700,000 years ago Flagstaff, Arizona, was home to an enormous volcanic event. Lava poured out of vents in the earth and blanketed the landscape.
Years later, one vent cooled and became Lava River Cave - a place where visitors of the quaint mountain town can explore this preserved piece of geologic history. This cave is a wonderful way to see inside the amazing natural landscape of northern Arizona.
The hike itself is not difficult. It does have some rocky terrain that can get slippery during Arizona’s famous monsoon season. I recommend sturdy hiking boots with a good grip. Flashlights or headlamps are a must as well. In less than 100 feet you will be plunged into complete darkness.
A round trip will have you walking just under 2 miles. Be sure to carry along water for you and your group. The cave has a natural insulation that keeps the air muggy.
After a short walk to the cave entrance and clambering past the low hanging ceilings at the start, the cave opens up into massive passageways and caverns.
Some of these chambers, I swear, are large enough to hold my childhood home! Drips from cracks in earthen walls leak water into small pools along the floor showing off the shaping of the ground where you can see the paths lava flowed along thousands of years ago.
For those hikers searching for a more challenging walk, near the end of the cave the path splits off with a difficult trail and an easy route. Low ceilings with the impressions of many “bonked heads” lead to an alternate chamber that eventually loops back to the main trail.
The cave is fairly well trafficked and is quite a popular location to take dogs. Although, the Forest Service requires them to be on a leash at all times while in the cave.
The town of Flagstaff always seems to surprise me each time I go back. From its rural hiking and camping to a thriving downtown scene with art festivals and live music, Flagstaff has something for everyone. Now, added to that list, is a way to really “get into the mountains” and see a slice of ancient history.