“A very short, easy trail into one of the most impressive caves in the monument.”
— QuinTCM TCM
You must first obtain a White-Nose Syndrome Screening Pass from the rangers at the visitor center before entering any caves.
Individual caves are often closed during some portions of the year to allow bats a place to nest and care for their young.
The trailhead is located at the end of Skull Cave Road, which is north of Bunchgrass Overlook and south of Schonchin Butte. Take the road west passed the trailheads for Symbol Bridge Trail
and Missing Link Trail
to the small parking lot at the end of the road. The trailheads for Skull Cave and Lyons Trail
are located at this small parking area.
The trail into Skull Cave is very short and easily traversed. Follow the trail as it descends down the side of the collapsed lava tube and into Skull Cave. Skull Cave is part of the Modoc Crater Lava Tube System and boasts one of the largest entrances of any cave in the park. The cave itself is made of three levels, the upper level being the largest at about 60 feet in diameter. The upper level ends about 450 feet from the entrance of the cave at a series of metal staircases that lead to the lower levels. A small, thin rock bridge is found near the top of these staircases. Following the stairs down, the trail eventually reaches the lowest level of the cave where a perennial ice floor is found. A metal gate keeps visitors from walking on the ice.
Skull cave was named by E.L Hopkins, a prominent figure in the area around the turn of the 19th century, for the large number of bones he and a small crew found in the lowest levels of the cave. Besides bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and antelope, they also found the skeletons of two humans.
The book "Lava Beds Caves" by Charlie & Jo Larson is an excellent resource and guide for exploring the caves of Lava Beds NM. It is available for purchase at the Visitor Center.