Lava River Cave, Flagstaff
Categories: Caves, Wildlife Areas, Nature & Parks
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.Make Lava River Cave part of your personalized Flagstaff itinerary using our Flagstaff vacation route planner.
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This was a fun side trip that took a few hours. I'm glad I did it but don't need to do it again. I think the kids I saw had the most fun. You will need a good light, very good shoes, some water, and a... read more »
so glad the salesperson at Babbitt's knew we needed a headlamp to navigate this. I have a vision problem so i need both hands free. he also advised us we would need jackets. This attraction is okay I ... read more »
Went to Arizona Snowbowl but the ski lift was being repaired so did a little hike on the trails there then and asked a park worker if they had a suggestion of what else to do she suggested the Lava Ri... read more »
Sarah Jean Kutzler
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.
it was a lot of fun crawling around in this cave! It was somewhat adventurous as well and not too long and not too short. Just less than a mile in less than a mile out. Nice little workout incredible views after lava cave/tube. Definitely worth a visit
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.
This is a great place to take any out-of-town visitors who would like to experience some unique things while they're visiting you. My sister's family was visiting from New York and we took them here and they loved it! As others have suggested, it's smart to bring a hands-free headlight. However, a hard-hat helmet is not needed. Just be careful and you'll be fine. Plan on this taking around 3 hours at the very max, in and out, if you're planning on going to the very end of the lava tube. That's if you're taking it slow. If you want to hurry in and out, then you could easily do it in an hour and a half.
What an awesome, unique experience. We had "directions" to the Lava River Cave from the ranger station, and still missed our last turn, but we made it, and what an adventure! A few lessons we learned: wear hard-soled shoes (sneakers were not the best option); wear layers (it does get chilly inside the cave!); take hands-free lighting (head lamps are best); use fresh batteries in your devices (my husband's batteries died about half-way in); take more than one light source per person! This isn't the place for those afraid of the dark, and probably not good for small children. And although I don't like small places (slightly claustrophobic), I was too busy watching my steps to consider how tight some of the areas are. That may be an issue for some folks. All in all, I had a blast! One of the highlights of our trip to Arizona.
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