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Lava River Cave, Flagstaff

4.7
#2 of 9 in Wildlife in Flagstaff
Lava River Cave is a lava tube cave in northern Arizona's Coconino National Forest. At approximately 0.75mi long, it is the longest cave of this kind known in Arizona. The cave was discovered by some lumbermen in 1915 and has historically been referred to as "Government Cave" due to its location on the eastern edge of Government Prairie and southeast of Government Peak. Today, Lava River Cave is freely accessible to the general public.
Geologists believe the cave was formed sometime between 650,000 and 700,000 years ago when molten lava erupted from a volcanic vent in nearby Hart Prairie. The top, sides and bottom of the flow cooled and solidified, while lava in the middle flowed out, leaving a hollow space to form the cave. Examples of both ʻAʻā and Pāhoehoe basaltic lava can be seen in the cave.
The cave is mostly dry, but due to the temperature change, there is a lot of condensation on the walls, ceiling and floor near the entrance, which makes it slippery. Temperatures inside are around 40°F (5°C) during the summer, and it is not uncommon for some of the rocks to be covered with ice. The cave can range in height from to only 2to. There are no light sources inside. It is recommended visitors have sturdy hiking boots, warm clothing, and multiple sources of light.
Litter and graffiti have been problems since the late 1960s. A major restoration effort was organized in May 1991. Almost all the litter was packed out and much of the graffiti removed at that time. Dogs should not be taken in the cave since there are only limited and very slow biological processes to render their urine and feces unobjectionable.
The entrance to the cave is around west of Flagstaff, Arizona. Being in Coconino National Forest, the cave is managed by the United States Forest Service. While the cave is open year round, the dirt roads which lead there may be impassable to cars in winter months or during wet weather conditions. There are no entrance or use fees.
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Lava River Cave Reviews
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating
TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
425 reviews
Google
4.8
TripAdvisor
  • not worth the long drive out there - just a shallow, dark, musty hole in the earth I found depressing  more »
  • This cave does not disappoint! It is as nature left it - no electricity, no pavement - but plenty of cool exploration moments. The trip this year was made extra-adventurous by closed Forest Service ro...  more »
  • We tried this out on a recommendation of a friend. It's a pretty cool experience. If you are claustrophobic, maybe just climb into the begining part of it. If you don't have an issue with enclosed spa...  more »
Google
  • Such a cool hike. I went in the spring and there were so many ice sickles all through out the cave it was unbelievable. It is recommended to bring some gloves and a flash light and an extra just in case. It would suck getting stuck down here.
  • This was a super cool hike but make sure you are prepared. Take a couple of flashlights and some extra batteries. It is chilly while inside so take warm clothes and make sure you wear rugged shoes because you are walking on jagged rocks the bulk of the time. I wouldn't recommend taking children under the age of 8.
  • It's pretty rough going at first, but it smooths out after a while. There is one split in the path. While entering, stay to the left. The right path requires you to crouch low to get through. Most of the cave is fairly level, no climbing involved except at the entrance. Sturdy shoes are a must.
  • Very fun out and back trail. Take a jacket and head lamp. Very neat to see
  • This was our third visit to the Lava Cave. Always a great experience. Anyone visiting should understand that this is a slightly challenging activity. There are sections that you must bend down, crawl through or climb along. It will be literally freezing cold year round at the entrance and considerably warmer down at the end. Be prepared to get dirty, bring two or more good lights per person, wear layered clothes and solid shoes. Got to the bathroom before you go in. There is no where to go in there and it can take a while to go to the end and back out.
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