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Explore / nature / higher elevations

Lava River Cave

2 Cool Lizards travel guide
Flagstaff Area Exploration

Exploration of this cave involves a steep decline over large boulders. The inside of the cave can be quite slippery when wet, and icy during early summer, fall or winter. A good headlamp is necessary due to the darkness inside the cave. Temperatures are in the lower forties year round so dress appropriately. The cave is open year round but the forest road is not always open (due to weather or other conditions). Check with the Coconino National Forest Service for current road conditions, or call their Flagstaff office at 928-527-3600.

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Inside Lava River Cave Arizona The 1 mile long lava tube cave is completely dark once you get past the first area and enter the second small opening, so a good headlamp is necessary (photo on the right). We carried a flashlight, as did others who entered when we were there, but many ended up putting the light into their mouth so their hands could be free to hold onto boulders.

The inside temperature is fairly consistent year round, usually in the lower forties (degrees fahrenheit). Wear shoes with good soles for stability when climbing over the large boulders, and a jacket for warmth. Some people say gloves are necessary. We did not have any but I overheard a woman say that she wished she had brought some.

The first opening to crawl through can be seen down in the earth's indentation that surrounds the opening. After crawling through that opening, you will be in a chamber that still has light. The climb down to the next opening is not terribly difficult; however the boulders must be navigated and are too large for small children. Treacherous falls are possible. Most boulders are stable, but my foot slipped when one smaller boulder turned under my foot.

After crawling through the second opening, the cave becomes totally dark. Further on, the area opens up to a larger space. Deeper in, stone "drips" can be seen hanging from the celing. These were formed when the molten lava flowed through and melted the rock. It started to drip, then hardened into the icicle type shape as it cooled. The ceiling of the cave has several low areas, and the floor can be uneven or slippery. Watch your feet as well as your head!

The first photo below was taken down toward the second opening. The middle photo was taken by turning directly around from the view of the first photo, and looking back toward the mouth of the cave. The lower right photo was taken while coming back up and out, after going through the opening shown in the second photo.

Also see:
Lamar Haines Trail
Aspen Nature Trail
Red Mountain Trail

opening to interior part of Lava River Cave
Second Opening Toward Interior
mouth of Lava River Cave
Looking Up Toward Mouth
Lava River Cave
The Climb Back Out


Take Highway 180 NE out of Flagstaff. From Highway 180, turn left on Forest Road 245. Then turn left onto Forest Road 171 and watch for signs to the Lava Cave.

Resources: Coconino National Forest Service

Coconino: Lava River Cave Coconino National Forest Service: Lava River Cave

accessible travel Accessibility

Lava River Cave Trail The forest road leading to the Lava River Cave is accessible by vehicle. It is a dirt road, so do not enter when flooded or raining. The path leading from the parking lot to the cave area is also hard dirt, and accessible. The cave is not accessible. There were no restrooms in the area.

travel with children Children
This is definitely NOT a small child-friendly cave. There are large slippery boulders to crawl over, which are larger than small children. Older children must be able to follow direction carefully, not be afraid of the dark, and understand the dangers. It is a wonderful, fun place to explore, but safety precautions must be considered. Watch children carefully; do NOT allow them to deface the area. The cave and nearby animals must be respected at all times.

There were no restrooms nearby so be sure to stop in a town before entering the Forest Road 245 from highway 180.
travel with pets Pets
Leashed dogs are allowed in the cave per the sign at the cave entrance (August 2014); remove any waste.

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