

After crossing the lava, the trail reconnects with the Broken Top Loop, and hikers should watch for signs to continue southeast, following the Wilderness Trail. The trail runs past Big Cinder Butte, which rises 700 feet above the surface. A half mile beyond Big Cinder, look for a series of lava trees and fissures west of the trail. The trail winds between Coyote and Crescent Buttes to Echo Crater. There is no obvious trail into Echo Crater. The easiest approach is from the north side. Veer to the east through the sage brush and enter the crater from the gently sloping eastern approach. This vast crater offers protection from the sun and wind and lovely camping spot near large rocks and stands of limber pines.

The hiking trail becomes less distinct beyond Echo Crater, but can be followed as far as the Sentinel, where it disappears altogether. Cross-country travel is possible beyond that point; however, dense shrubs and uneven lava make the going slow and sometimes unpleasant. Long pants offer protection from the coarse vegetation.

Know Before You Go

  • There is no reliable source of water in the Craters Wilderness. We recommend packing one gallon of water per person per day.
  • The lava can be uneven and sharp. Wear sturdy shoes and use caution, especially if traveling off-trail.
  • Plan for hot, dry weather, high winds, and little to no shade.

Permits

A free permit is required for all overnight trips into the Craters of the Moon Wilderness Area. Permits can be obtained at the visitor center during business hours. This enables the National Park Service to monitor how many people are using the wilderness, to inform wilderness users of regulations, and to ensure the safe return of all visitors. 

Wilderness Regulations

  • No wood fires are allowed. Use backpacking stoves for cooking.
  • Bicycles and other mechanized equipment are not allowed.
  • Pets are not allowed on any hiking trails.
  • Camping is not permitted within one mile of the Tree Molds trailhead.
  • In order protect Craters' sensitive bat population from disturbance and the spread of White Nose Syndrome, all wilderness caves are closed to public use.
  • Groups are limited to 8 people.

Leave No Trace Tips

  • Pack out all waste, including human waste and toilet paper.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Choose a spot where you do not need to move rocks or disturb vegetation.
  • Do not collect rocks or other natural objects.
  • Do not approach or feed wildlife.
  • Plan ahead: know where you're going and ensure you have everything you need for a safe, enjoyable, and low-impact trip.
  • Learn more about Leave No Trace principles.

Stories from Craters

Read a firsthand account of a Craters Wilderness experience by Paul Miller, 2015 Artist-in-Residence.
Details
Pets are not allowed on any hiking trails.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 recognized wilderness as as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain". Although we now recognize that humans have always played a role in wilderness (the Shoshone-Bannock peoples have lived and traveled through this area for thousands of years), Craters' wilderness area remains remote, undeveloped, and a sanctuary for native plants and wildlife.

Designation of the 43,243 acre Craters of the Moon National Wilderness Area was signed into law on October 23, 1970. With that legislation, lands within Craters of the Moon National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park became the first within the National Park System to be designated as wilderness.

Expansion of the Monument in 2000 included another 495,000 acres of adjoining lands already determined by the Bureau of Land Management to be worthy of wilderness designation.

Recreational use of the wilderness area has remained very limited. Fewer than 100 people a year obtain overnight camping permits for the area. The entire area is snow covered and virtually inaccessible for at least 1/3 of the year. The vast majority of overnight wilderness users hike the Wilderness Trail and camp inside of Echo Crater.

Accessibility Information
The trail is unpaved, rugged, and narrow in places. Sections of trail or access to campsites may have steep grades.

Pets are not permitted on any trail, but service dogs (dogs that are specially trained to perform a task for a person with a disability) may go wherever visitors are allowed.

Learn more about accessibility at Craters of the Moon.

Last updated: August 20, 2021