Molten lava captures trees in volcanic flow and centuries later their impressions remain.
The trail-head for the 2.0 mile return (3.2 KM) Tree Molds Trail is at the same location as the trail-head for the Broken Top Loop Trail. The Tree Molds Trail is relatively flat, heads southwest, and passes to the west of 1,986 m (6,515 ft) Big Cinder Butte.
Excellent trail passes through rugged volcanic territory, with a number of interesting features, until arrival at a sign. Just as well, because the search for tree molds is frustrating. There are some holes that might be the location of ancient trees.
Looking for impressions of trees in the hardened lava is less than intuitively obvious. If they are there, there is no confidence they have been found but scanning the area reveals two more posts sticking out of the lava about 20 yards (18.3 m) away so the hike proceeds over to that location.
Eureka! The tree molds are somewhat distinct, but far from obvious semicircular troughs in the lava with wrinkled impressions that could be interpreted as tire tread marks but since they are 2,000+ years old, the assumption is seared bark from hot lava forming around trees. The photographs of the tree molds follow but you may not find them. Trust me! If you look closely, the tree impressions are there.
That was pretty exciting, wasn't it? The truth is, the tree molds are somewhat anticlimactic but the hike is short and certainly worthy of consideration. The trail is very good and travels through some unique and beautiful volcanic features. Over flat lava fields, visibility is long to mountain ranges beyond. There are different colors of cinder and desert plants are brilliant in contrast to the black lava. The hike provides a sense of discovery and is definitely worth doing. The return hike is via the same route taken in and departure from Craters of the Moon National Monument occurs with a sense of achievement, a wealth of new knowledge and indelible memories of a fascinating experience over unique terrain. Highly recommended. Much of the fascination is in the detail.
In the half day available, as much of the Craters of the Moon National Monument as reasonably possible was explored. The focus on short trails in many different locations is a sample of the wonders to explore at this intensely interesting location where bizarre and beautiful attractions provide the opportunity to learn about lava formations in Idaho's Great Rift. Fascinating!
From Craters of the Moon National Monument, the drive southwest on Hwy 93, passes through the town of Shoshone, past I-84, over the impressive Snake River Canyon and into Twin Falls, Idaho for overnight accommodation.
Twin Falls is surrounded by a half million acres of prime, highly productive agricultural land and the city has also developed along the edge of the Snake River Canyon formed about 15,000 years earlier by the Great Bonneville Flood. This day is too late in the season to visit but, about 5 miles (8 KM) northeast, the Snake River plunges over 200 ft. at Shoshone Falls, otherwise known as the 'Niagara of the West'. If you happen to be near Twin Falls in the Spring, the word is Shoshone Falls deserves a look. This day ends with reasonably priced food at the nearby Perkins Restaurant following a rewarding day of exercise and discovery at Craters of the Moon National Monument.