Hiking Overview: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (courtesy, NPS)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

  • The park's Web site has up-to-date information on the status of volcanic eruptions, useful information for planning a day hike.
  • Witnessing a live lava flow at night is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can hire a guide, join a tour, or go on your own. However, be prepared for a long hike, and bring spare batteries for your flashlight.
  • If you have only one to three hours, explore the summit of Kilauea volcano via Crater Rim Drive. The 11-mile road encircles the summit caldera; passes through desert and lush tropical rain forest; traverses the caldera floor; and provides access to well-marked, scenic stops and short walks.
  • The challenging four-mile Kilauea Iki trail offers a wide variety of representative terrain. It descends 400 feet through rain forest, crosses the crater floor, passes Pu'u Pua'i cinder cone, and returns via the crater's rim.

Drive past them in your car, or fly over them in a helicopter if you must—but the only way to truly see and experience volcanoes is to approach them on foot. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, hike to the volcanoes through thick forests and along hot, dry trails. There are more than 150 miles of trails in the park, ample opportunity to walk the earth, to absorb the essence of the land that is alive with fire. The influence of the volcanoes on the islands' culture becomes much more meaningful with the acrid smell of sulphur in your nose or upon viewing the magnificent variety of lava as it flows to the sea.

If you are a strong, experienced backpacker and have several days, try the Mauna Loa summit trail or another backcountry adventure. If you have only a single day, explore Kilauea's summit trails. Highly recommended is the Kilauea Iki trail, a 4-mile (2-hour) hike, descending 400 feet through native rainforest, into a crater, and across lava flows still steaming from the 1959 eruption. Additional trail options are marked on park maps.

Other hikes in the park include the challenging Crater Rim loop, an 11-mile, all-day adventure around the summit caldera. Or try the Devastation Trail. Don't let the name fool you: It's an easy, one-mile stroll on a paved path through a forest recovering from Kilauea Iki's 1959 eruption. Another highlight is the Halema'uma'u trail, which descends 400 feet through a rainforest, then crosses Kilauea Crater to Malema'uma'u Crater.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Trails

Kilauea Area Trails

Crater Rim Encircles Kilauea's summit caldera; passes through desert and rainforest. View Halema'uma'u and Keanakako'i Craters and Mauna Loa. Of interest: plants, birds, insects, desert, rainforest, steam vents, caldera, and craters.

  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance and hiking time: 11-mile loop, all day
  • Trail begins at the Kilauea Visitor Center.
  • Be prepared: Bring water and food. Be prepared for hot and dry, and wet and windy weather. Expect sulfur fumes in the Halema'uma'u Crater and southwest rift zone.

Kilauea Iki Descends 400 feet through rainforest, crosses the crater floor, passes Pu'u Pua'i cinder cone, and returns via the crater's rim. Of interest: rainforest, birds, insects, 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder, and spatter cone.

  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
  • Distance and hiking time: 4-mile loop, 2 to 3 hours
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: 2 miles. Trail begins at the Lava Tube parking lot on Crater Rim Drive.
  • Be prepared: Bring water. Expect wet and windy weather and some steep and rocky terrain. Follow the ahu (rock piles) across the crater floor.

Devastation Goes over the cinder outfall and through a forest recovering from Kilauea lki's 1959 eruption. Plants, birds, insects, cinder with olivine and Pele's hair and tears, tree molds, cinder, and spatter cone.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance and hiking time: One mile round-trip, 45 minutes
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: Four miles. Trail begins at the Devastation Trail parking lot on Crater Rim Drive.
  • Be prepared: Wheelchair- and stroller-accessible paved path. Stay on the trail. Do not climb Pu'u Pua'i cinder cone.

'Iliahi (Sandalwood) Cuts through rainforest, past steam vents with views of Kilauea Caldera, Halema'uma'u Crater, and Mauna Loa. Of interest: rainforest, birds, insects, steam vents, earthcracks, and fault scarps.

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance and hiking time: 1.5-mile loop, 1 to 2 hours
  • Trail begins to the right of the Volcano House Hotel.
  • Be prepared: Bring water. Stay on the trail and beware of steam vents, earthcracks, and cliffs.

Earthquake (Waldron Ledge)

Traverses a section of road cracked up in 1983 by a magnitude 6.6 Mauna Loa earthquake. Plants, birds, insects, earthcracks, views of Kilauea Caldera, and Mauna Loa.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance and hiking time: One mile round-trip, 45 minutes
  • Trail begins to the left of the Volcano House Hotel.
  • Be prepared: Wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trail over paved road surface.

Halema'uma'u

Descends 400' through rainforest, crosses Kilauea Caldera to Halema'uma'u Crater. Trail ends at the crater, or hikers may return via Byron Ledge and Crater Rim trail. Plants, birds, insects, pahoehoe lava flows, steam vents, spatter ramparts, crater, and caldera.

  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
  • Distance and hiking time: 3.5 miles one way, 7 miles round-trip, 3 to 6 hours
  • Trail begins to the right of the Volcano House Hotel.
  • Be prepared: Bring water and food. Prepare for hot, dry and wet, windy weather. Beware of sulphur fumes; people with heart and breathing problems should avoid this trail.

Byron Ledge A convenient trail to connect to others or to return to park headquarters after hiking Halema'uma'u. The trail crosses Kilauea caldera and climbs to Byron Ledge, where there are good views.

  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance and hiking time: 5 miles, 3 hours round-trip
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: 0.4 miles

Off Mauna Loa Strip Road

Kipuka Puaulu
Crosses an upland forest oasis surrounded by more recent lava flows from Mauna Loa. Old-growth forest of koa and 'ohi'a, kipuka, birds, and insects.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance and hiking time: 1 mile loop, 1 hour
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: 5 miles. Trail begins at Kipuka Puaulu parking area on Mauna Loa Road.
  • Be prepared: Dirt path with a gentle incline

Off Chain of Craters Road

Pu'u Huluhulu Trail crosses '73 and '74 lava flows, through kipuka, past lava trees, and climbs 150 feet to the summit of Pu'u Huluhulu. On a clear day, you can see Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Pu'u 'O'o and the Pacific Ocean. Pahoehoe lava, kipuka, lava trees, cinder cone, lava shield, pioneer plants, and panoramic vista.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance and hiking time: 3 miles round-trip, 2 hours
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: 8 miles
  • Be prepared: Prepare for hot and dry or wet and windy weather. Follow the ahu (rock piles) over the lava flows. Sulfur fumes may be strong on some days.

Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs

Coastal trail traverses older lava flows to one of Hawaii's most extensive petroglyph fields. Of interest: petroglyphs, pahoehoe lava.

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance and hiking time: 2 miles round-trip, 1.5 hours
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: 20 miles. Trail begins at the Pu'u Loa parking area on Chain of Craters Road.
  • Be prepared: Petroglyphs are fragile. Stay on the boardwalk. Bring water, wear sunglasses and a hat.

Napau Hike over pahoehoe lava flows and through rainforest, pass Pu'u Huluhulu, Mauna Ulu and Makaopuhi, and view Napau and Pu'u 'O'o. Pahoehoe lava flows, kipuka, lava trees, pit craters, cinder cones, rainforest, birds, and insects.

  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance and hiking time: 14 miles round-trip, all day
  • Distance from Visitor Center to trailhead: 8 miles. Trail begins at Mauna Ulu parking lot on Chain of Craters Road.
  • Be prepared: Bring water and food. Expect rain, wind, and sulfur fumes. Follow the ahu (rock piles) and stay on the trail. Wear sturdy shoes.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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