One mile back into Lava River Cave, hikers can turn off their flashlight and stand in complete darkness at the end of the trail. The only sounds that can be heard are the occasional dripping of water on the walls and the deep breaths of hikers who have made it to the end of the trail. The air at the back of the cave is cold and wet, and the hike is a unique experience that you wouldn’t expect from the forested area.
In the Coconino National Forest, about 14 miles north of Flagstaff, Ariz., the Lava River Cave is a hiking trail that takes visitors underground through huge rocks that form the mouth of the cave. This trail is actually a lava tube and was formed 7,000 years ago during a volcanic eruption. When the molten rock erupted from a volcanic vent, the outside of the lava river cooled fast, while the inside flowed through, creating a hollow vent. Visitors to the cave can see and feel the evidence of it’s formation by looking at the wave like formations of rock on the sides and floor of the cave.
Though the mouth of the cave is steep, the trail is rated at a relatively low difficulty for families. And, unlike some cave hikes, there are few low ceilings and no crawling involved on this trail. The trail is available at all times of the year, but summer is the best time to hike. The inside of the cave is significantly colder than the weather outside and even in the summer is an average of 42 degrees, so the forest service recommends to dress warm. They also ask that hikers come prepared with sturdy shoes, as the floor can be slippery. Flashlights are essential for this hike because it will span one mile away from any light source. For these reasons, the park service also doesn’t recommend bringing along dogs or young children. The park is free and the path is good for any one who wants a unique experience, but isn’t afraid of small places or dark caverns.
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