Arizona is known all over the world for its impressive landscapes, including deserts, canyons, and unique rock formations. One of the state's true hidden gems is the Lava Tubes just outside of the city of Flagstaff. In an area that is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and lush forests, the thought of finding lava-forged tunnels beneath the surface of the earth might sound strange, but that's exactly what makes this little wonder one of Arizona's most special and impressive sites to visit.
Getting to the Lava Tubes in Flagstaff
The Lava Tubes, also known as the Lava River Caves, are located in the Arizona's Coconino National Forest. The entrance can be found approximately 14 miles (23km) outside Flagstaff, so it's only a short drive from the city to the caves. Things to Do in Flagstaff
Managed by the United States Forest Service, the Lava Tunnels are open all year long but are sometimes inaccessible due to adverse weather conditions in the area that can lead to the surrounding dirt roads becoming muddy and impossible to drive along, meaning that they are usually closed through the winter months and any potential visitors will have to hike or ski to the entrance instead.
Getting to the caves is very simple, with visitors simply needing to follow Highway 180 north up to mile marker 230. From there, turn left onto Forest Road 245 and follow it for a little while before turning left again onto Forest Road 171, which will lead you directly to the parking lot for the Flagstaff Lava Tubes.
Visiting the Flagstaff Lava Tubes
The Flagstaff Lava Tubes are a 700,000 year old rock formation, created when lava flowed out through a volcanic vent and hardened over time, creating a unique cave system for people to explore. It's a real natural marvel and the only example of a navigable lava tube in this part of America.
Naturally, anyone with an interest in geology or natural science will adore exploring this formation, as will any outdoor enthusiasts. Families also like to investigate the Flagstaff Lava Tubes too and the cave runs for less than a mile, so you don't need to be too physically fit to see the whole thing. It's also just one long cave, so there's no chance of you getting lost or accidentally taking a wrong turn anywhere.
Little unique lava rock formations can be found all along the passageway and it can be truly breathtaking to walk through the lava tubes and simply admire this unique feat of nature. If you do decide to visit, however, be sure to respect the area and avoid leaving any litter behind or defacing the walls. Graffiti has been an issue at the Flagstaff Lava Tubes but it’s vital for visitors to try and preserve the area for future generations.
Important Information for the Lava Tubes at Flagstaff
First of all, it's important to note that the lava tubes are unstaffed and have no admission fees or ticket-based entry. All you have to do is walk right up and head inside, but it's important to be prepared. This means you should bring your own equipment for safety and practicality reasons. For example, visitors are recommended to come equipped with multiple light sources, like flash lights, lanterns, or glow sticks.
It's very dark inside the caves and the rock floors can be extremely slippery and uneven. It's easy to fall over and get yourself lost in the dark, so it's always smart to have light sources nearby. In case one of those light sources breaks or runs out of battery or gets lost somehow, it's smart to have a couple of backups as well. You definitely won't want to be down in the lava tunnels without any light to guide you. Since the floors can be so slippery, it’s also a good idea to wear a good pair of hiking boots with firm grips to cut down your risk of having a fall or accident.
The temperature in the caves tends to stay between 35 and 45°F all year long, even during the hot summer months, so another way to be prepared for your lava tunnel trek is to dress appropriately. You may want to wear warm summer clothes on the way there, but be sure to pack jackets and additional layers for when you actually descend into the tunnels. If there has been any rain or snow in the area recently, the lava tubes will also be quite damp, so this is another reason to cover up and dress warmly.