Located a short drive outside of Flagstaff, AZ is the Lava River Cave. The Cave is located in the Coconino National Forest. The “Cave” is actually a Lava Tube that is believed to have been formed roughly 700,000 years ago by molten rock that erupted from a volcanic vent. The cave itself is about 3/4 of a mile long underground. Making for a mile and 1/2 walk underground in complete darkness. Cool!
Several routes are provided to get to the location of the Cave. This is how we went:
From Flagstaff, AZ travel I-40 west. Take exit 185 toward Bellemont/Transwestren Rd (At the Pilot Travel Center) continue West on old 66 for less than a mile, take the first right (dirt Road) heading North; “Fire Road 171”. Follow the dirt Road for about 7 miles until you see the parking area to the right.
Within this area dispersed camping is allowed. However, The Coconino National Forest ask that you don’t camp within 1 mile of the Cave entrance. As always if you choose to camp, please obtain all permits, check with the local rangers for restrictions, and practice safe camping methods. Pack it in, Pack it out!!!
From the Parking area it is a very quick walk to the cave entrance. Several signs that give information can be seen as you approach. At the entrance is also a log book to sign in.
If you go into the cave please make sure that each person in your group has at least 2 light sources each, 3 would be recommended. If you were to fall or lose a light; walking over a mile in complete darkness would be tragic. Also the cave is cold. So dress appropriately. The cave can be as cool as 42° even in summer, and you may even find some ice inside. The rocks are always sharp and slippery, too.
Above is ice formations at the entrance of the cave. It is dark and some rocks are covered with this Ice, so proceed carefully. (The rocks hurt when you fall on your butt…)
Once you are in the cave most of the trail is reasonably smooth and easy to walk on. You will still need to watch for loose rocks and squat at time when the ceiling drops, (Watch your head) but walking from here on out is fairly easy. In some areas the Tube is huge, so take your time and enjoy the view.
The Lava River cave is Free to enjoy. So do exactly that, Enjoy it! Please respect the surroundings of the Coconino National Forest and respect others that may be walking the cave at the same time that you are. I must always remind everyone that caves can be dangerous. This in not a guided tour, so please practice common sense.