History & Background
Craters of the Moon National Monument is located in the arid high plateau of Southern Idaho in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains west of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Since the early 1840s, westward-bound settlers had traveled south of this region, along the green valley of the Snake (Shoshone) River, along what became known as the Oregon Trail (and is currently closely covered by I-84). The Snake River was misnamed by white settlers after the Shoshone tribe that lived in this area (who used a design in their weaving which whites thought represented a snake).
In the 1850s and 60s, conflicts with the Shoshone grew, so many settlers sought a safer path north of the Snake River valley. This alternate route became known as Goodale's Cutoff. But the entire area was extremely arid, and after traveling for many days migrants would be faced with the even more inhospitable volcanic terrain that is now Craters of the Moon National Monument. Many travelers even came to believe the land was haunted.
Inferno Cone is located near the center of the modern Craters of the Moon National Monument (established in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge). While the summit is about as easy as they get, the sight of the pure ebony trail is about as beautiful as the color black has ever appeared in nature, and one of the best examples of pure volcanic terrain in the continental USA. It’s an absolute pleasure to walk on and makes a nice easy summit while crossing back from the Yellowstone area. Ironically, this pure black hill is not even believed to be a volcano, but rather a pile of rubble spewed forth from a nearby cone, and augmented by the wind due to its leeward location.
Lonely Highway 20 travels between Idaho Falls and Mountain Home, ID (just east of Boise) following much the same route as Goodale's Cutoff of the original Oregon Trail. There are few services along the route, and in fact if one could imagine away the simple two-lane paved road and electric poles, most of the route probably still looks almost exactly as it did to the founders of the cities of the Pacific Northwest as they traveled along here by stagecoach. From Idaho Falls, three large monument buttes mark the way to the south. A few miles past the last one is the visitor's center and entrance to the monument. Inferno Cone is listed as #4 on the standard issue National Park Service map.
Entrance to the National Monument is a very reasonable $8 per carload.
There is a campground at the entrance to the National Monument as well as backcountry opportunities in the surrounding countryside, where there are larger cones to summit as well.
External LinksNPS website
Robert Limbert local explorer