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Broken Top Loop

Hiker Descending Broken Top Loop
A male hiker descending toward distant cinder cones along the Broken Top Loop. Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

The Broken Top Loop Trail is an easy 1.8 mile loop in Craters of the Moon National Monument that brings hikers around the youngest volcano on the Snake River Plain. Over the course of the hike, a trail guide will correspond with markers that point out key features and points of interest. Be sure to carry one with you to full explanations of the features.

Broken Top Loop Trail Description

The Broken Top Loop trail begins at the same parking area as the Tree Molds Trail. Look for the trail to branch off to the left of the Tree Molds Trail, heading along the road via a paved route. After paralleling the road around a bend, the pavement will end and a proper hiking trail begins as it descends briefly into a lava field, reaching a junction immediately after. Head left to begin the Broken Top Loop.

The trail parallels the road a bit farther away as it begins to climb up around the base of the volcano. Shortly into the climb, you’ll come across the first marker. This particular one shows off the “Great Rift” that stretches out below you. Just a short distance up the trail from the “Great Rift” is another marker showing a clear boundary between the volcanic Snake River Plain and the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains beyond.

A massive lava flow stretching out toward distant cinder cones below the Broken Top Loop. Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

From here the trail continues its easy climb as it begins to veer away from the road, taking a more eastward route around the base of the cone. The Broken Top Loop also begins to level out here, offering easy hiking the rest of the way. This provides some sprawling views to both the north and east as it winds gently to the south.

A more southern direction is taken as the cone becomes more forested on the right. If you’re lucky, you may even some wildlife in this area, such as mule deer. The Broken Top Loop cuts in between the cone and smaller hills on the left where you’ll soon reach the third marker. This wanders along a spur trail that brings you to the Big Sink Overlook. This overlooks the massive Blue Dragon Flow, the second-youngest flow in the park. Once back on the trail, you begin lightly descending through smaller hills.

The Snake River Plain stretching out toward the distant mountains below the Broken Top Cone. Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

The fourth marker is reached a short distance later, pointing out fascinating facts about cinder, the rocks you’ve been walking on. A bit more descending will bring you to the fifth marker, coupled with unparalleled views looking south. Big Southern Butte 25 miles away beyond closer, smaller cones is the subject of this marker. The trail continues its descent, ultimately meeting back up with the lava field on the ground below while wrapping around the southern base of the cone. The sixth and seventh markers come close together, pointing out lava bombs and the pressure ridge, respectively. Along the way, you’ll leave behind the steep cliffs of lava and head into a remarkable example of a lava flow.

You’ll reach the junction for the Wilderness Trail where you’ll want to head right to continue the loop. The trail then scrambles over the lava field, guided by posts. Along the way you’ll pass the entrance to a lava cave known as the Buffalo Caves, also the eighth marker on your journey. At the time of this writing, the cave was closed for habitat restoration.

Pahoehoe lava ridges lying along the Broken Top Loop. Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

A proper hiking trail resumes shortly after the cave, meandering along the base of a ridge. You’ll soon find yourself literally between a rock and a hard place, as the base of the cone walls your right, while on the left a large lava ridge rises above. Along the way you’ll pass the ninth maker, pointing out highly interesting facts about the nearby Big Cinder Butte. A short climb will bring you out of the depression in the lava flow, where you’ll encounter pahoehoe flows, large ripples in the lava, also the tenth and final marker.

The Broken Top Loop closes out shortly after the pahoehoe, where you can head back out along the road.

Getting There

From the Robert Limbert Visitor Center, head south on the main park road for 2.8 miles, then heading right at the signed turn toward the Tree Molds, which also contains the Broken Top Loop trailhead. The road will dead-end at the parking area.

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  1. Pingback: Hiking Inferno Cone – America From The Road

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