“Short, easy trail to one of the largest 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.
Family Friendly: This flat and easy trail to one of the largest caves in the park. Sounds cool to me!
To find the trailhead, drive south for about 2 miles on a dirt road that begins on the west side of the main park road near the parking area for Bunchgrass Overlook. At the beginning of this road and to the west is an old cinder cone called Hippo Butte. After about 2-miles, there is a small turnout on the northwest side of the road. The trailhead is easily located at this turnout. Follow this short, exposed trail to the entrance of Heppe Cave. Near the entrance to Heppe Cave is a formation called Heppe Chimney.
Heppe Cave is located at the head of the Headquarters Lava Tube System, which was created when the lava in nearby Mammoth Crater overflowed. A steep trail descends about 100 feet from the entrance of the cave to the bottom of the first chamber, where a pool of water is usually found during the warmer months. In fact, this pool of water is typically the largest standing body of water in the monument.
Beyond the water pool, the cave opens into a large collapse that is 168 feet wide and 68 feet deep. On the west side of this collapse is an opening that leads into Heppe Chimney Cave, which sits directly beneath Heppe Chimney. Heppe Chimney is actually a hornito, which is a spatter cone over a lava tube. The central opening of Heppe Chimney is 4 feet wide and 35 feet deep. Although a small alcove at the back of Heppe Chimney Cave sits directly beneath Heppe Chimney, it is not possible to climb through the chimney.
On the east side of the collapse is a large opening leading to Heppe Bridge. Heppe Bridge is a 350-foot long cave that is open on both ends.
After exploring the caves, head back the way you came.
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.