Nothing takes your breath away quite like a giant reminder that earth gets pummeled by extraterrestrial objects all the time.
Planet earth is a dynamic place to live. As we spin through space, thaustere are loads of objects we can — and do — collide with. Our moon is evidence of that! Just look how pock-marked it is, after millennia of colliding with meteorites and other space debris.
On earth, most of the impact craters have been lost, but there are still many you can see. Just look at this map we put together of the most visible impact craters around the world:
If you want to visit one of the visible impact craters on earth, you’ll need to do a little planning. Many of the world’s best craters aren’t close to major cities, but they can be reached if you really want to see them.
Below, we’ve chosen 13 craters where you can easily see most (or all) of the crater rim, and reach them with varying degrees of effort. These are all sure to have a major ‘impact’ on your trip! Read on to learn more about each one.
Gosses Bluff Crater
142 million years ago, an asteroid or crater crashed into Australia’s Northern Territory near the center of the Australia landmass.
At the time, the crater was nearly 22km across, but over time, erosion and sand have reduced the crater to only 6km in diameter.
How to Visit Gosses Bluff Crater:The closest city to Gosses Bluff Crater is Darwin, on the northern coast of Australia. From there, the crater is a 19 hour, 47 minute drive due south.
Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater
Imagine a meteorite weighing the same as ten elephants, crashing into the Australian outback. 300,000 years ago, just such a 50,000-ton impact occurred in the Western Australia territory, causing a 900m wide crater, 120m deep.
Now the crater is only 60m deep, due to erosion and wind. Over time, it maybe lost to the wilderness forever.
How to Visit Wolfe Creek Crater: Darwin is the closest city to Wolfe Creek Crater. From there, drive 18 hours, 43 minutes southwest to the crater.
Imagine the purest lake on earth, fed by snowmelt and rainwater and perfectly balanced by evaporation.
Now imagine it 1.4-million years ago when a meteorite struck the land with the force of 8,500 atomic bombs to create this beautiful lake. That’s Pingualuit Crater in the far north of Quebec territory in Canada.
This 3.4km crater rises 160m above the surrounding tundra, and is a perfect 400m deep. As the snow melts each spring, it fills with water. That water evaporates throughout the summer months, leaving it with the title of being among the purest bodies of water on earth… but also too chilly for a dip!
How to visit Pingaluit Crater: Most visitors see Pingaluit Crater by plane. Fly to Kangiqsujuaq (Wakeham Bay Airport) then charter a plane to give you the best view of the crater.
The Atacama desert is Chile has many wonders, including a beautiful — and relatively young meteorite crater.
Monturaqui, located near the border with northern Argentina, is a 460m wide crater that is a shallow 34m deep. Likely this is the result of erosion an the crater changing shape over the past million years since impact.
The meteorite that caused the Monturaqui crater has never been found, though some impactites (debris caused by the impact) have been found and preserved in Chile.
How to Visit Monturaqui Crater: On your own, Monturaqui is a 19+ hour drive from Santiago. Instead, opt for a tour guide, such as the Night at Monturaqui Desert Camping trip offered by Locaventuras.
Kaali Crater Field
We don’t often think of the fact that meteorites fall from the sky on a frequent basis. Some of these fell within the course of recorded human history, such as those that caused the Kaali Crater Field in Kaali, Estonia.
Sometime between the 4th and 8th Century BC, a meteor broke apart while entering earth’s atmosphere. These pieces smashed into the Estonian island of Saaremaa, causing nine craters you can still see today. The largest crater (pictured) is about 110m wide and 22m deep.
How to Visit Kaali Crater Field: Kaali is a 9+-hour drive from the Estonian capital of Tallinn, including a 90-minute ferry. Learn more on the Visit Estonia website.
When you see a lake like Lonar Lake while exploring Google Maps, you just know it has a fascinating story. In some ways, it looks the twin of many craters we’ve seen on the moon!
Located in the state of Maharastra in Western India, Lonar Lake was caused by a 2 million ton meteor which struck earth roughly 52,000 years ago. The resulting crater is 1.2km wide, and 137m deep.
How to Visit Lonar Lake Crater: The nearest major metropolitan area is Mumbai, on the West Coast of India. It is a 10-hour drive from Mumbai to Lonar Lake; instead opt for an escorted tour such as this one offered by Mumbai Travellers. While visiting, be sure to explore the Kamalja Devi Templ on its banks and view Lonar Lake from the View Tower.
What is it like to visit Lonar Lake Crater? Read George’s story of visiting Lonar Lake.
Nördlingen Ries & Steinheim Crater
As craters go, the craters of Nördlingen Reis and Steinheim in Germany might not be as interesting to visit. They’re both so large — 24km and 4km, respectively — that it’s hard to get a sense for the shape of the original craters.
