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.
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.
- 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.