Descend Into Skull Cave of the Lava Beds National Monument

Rate this Adventure Skull Cave, Tulelake, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    0.1 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    -328.1 Feet

Easy Parking
Family Friendly

Descend into the chilly depths of Skull Cave.

Once you reach the Lava Beds National Monument stop by the visitors center to pay your fees, grab a map, and empty your bladder. From there you will drive your car up the road from the visitors center to Skull Cave.

The visitors center will give you map and answer any questions you have. From the visitors center you will exit and take slight right turn and then a left at the stop sign. Skull Cave is not on the Cave loop. You will drive up the road 1.5 miles then turn right onto Skull Cave road. You will drive one more mile to the trail head. From there you will park your car and start your descent. 

Skull cave is named for the bones of several animals such as antelope, sheep, and human skeletons found inside. Inside the cave at the very bottom there is a barricade to prevent people from accessing the ice at the bottom. Even in summer there is ice due to the freezing air that is trapped in the depths from the winter. 

You will descend the 177m into the cave through a carved pathway and several constructed staircases. Please stay on the trail. Inside the cave it is its own ecosystem so please be respectful, don't leave any trash, use it as a bathroom, or damage the cave's structures. 

If you see any bats do not disturb them. They may be hibernating and can die if awakened to often. If you do seem them, leave as quickly and quietly as possible. Also notify a park ranger so they can make sure the bats aren't disturbed any further.  

Skull cave is one of the easiest/biggest caves at the monument and is great for families. There are no locations where you have to stoop over or watch your head. There are some steep staircases, but otherwise it is a wide open inviting cave. You can be out and back in 30 minutes so try to work this cave in into your spelunking schedule. It is worth it!

P.S. If you find a tripod head mount feel free to contact me. I lost mine. 

Pack List

  • Map
  • Headlamp/Flashlight
  • Extra Batteries 
  • Water/Snacks (Pack out your trash)
  • Jacket/Pants
  • Hard sole shoes
  • Tripod/camera/extra lights
  • Friends/Family
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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