These 15 million-year-old craters have an interesting story though, since they were caused by what scientists predict was a double asteroid impact in the German countryside. Over time, erosion wore away the impact marks, and in the town of Nördlingen, the town wall forms a perfect circle to eerily similar to the original impact.
How to visit Nördlingen Reis and Steinheim: From Munich, Nördlingen is a two-hour drive or two-train ride. Steinheim am Albuch is a 45-minute drive from Nördlingen.
Though Tenoumer Crater’s origin is somewhat disputed (is it volcanic or impact?). When you see Tenoumer from satellite imagery, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a meteorite made this perfectly round crater in the Sahara desert.
1.9km wide and with a 100m high rim, the best estimates for the age of Tenoumer Crater place it between 10,000–30,000 years old. That’s relatively short in the history of of impact craters on earth!
How to visit Tenoumer Crater: Tenoumer Crater is in the desert, so you’ll need to strike out on your own to reach it. From the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott, it’s an 11-hour drive to the closest town of Fderik (or a 2-hour plane ride). From there, you’ll need to get local directions, so be sure to have your destination written in Arabic to show for assistance.
Roter Kamm Crater
Can you imagine a car dropping from space? That’s the estimated size of the meteor that made its way to earth in the Namib desert roughly 3.7 million years ago. It’s doesn’t seem like much, but it had quite an impact!
Roter Kamm Crater is 2.5km in diameter and 130m deep. Over time, sand has filled nearly 100m of the crater. In the next million years, Roter Kamm will likely be lost to the sands of time, or at least no longer visible from above.
How to visit Roter Kamm Crater:Roter Kamm is most easily accessed by plane, as evidenced by the photos above. From the nearest large town of Lüderitz, you can charter a flight.
Arguably the most famous crater in the United States, Barringer Crater is sometimes just called “Meteor Crater,” or more formally, “Meteor Crater National Landmark” — it’s protected by the National Park System.
Nearly 1,200m (4,000ft) in diameter and 170m deep, it’s an impressive mark left by a 50m wide iron meteorite that struck the Arizona desert roughly 40,000 years ago. Now, space enthusiasts, astrotourists, and travelers in general flock to this relatively easy access crater to look down over the lip of the crater.
How to visit Barringer Meteor Crater: It’s a short 45-minute drive from Flagstaff to visit Barringer Crater. There are tour operators that offer day tours to Meteor Crater National Landmark, or you can learn more about visiting on your own on the Meteor Crater website.
The Manson Impact Crater in Iowa is big — like 38km in diameter big. It’s hypothesized that the meteorite which caused it was 1.6km across, which is also huge!
Unfortunately, this impact crater is very old by human standards, since it occurred nearly 75 million years ago. Glaciers wiped away any evidence of the crater on the Iowa countryside, but measurements of earth and rocks in the early 1900s revealed that there was more to the area than previously known. The town of Manson, Iowa embraces their astronomical heritage by hosting ‘Greater Crater Days’ each June.
How to visit Manson, Iowa: The nearest major city to Manson is Des Moines, Iowa. It’s a two-hour drive northwest from Des Moines to Manson.
The town of Middlesboro, Kentucky sits inside an impact crater nearly 300 million years old, and 5km across. Middlesboro calls itself “The City Built Inside A Meteor Crater” and the local golf course includes remnants of the crater’s central peak.
Unlike the crater in Manson, Iowa, you can still see the crater in the surrounding countryside, because Kentucky doesn’t have the same glacial history as Iowa — even if they share a similar astronomical history.
How to visit Middlesboro, Kentucky: The nearest large city to Middlesboro is Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s a 90-minute drive north from Knoxville to Middlesboro, which is just across the Kentucky border.
For a long time, geologists were uncertain that Upheaval Dome was actually an impact crater, instead thinking that it was a salt dome. When ‘shocked quartz’ was discovered in the crater in the 1990s, scientists changed their theories to posit that Upheaval Dome is an impact crater — albeit a deeply eroded one.
Upheaval Dome is roughly 5km across. It is believed to have been caused by a meteorite 0.5km across during the Jurassic period no more than 130 million years ago. Now, it is part of Canyonlands National Park.
How to visit Upheaval Dome: Canyonlands National Park is a four-hour drive southeast from Salt Lake City, the nearest large city. Once within Canyonlands, it’s another 30-minute drive in on Upheaval Drive Road. To camp overnight in Canyonlands National Park, you will need to pay park admission ($10) and pay for camping access ($15 per night).
Which of these craters you can visit tops your astronomical bucket list?