Your Guide to Visiting Idaho’s Craters of the Moon 

Indian Tunnel at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Photo credit: Visit Idaho

In central Idaho lies a stark and striking landscape that seems otherworldly. Vast fields of jagged, reddish-brown to deep black lava rocks stretch for miles, dotted by protruding cone-shaped hills, providing a staggering contrast against the surrounding sagebrush-swept, high-desert plains.  

This unique area, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, makes you feel like you’re standing on the moon’s surface. Its lunar-like terrain was even used by NASA astronauts in 1969 as a training ground for moon missions.  

Established in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge, Craters of the Moon preserves an extraordinary—some might say extraterrestrial—section of land forged over millennia of fiery volcanic eruptions and lava flows. Coolidge aptly called it a “weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself.” 

Today, visitors can experience this unusual topography via a scenic loop drive or hiking trails that meander among craters, caves and twisted lava formations. This year marks the preserve’s 100th anniversary, celebrated with themed monthly events and activities from May through September 2024. 

For a memorable nighttime experience, join a Full Moon Hike led by a park ranger along the moonlit Devils Orchard Trail. As an International Dark Sky Park, Craters of the Moon offers some of the best stargazing in the world. Attend a Star Party, where park rangers and volunteer astronomists provide telescope viewings and educate visitors about the night sky. 

While there is limited first-come, first-served camping available at the park, there is no lodging or amenities. But visitors will find cozy accommodations, delightful restaurants and plenty of activities in three welcoming communities within a two-hour drive. These locations provide ideal base camps for visiting Craters of the Moon and other unique Idaho destinations—whether you’re just passing through, on a weekend getaway or staying longer. 

Twin Falls

In the heart of southern Idaho’s Magic Valley, Twin Falls charms visitors with its stunning setting along the legendary Snake River Canyon and serves as a spectacular launch pad for visiting Craters of the Moon and other nearby attractions. For overnight accommodations, you’ll find several comfortable options to rest and recharge. Blue Lakes Inn offers a cozy stay with modern amenities, while The Fillmore Inn provides a charming bed-and-breakfast experience. If you prefer familiar comforts, La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham ensures a pleasant hotel stay.  

See & Do 

Discover Idaho’s prehistoric history at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, one of the richest Pliocene-era fossil sites in the world. The Thousand Springs Visitor Center houses fossil displays of amazing creatures—saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, the American Zebra and more—that once roamed the area. 

Minidoka National Historic Site preserves a former World War II internment camp where 13,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated in 1942. Today, visitors can view exhibits and a documentary about the site at the visitor center, while exploring remnant areas like a guard station, waiting room and rock garden. 

For more geological marvels, check out nature’s balancing act of a 48-foot-tall, 40-ton rock standing atop a three-foot pedestal. Balanced Rock is a great spot for catching a sunrise or sunset or enjoying a picnic in the adjacent park.  

Those seeking a more serene experience should visit the Orton Botanical Garden, where you’ll find five acres of cacti, succulents and other native, drought-tolerant plants thriving in southern Idaho’s desert climate. The experience ties in nicely with Craters of the Moon’s June theme of Tranquil Wilderness

Eat & Drink 

Twin Falls boasts a vibrant dining scene with various flavors and styles to satisfy all tastes before, in between or after your adventures. Fuel up on classic American pub fare and cold, frothy craft beer at Milner’s Gate. Explore a variety of local food vendors at 2nd South Market—a large indoor food hall housed in a historic —offers outdoor seating, lawn games, fire pits, dog-friendly space and more. 9 Beans and A Burrito serves up delicious Mexican fare—breakfast, lunch and dinner—in a relaxed setting. 


Further up the Snake River, inviting Idaho Falls is punctuated by its namesake waterfall. The small city blends cultural opportunities with convenient access to the great Idaho outdoors. Check into the stylish Residence Inn or Hilton Garden Inn, offering all modern comforts. For a charming bed-and-breakfast experience with picturesque views, stay at Blue Heron Inn in nearby Rigby. 

See & Do 

Delve into the Gem State’s history at the Museum of Idaho, featuring exhibits and hands-on activities ranging from culture to science. The museum provides a fascinating glimpse into Idaho’s past, complementing Craters of the Moon’s May theme of Cultural History

On your drive from Idaho Falls to Craters of the Moon, stop at the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I Atomic Museum. This national historic landmark, which aligns with Craters of the Moon’s July theme of Robust Research, showcases the world’s first nuclear power plant and offers a deep dive into the history of atomic energy. 

Nature lovers should prioritize a trip to Fall Creek Falls to witness the beauty of the cascading water up close and explore the adjacent tiny islands. On your way back to Idaho Falls, cool down with square scoops of ice cream from Rainey Creek Country Store in Swan Valley. 

Eat & Drink 

Speaking of tasty treats, Idaho Falls is home to a diverse culinary scene with something to satisfy every palate. Indulge in a fusion of seafood and American flavors in a lively atmosphere at Smokin Fins. Enjoy mouthwatering gourmet burgers and cold brews at The SnakeBite Restaurant, a local favorite. For an upscale but unpretentious dining experience, Copper Rill offers flavorful dishes crafted from locally sourced ingredients. 


Tucked away in central Idaho’s Wood River Valley, the neighboring towns of Ketchum and Hailey offer a splendid sampling of Idaho’s mountain magic. Ketchum’s transformation from a mining town to a small but mighty hub of boutiques and farm-to-table dining establishments complements Hailey’s Wild West roots and charming main street. Together, they provide unparalleled access to the region’s hiking, mountain biking, hot springs and thriving arts scene. Accommodation range from the cozy, lodge-style setting of Mountain Valley Lodge and the luxurious ski-chalet B&B style of Knob Hill Inn to the familiar comforts of the Best Western Plus Kentwood Lodge

See & Do 

Ketchum and Hailey make excellent base camps for exploring Craters of the Moon, with a variety of activities that cater to all interests. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy with numerous hiking and mountain biking trails in the area, offering a chance to immerse in nature amid breathtaking scenery. The Sawtooth Botanical Garden provides a serene escape with its beautiful collection of plants and themed gardens, perfect for a peaceful stroll. Music lovers won’t want to miss the free concerts at the Sun Valley Music Festival, featuring outdoor classical performances. And don’t forget about the shopping opportunities—adorable boutiques, outdoor gear shops and delightful thrift shops abound! 

Eat & Drink 

For small towns, you’ll be amazed at the spectrum of dining options awaiting in Ketchum and Hailey. Devour hearty breakfasts at The Kneadery, known for its delicious morning fare and welcoming atmosphere. At Rasberrys, you’ll encounter seasonally inspired sandwiches, salads and soups, perfect for dining in or taking out on the open road. In the evening, head to The Pioneer Saloon, a local favorite for impressive meat-and-potato dishes in a rustic setting. Alternatively, Enoteca provides a sophisticated atmosphere with an elegant menu featuring Italian-influenced dishes and an expansive wine list. 

Whichever base camp you choose for your Craters of the Moon adventure, you’ll feel welcomed with warm Idaho hospitality. Learn more about these regions and find helpful itineraries here.