View Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho

Goodale’s Cutoff

Goodale’s Cutoff is not obvious. When we planned our trip from Idaho Falls to Boise, we didn’t know that the road followed the Goodale’s Cutoff the Oregon Trail. When we turned south towards Yellowstone, we departed the path Lewis and Clark took to the Pacific Ocean and then south of Yellowstone joined the Goodale’s Cutoff. Turning west, our objective was to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is a huge lava flow in south-central Idaho.  Craters of the Moon was avoided by pioneers and the main Oregon Trail passes south of the lava and south of the Snake River and Goodale’s Cuttoff passes north of the lava.

Craters of the Moon

At Valley of Fires, we had a wonderful view of the volcanic rift where lava flowed to the surface and I commented that the location was un-passable, except possibly on foot, and then only with a huge effort.  The pioneers made the decision to go around, both Valley of Fires and Craters of the Moon.

Campsite Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho
Campsite Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho

Instead of camping with a view of the lava flow, this time we camped in the lava flow.  Our only cell service was established by climbing one of the most recent eruptions cinder cones, where cell service was great.

Here is our review of Lava Flow Campground: Campsite Review: Lava Flow Campground

The Route

Tim Goodale established the route in 1862 and by 1863 seven of every ten wagons that were on the Oregon Trail, took this route, rather than the more southern route along the south side of the Snake River.  Pioneers knew that this route was not a “short cut” but rather a longer, yet easier way. The number one problem with the southern route was that water was hard to get. It was available by a steep descent to the Snake River and then return climb back up, from the Snake River.  On Goodale’s Cuttoff water was easier to get.  Goodale’s also had the advantage of fewer climbs and descents.

View Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho
View Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho

Goodale’s starts north of Pocatello and we joined the route to the west of Idaho Falls.  It goes through Arco. Arco’s claim to fame was that it was the first city ever powered by an Atomic Reactor in the world. It is also the home of the Idaho National Laboratory which was part of the secret nuclear power program.   When in Arco we passed over the Big Lost River, which just south of town disappears into the volcanic soil to flow underground to feed the Snake River.  In town, the river looks like any other river, and you would not suspect that in just a few miles it would disappear, thus the name Lost River.

Rough Country

The entire area is rough country. Just because the pioneers went around the lava flow, it didn’t mean that it was easy going. One of our misconceptions is that the trail is just two wagon ruts that one wagon would follow another, followed by the next.  Instead, the trail was very wide and at certain locations choked down to cross a difficult obstacle.  Not only that, in 1862 Tim Goodale’s party had more than 300 wagons, 1000 people and 2900 cattle. It wasn’t, one after another, in a line.    

Our objective was to get to Boise, and the Goodale’s Cutoff is the route to Boise.  The route re-joins the main Oregon Trail northwest of Boise in Baker City Oregon, which when we leave Boise we will still be following the Goodale’s Cuttoff and then the Oregon Trail as it approaches the Columbia River.  

Campsite Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho
Campsite Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Arco Idaho


The lava flow from the volcanic rift at Craters of the Moon is huge. Volcanic events were recent (in terms of geology) and include eruptions back to the last Ice Age. (about 10,000 years ago) The terrain is so difficult that the area wasn’t even explored until the 1920s. Nearly every type of lava (with the exception of lava flowing underwater, is found here. Nearly all are extremely difficult to cross. The same hot spot that created the lava flow is now creating the geysers in Yellowstone.  The entire hotspot has crossed southern Idaho (slowly) and is now under Yellowstone.  Most of the volcanic activity in southern Idaho is older, creating the fertile valley now being used for farms.  The lava exposed in Craters of the Moon is not as old and looks identical to the lava on most of the big island in Hawaii. 

We are so happy to be here with our family.

Scott and Tami

Here is a link to the google map for the area.

Link to our 2019 Route

Link to our route Minot North Dakota to Boise

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