Lava Beds National Monument was the next stop on the Pop Up Camper Road Trip 2015. Originally, we had planned to stop in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but because much of that park seemed very similar to Yellowstone, we opted to take a short jaunt off the beaten path. Lava Beds is located in Northern California, very near the Oregon border. Honestly, we couldn’t find much information about the park itself other than what was on the NPS website. It seems as though this little gem doesn’t get as much visitor traffic as some of our better known parks, but it is worth the trip.
There is a campground at Lava Beds called Indian Well. It is located about 1/2 mile from the visitor center and cave loop and is first come, first serve. There are 43 sites available at $10/night, and they are pretty primitive. There are no hookups, but potable water is available. There are also flush toilets throughout the campground, but no showers, dump station, or laundry facilities. The sites we saw weren’t very well suited for pop up camping either.
I don’t know if perhaps we just didn’t explore the campground well enough, because the website states that Indian Wells is suited for trailers. Most of the sites we came across, however, had a large common area with several campsites in the middle. Parking was scattered around that central campsite area. Perfect for tent camping… a little harder for pop up camping. We stayed in site #16 and ended up popping up the camper in the parking area outside our campsite. Luckily, we had the place to ourselves, because I’m not sure this would have been possible during a busy weekend.
Each campsite had a picnic bench, standing grill, and a fire ring. There were bear-proof trash receptacles throughout the campground, but we didn’t have any bear restrictions. We were able to keep all of our food in plastic drawers in the back of our car. There wasn’t much shade, and it was pretty dry when we were there. It was a bit hard to get a good picture of the campground and parking area, but you can kind of get the idea of our setup here.
Although the campground wasn’t ideal, the park itself was amazing. Lava Beds is home to over 20 developed lava tube caves which you can explore on your own. We started at the visitor’s center and got a basic map of the caves in the park. If you are going spelunking, they recommend wearing appropriate safety gear including long sleeves, long pants, closed-toed shoes or boots, gloves, kneepads and helmets. Gloves, kneepads, helmets and flashlights can be purchased at the visitor center. Flashlights can be checked out for free at the visitor center, and they also had cool bump hats available for purchase. PopUpGirl #2 really wanted one. Every time she hit her head, she reminded us that she needed a bump hat. 😉
Unfortunately, we didn’t come very well prepared. We had intended to bring headlamps, but in all the chaos of packing, I left them home. We didn’t have any extra room for bump hats or helmets, so we played it safe and explored some of the more developed caves. We were able to check out a few flashlights from the visitor’s center, and headed out to explore Mushpot–the closest and most developed cave–first. Mushpot is just a short walk from the visitor center and is well-lit. It’s a perfect first cave to explore. Once we got a feel for what the lava tubes were all about, we headed down the cave loop to explore some of the other caves.
We spent several hours exploring the developed caves within the loop. Some of the caves were closed due to nesting bats, but the kids loved the ones we were able to explore. None of these caves had lighting, but our flashlights were enough. The park brochure gave us just enough information about the caves to make it fun and exciting. Even though the caves were developed, we still felt like explorers.
There are several caves outside of the cave loop that you can explore as well. We were able to explore Skull Cave and Merrill Cave in addition to the caves inside the loop. I hear Valentine Cave is worth the drive, but we were worried about rain and getting flashlights back to the visitor’s center before closing, so we didn’t get to explore that one. If you plan better than we did, give yourself adequate time, and bring the appropriate gear, you can really enjoy the caves to the fullest.
The gate to the cave loop closes when the visitor’s center does, so make sure you check the park hours before you drive in. You can still explore the caves, you just won’t be able to take a vehicle in or out of the cave loop. We explored until closing time, and headed back to camp. Although the site wasn’t ideal for pop up camping, we still had a great time. The kids pulled out their instruments, and we cooked up a great meal. Why does food always taste better when you are camping?
HELPFUL TIPS FOR POP UP CAMPING IN LAVA BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
- There are NO hookups, although potable water is available at several water spigots around the campground. There is also no dump station, but we were able to dispose of our gray water in the campground toilets. There are only about 40 sites at Indian Wells Campground and you cannot reserve sites ahead of time–they are all first come, first serve.
- You can buy ice at the visitor’s center and firewood at the camp host. The camp hosts and rangers were all very friendly and helpful. We often saw the camp hosts driving around with firewood and stopping to chat with visitors.
- There are no showers or laundry facilities at Indian Wells campground, but a couple of bathrooms with flush toilets are scattered throughout the campground.
- Lava Beds National Monument is in a pretty remote area. There is no gas available in the park, so you’ll want to top off in a nearby community such as Klamath Falls or Merrill, OR, or Tulelake or Aluturas, CA. Depending on your route, the last gas station you’ll pass may be over an hour away from Lava Beds. We learned that the hard way and had to back track for gas. Boo! 🙁
We are so glad we made this little stop. It was a great experience for the family, and we made some amazing memories. If you’ve never heard of Lava Beds National Monument, you should check it out. It’s well worth the drive… and if you’ve been there, let us know. We’d love to hear about your experience. 🙂
New to The Pop Up Princess? Would you like to catch up on our road trip adventures from the past five years? You can find those links here: