Arizona
Ultimate Guide to Lava River Cave, Arizona (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Ultimate Guide to Lava River Cave, Arizona (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

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The Lava River Cave is a lava tube cave located in Flagstaff, Arizona. It is open to the public and free to tour on your own.

Need something to do on a hot Arizona afternoon? Do you love caves and want to explore some of Arizona’s history? Would you like to beat the heat and take some great pictures? The Lava River Cave is your answer.

Lava River Cave; Flagstaff, Arizona

Lava River Cave, Arizona

The Lava River Cave of Flagstaff, Arizona is the longest cave of its type in Arizona, running approximately 3/4 of a mile. It was first discovered by lumbermen, working for less than $2.50 per day, around 1915 and was mined for ice.

Homesteaders would collect this ice to use for refrigeration, cooling drinks, and even to create ice cream! With temperatures dipping to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, it is literally Arizona’s natural ice-box.

Inside Lava River Cave

How was the Lava River Cave Formed?

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.

How To Get To Arizona Lava River Cave

This cave is accessible by car or truck. Take your time getting there. Depending on the time of year, Forest Roads 245 and/or 171 leading to the cave may be closed. The dirt roads which lead there may be impassable to cars in winter months or during wet weather conditions. Check the website for road conditions before you go. When you click the link right under the banner, it will let you know if the areas are open or not.

Navigating to the cave using GPS is a challenge at best, and most of the time will not get you there. The cave is located in the Coconino Forest and GPS just falls short of getting you there. We have included the directions from the National Forestry’s website to help you get there without too many issues.

Drive 9 miles north of Flagstaff on US 180 and turn west (left) on FR 245 (at milepost 230). Continue 3 miles to FR171 and turn south 1 mile to where FR 171B turns left a short distance to the cave. 

Lava River Cave Coordinates:  35°20’32.2″N 111°50’08.2″W

Lava River Cave Tours and Prices

This cave is free to visit. There are no fees to access the cave. There are no guided tours of this cave, either. You are on your own! 🙂

Make sure you carry plenty of light sources in case one fails. Headlamps are recommended over flashlights. Do not rely on your phone as a single source of light, either. Before heading out to the Lava River Cave, be sure to let someone know you are going and when you expect to return. Above all else, have fun and enjoy this natural museum.

Ultimate Guide to Lava River Cave, Arizona (tours, pricing, history, map) cave entrance
The entrance to the Lava Cave is easy to miss. Photo credit: Wikipedia

What to Bring to Lava River Cave

Preparation is the key to survival in all aspects of life, and a trek to this cave is no different. Be sure to bring:

  • 2-3 flashlights I recommend headlamps to free up your hands. Bring a back-up headlamp or flashlight. Do not rely on your cell phone.
  • Hiking shoes or boots. Tennis shoes are OK and will get you through.
  • Sweatshirt or jacket, it gets chilly (40 degrees even in the summer)
  • Water. It is a 3/4 mile tunnel.
  • Check Harbor Freight, they have great prices on headlamps and flashlights.
getting to lava river cave arizona

Navigation of Lava River Cave

The entrance to the cave is huge, but a bit rocky. Once you get into the cave, there are rocks to maneuver around and some wet, slippery spots – but nothing too intense.

When you come to a fork in the cave, the left is the easier path, the right is a bit of a squeeze. 🙂 I am 6′, my wife 6’2 and our 13-year-old is 5’6 we all made it through but again it was a bit tight for the adults.

Ultimate Guide to Lava River Cave, Arizona (tours, pricing, history, map) map

Is Lava River Cave Kid or Pet-Friendly?

This is definitely a kid-friendly cave. Children as young as 7 have navigated the cave without much difficulty. Take your time and keep the youngsters close and they will do fine.

On another note, this is not a pet friendly cave as the navigation of the rocks and the fact that there is only one way in and out means that it will be rough for pets to navigate. If they have to poop or pee, the biology of the cave is such that the excrement will not be broken down and the smell will make the experience for others rather, well, stinky. There is also the danger of someone stepping in the mess and hurting themselves. So please, no animals on this trip.

What Lives in this cave?

The Forest Service biologists have identified several species of spiders, worms, centipedes, and millipedes that live inside the cave. There are also mice and bats that live in the cave year-round.

The cave’s bat population is relatively small and the bats are very shy so visitors rarely see them. Please do not disturb the bats, as they are usually in hibernation until mid-July and disturbing them can kill them.

Bats in Hibernation

More than 30 years ago, biologists began to realize that bat populations were declining at alarming rates where they were disturbed during hibernation. It is normal for bats to periodically arouse from hibernation. However, additional human-caused arousals can cause bats to exhaust limited fat stores, forcing them to starve before spring. (Source)

Lava Cave Geology

Lava caves are mostly smooth; you’ll rarely find stalactites or stalagmites inside. The temperature between the cool cave and the hot desert above ground creates condensation and makes the cave walls and floors very slick.

Learn all about the Lava River Cave and how it was formed here.

A quick trip to “Northern Arizona” to the “lava river cave”, this is a two mile under ground hike.

Hiking Coconino Lava River Cave

  • Length: 3/4 mile
  • Time recommended: At least 2 hours.
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes/No. Over 5 should be ok.
  • Dog-Friendly: No 
  • Accessibility: Parking lot 
  • Fee/Permit: None 
  • Hours: Open 24/7

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