Exploring Intriguing Balcony and Boulevard Caves in Lava Beds National Monument

Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave are easy to hike to and are top highlights of Lava Beds National Monument. A short and level trail leaves from Lava Beds National Monument Road and quickly leads to both caves.

Boulevard Cave, Lava Beds National Monument: entrance. It's a short distance on the trail beyond Balcony Cave.
Boulevard Cave, Lava Beds National Monument: entrance. Easy walking on a raised ledge on the right may be the reason for the name.

Along the route you’ll have open views in all directions across Lava Beds National Monument and beyond, including the hulking mass of Medicine Lake volcano to the south and Mount Dome and distant Mount McLoughlin to the north.

Mount Dome Near Lava Beds National Monument, as viewed from the start of the trail to Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave.
Mount Dome is just north of Lava Beds National Monument. View from the start of the trail to Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave.

My guidebook Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions contains eight trails in Lava Beds National Monument (details near the bottom of the article). At the end of the Schonchin Butte Trail description in the book, I urge people to also walk to nearby Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave, but I didn’t give these two caves their own specific hike description because the trail is just so short.

I recently spent three days exploring Lava Beds National Monument and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave, so I decided to give them proper due by writing this post specifically about them.

Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave Trail Key Data

Distance: 0.6 mile round-trip
Difficulty: Easy
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: negligible
High point: 4710 feet
Season: March to November; often snow-free in winter
Contact: Lava Beds National Monument
Maps: Lava Beds National Monument park brochure; available at the entrance station and Visitor Center, and also downloadable as a PDF file from the Lava Beds National Monument website
Permits: no permit needed, but you likely will need to be screened for white-nose syndrome before entering a cave
Notes: dogs, bikes, and horses are prohibited; entrance fee

Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave Trailhead Directions

Drive Lava Beds National Monument Road 3.0 miles north of the visitor center (6.6 miles south of the Hill Road/Lava Beds National Monument Road junction). Look for the spacious parking lot on the east side of Lava Beds National Monument Road, signed for Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave.

Balcony Cave/Boulevard Cave trailhead GPS coordinates: 41° 44.602′ N  121° 32.723′ W

Trail Map: Balcony Cave, Boulevard Cave, Lava Beds National Monument. The short hiking trail leaves from Lava Beds National Monument Road.
Trail Map: Balcony Cave, Boulevard Cave, Lava Beds National Monument

Important Info: Cave Exploration in Lava Beds National Monument

Cave Safely, Cave Softly. Safe Caving in Lava Beds National Monument.
Cave Safely, Cave Softly. Safe Caving in Lava Beds National Monument.

Before going into any cave, including Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave, you must check with the entrance station or the Visitor Center. There is strong concern about spreading white-nose syndrome to the bat populations that live in the caves in Lava Beds National Monument and elsewhere across the western United States, so you must take the proper precautions. Get details here.

Those who enter any cave should follow these rules: Tell someone where you’re going; don’t go alone; wear a hard hat, sturdy shoes, a jacket, and pants; carry at least three sources of light; don’t damage rock formations; where trails exist, stay on them; leave a cave quietly if you encounter bats; follow all current regulations. Remember: you must check with the entrance station or the Visitor Center before exploring any cave in Lava Beds National Monument.

Hiking the Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave Trail

The trail leaves from the north end of the parking lot and travels level terrain through the typical high-desert vegetation of Lava Beds National Monument: sagebrush, antelope bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, and western juniper.

Starting the hiking trail to Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave in Lava Beds National Monument. View looking north.
Starting the hiking trail to Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave in Lava Beds National Monument. View looking north into Oregon.

As you take your first steps, it’s likely the views that will captivate your attention. Look west to see the tippy-top of Mount Shasta, and then swing north beyond Tule Lake and let your eyes take in nearby Mount Dome, with Mount McLoughlin, a major Cascade volcano, anchoring the far horizon in southern Oregon. Schonchin Butte is the nearby cinder cone to the southeast, with Medicine Lake dominating the southern horizon.

Lava Beds National Monument has several hundred lava-tube caves, and both Balcony Cave and Boulevard Cave are typical examples. Lava-tube caves form when flows of liquid basalt cool on the top and sides, leaving a tube after the lava drains out. Over time, roofs often collapse, and that’s very evident here.

Balcony Cave

NOTE: Balcony Cave is closed over the summer season (which begins in May) to protect bat habitat.

Balcony Cave, Lava Beds National Monument: shadow and light
Balcony Cave, Lava Beds National Monument. Lichens give color near the entrance of the lava tube cave. A short hiking trail leads here.
Balcony Cave, Lava Beds National Monument. Lichens give color near an opening of the lava-tube cave. Balcony Cave is the first cave you reach on the short trail.

Boulevard Cave

Fernbush growing near Boulevard Cave, Lava Beds National Monument.
Fernbush growing near Boulevard Cave, Lava Beds National Monument.

My Hiking Guidebook Covers 8 Trails in Lava Beds National Monument

Day Hiking Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions. Includes trails in other regions of Northern California: Castle Crags, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Lava Beds National Monument, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Lassen National Forest, and the Redding area.

87. Heppe Ice Cave
88. Big Nasty Trail (see my video of Mammoth Crater, plus my video of Hidden Valley)
89. Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave
90. Schonchin Butte
91. Whitney Butte (full trail description of the Whitney Butte Trail)
92. Black Crater and Thomas-Wright Battlefield
93. Gillem Bluff
94. Captain Jacks Stronghold
95. Discovery Marsh and Sheepy Ridge (at nearby Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, north of the monument

And Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions covers dozens of trails in the area, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mount Shasta.

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