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Lava River Cave, Flagstaff
(4.7/5 based on 320+ reviews on the web)
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. The cave has also 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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Reviews
TripAdvisor
  • Very busy in the summer months, lines to get in on the weekend. Go in the winter and you;ll have the place to yourself during the week. 
  • Go to this place is a good hike. There walk enough and take warm clothes because there in it much lower temperature.
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  • I love hiking into the lava tube here in flagstaff! the last time i went there was still snow up top and there were giant icicles dangling down at the entrance. This is a chilly hike i recommend you b...  more »
Google
  • While this spelunk is not technically challenging, I would tell folks to wear sturdy hiking boots ( something with ankle support) rather than running / trail shoes. The floor of the cave is very irregular. While we were in the cave, I noticed quite a few people having trouble staying upright and they were all wearing lightweight running shoes. A lot of rock has fallen from the cave ceiling which makes for angular surfaces to traverse. Also, like other reviewers have posted, bring good lights and extra batteries. More than 1 light in case your primary light fails. I used a head light which is nice because it leaves both hands free to grapple rocks. Take your time going through the cave. It's only .75 mile but seems longer especially if you don't make it a race. Lastly, if you bring it in with you, bring it out. I was a bit surprised to see discarded soda cans, candy / food wrappers.
  • Service and food were excellent! A little hard to find since its up an unmarked street, but well worth the effort!
  • Dog lovers- not very feasible, very rocky and presents impassible paths for dogs. Rock scrambling required- best suited for the able and fit. Requires light source. Recommend more than a phone. Recommend cold weather clothing, it is cold. Scrambling best with pants vs shorts.
  • We went on a fairly crowded Saturday morning in the summer. There are lots of places to park near the entrance though you may have to walk a little ways if you park near the back. As you approach the cave you immediately feel the cold air rushing out of the cave; it feels amazing especially on a warm summer day. The first 50 yards of the cave (pictured) is mostly downhill climbing on rocks after which it more or less flattens out though still will require vigilance to avoid slipping or hitting your head. Things to bring: - a head lamp & backup flashlight, you will want both hands when ascending and descending - a light jacket but nothing heavy is needed, the physical activity necessary to climb in the cave will keep you warm - decent shoes Things not to bring (into the cave): - small children who cannot climb independently in slippery dark situations or might get scared. - extremely bright flashlights, leave them at home, they blind other hikers and don't allow your eyes to adjust to the dark environment.
  • Really awesome place! Our family loved it. A few tips, though: ***Number 1: Bring very strong flashlight/headlamp - headlamps are best cause you WILL need your hands for getting in and out. It is VERY dark. We bought some cheap headlamps from walmart for the kids, they did okay with them, but I'd prefer brighter. My husband and I shared a single lantern - bad idea. It kept getting dropped, it wasn't bright enough. ***Number 2: Bring a sweater, even gloves if you have skinny kids like mine. It's chilly in there, enough that you can see your breath. My kids biggest complaint was their hands hurting and being cold. ***Number 3: If you bring a water bottle, make sure it can attach to you so you can keep your hands free. ***Number 4: Have good shoes. It can be slick and wet in places. ***Number 5: GO EARLY! We got there just before noon on a Saturday. It was kinda busy. Had to wait for people coming out before we could go in. But leaving the cave it was PACKED! There was nowhere to park. Speaking of: The lot is almost as primitive as the road out there with stumps and holes. So if you have the option, bring an SUV or truck. If we come back we will camp somewhere close and wake up early to go. Or if we didn't have kids, we'd go during the week. ;) ***Number 6: BE CAREFUL! PLEASE! We saw a few people tumble - more so in the areas where it seems to open up and be flat but it isn't really. The ground is lumpy... almost jagged in places. Some rocks are loose. We saw one college kid take a pretty bad tumble and knock her head. One of my kiddos almost ate it except for the fact I was holding onto the back of her hoodie and pulled her up. My husband and I both rolled our ankles a few times. BE CAREFUL! and probably have first aid in the car just in case.