Looking for tips on how to best experience Lava Beds National Monument located in northeastern California? Then this quick guide should have you covered! My name is Jason Shelton and in this article I will cover everything from the best caves to explore, to where to stay and travel tips.
Before I do so, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in the Bay Area and lived here my whole life, other than the four years I spent going to Arizona State. Since college, my passion for new life experiences grew. I found my niche in traveling a lot to beautiful nature destinations in the US.
I wasn’t big into photography in the beginning but I picked it up along the way. It has become more fun as I have gained more experience and skills. My favorite thing is to take photos to tell the story of an unknown or less traveled place to try and inspire others to make their own memories there.
My Experience at Lava Beds National Monument
My mom DM’d me on Instagram because she saw that I liked a photo from Lava Beds National Monument and she wanted to go. So later that week we planned a trip to head up to that northern part of California. I had been to the Shasta area many times and I was excited to see Lava Beds since it was a new destination for me. I was also excited to go with my mom.
We did a mix of hiking in the Trinity Alps, cave exploring at Lava Beds and checking out waterfalls all in the Waterfall Loop. Lava Beds is not a place that is necessarily on the top of many peoples bucket lists but it turned out to be one of my favorite places that I have visited this year.
It’s rather barren around the national monument but once you get to the entrance, everything is very close by. The caves offer many adventures for active people. You go through on your hands and knees in some parts to get through small holes to go deeper into the lava tubes. Some lava tubes are dark while others are well lit. There are a few different caves to explore.
The lava tubes are a mix of just rock with unique formations to an almost gold plated look in certain lighting. There were so few people there that we almost had each cave to ourselves. We could really take our time exploring. I enjoyed how accessible everything was and the fact that there was little wait time between each time we got out of the car. I loved Lava Beds!
Best Caves to Explore at Lava Beds National Monument
My favorite caves at Lava Beds National Monument were Golden Dome Cave, Hopkins Chocolate Cave and Blue Grotto Cave. The Golden Dome Cave was the first cave that we thought had walls that were plated in fool’s gold. It turned out that it was just moisture and some organic matter that created this appearance. Nevertheless, the cave was still spectacular to visit.
Hopkins Chocolate Cave and Blue Grotto Cave were both interesting caves as well and the exterior had some unique natural bridges that were fun to walk around. Doing the Cave Loop is a must-do at Lava Beds National Monument as you can see so many amazing caves in such a small section.
Where to Stay near Lava Beds National Monument
If you are coming to Lava Beds from the south of California, I would recommend staying at either Burney or Dunsmuir. If you are coming from the north then Klamath Falls is a fantastic option. We came from the south and stayed in Burney. It was awesome since there is a small hotel there and some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls just a short drive away.
Dunsmuri has several food options and is along the Waterfall Loop, so this would be another great place to stay. You have to check out Burney Falls, McCloud Falls and Mossbrae Falls (all part of the Waterfall Loop). Other great spots near Lava Beds are Pluto’s Cave and Heart Lake, Trinity Alps. The hike to the top of Heart Lake has epic views of Mount Shasta!
Need to Know Before you Go
Lava Beds National Monument is a little out of the way. Unless you are camping there, I would recommend looking in the surrounding area for more places to explore. The whole Shasta area is stunning. So take your time, plan for a good few days and enjoy the amazing views on offer.
I would like to leave you with my favorite memory from Lava Beds. My mom and I were in the Golden Dome Cave and we were amazed by how beautiful it was! It was nice to be the only ones in the cave. The calmness, darkness and uniqueness was a special moment that I will never forget!