When you think of the Big Island of Hawaii, chances are the first things that come to mind are volcanoes. Not surprising, as out of the five volcanoes which are considered active in Hawaii, four of them are on Hawai’i Island. The opportunity to walk among these incredible forces of nature is why millions flock to the island (pre-Covid-19!) every year.
You probably also remember the devastating eruption of the Kilauea volcano in 2018, which sadly destroyed over 700 homes in the Puna district of the island, permanently changing the landscape of the island. The eruptions ceased in September 2018, and the area is currently safe.
We were lucky enough to be able to visit Volcanoes National Park just before lockdown happened. At the time of writing, most areas, including visitor services remain closed.
You can check up to date information on the park and plan your visit Here.
In this post, I’ll be writing about my recommendations and experiences of the incredible hikes in this area. Hopefully you will soon be able to plan your own visit!
The first point of call should be the Visitors’ Centre, where you can view displays and a short film, to give you an introduction to the volcanoes, and footage of the most recent eruption of Kilauea.
Pick up an up to date map of the trails, so you will know which are open, and which areas are closed. Many sections were destroyed or remain inaccessible due to the collapse of the Kilauea Caldera in 2018.
There are restrooms to the left of the visitors’ centre.
Next stop, Volcano House, a historic hotel with rooms, cabins and camp sites, right on the rim of Kilauea Caldera, with views of Halema’uma’u crater. We are intending to stay here on our next visit, as I think it would be a fun experience!
Whether you are staying, or just visiting, the views from Volcano House are incredible, and give you your first taste of the immense volcanic landscape.
Stunning views across the steaming crater
Sulphur Banks & Steam Vents Trail
Distance: 1.5 mile loop (returning via Crater Rim Trail)
Difficulty: Easy – be aware of sulphur fumes and hot steam!
This was an excellent first hike around the area, experiencing close-up the energy being produced from the centre of the Earth. It’s incredible to walk through the (smelly!), warm Sulphur Banks, and then find yourself engulfed in an outdoor steam room.
The sulphur banks and steam vents.. we’re in there somewhere!
After you pass through the steam vents, the trail ends a little further on at Kilauea Military Camp. We returned to the Visitors’ car park via the Crater Rim Trail, which gives you some incredible scenic points to look out across the huge volcanic expanse.
While walking the trail, there are areas which are now inaccessible and cordoned off, due to the collapse of the crater. So prior to 2018, there would have been some more areas to explore. These are now unsafe or have completely collapsed.
It’s very important to stick to the trail in this area. The marked trails are constantly monitored for sulphur gases and safety. But off trail, there is no safe footing around the crater. So stick to the map!
Kilauea Iki Crater Trail
Distance: 4 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate – some difficult terrain and steep elevation gain in the second half
Download the trail guide Here
This trail is a must do if you have more time and are feeling energetic. I wasn’t, the day we did this! But was glad I attempted it in the end.
The first part of the hike takes you, unsurprisingly, steeply downhill 400ft towards the crater bottom (a hardened lake of magma). This isn’t too bad until you realise that obviously, you’re going to have the same elevation back up the other side!
Once you emerge onto the crater floor, it’s like stepping onto another planet. The volcanic landscape and piles of hardened magma are like something out of a sci-fi movie (I should know, I have to sit through a lot of them!).
By the way, if you haven’t already realised from the pictures, it often rains in the Volcanoes area! It’s really what what we like to call “mizzle” in England. It can also be around 10-15 degrees cooler than wherever you have driven from. You will need long trousers and rainwear.
From here on, it’s a trek to the other side of the crater, across uneven black volcanic rocks. There is still some steam escaping here and there, and the smell of sulphur in the air. There are gaps between the piles of rocks which look as though they probably extend back down into the centre of the Earth. This is a truly levelling experience – you feel very small as you make your way across the aftermath of this epic eruption of the Earth.
You need to be careful to follow the trail – as explained in the trail guide.
Once across the crater floor, it’s a steep incline up the other side, but once the hard part is over, you are rewarded with spectacular views from the crater’s edge.
Then just when you thought you’d done all your climbing for the day, there is a steep set of steps back up to the starting point.
You can add on other trails to this hike, but we did it as one loop, and returned later to walk the Devastation Trail…
Distance: 1 mile out and back
Difficulty: Easy – trail is paved and stroller (pushchair) and wheelchair accessible
As the name suggests, this trail takes you through a landscape of cinder outfall from the 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki. It’s not the most interesting trail in terms of views or challenge level, but it’s worth taking the time to experience the devastating and permanent alteration of the landscape in this area.
Again, it’s really like walking through something from another planet. There are signs of life – small desert-type plants and trees have tenaciously sprung up among the barren landscape – but it’s mostly a whole lot of desolation!
We also walked the start of the Byron Ledge Trail, which connects from the Devastation Trailhead to the Kilauea Iki Crater, and only re-opened at the end of last year (2019). We had seen people waving to us from this trail when we were down in the crater, so I already knew that for someone afraid of cliffs and heights, this wasn’t going to be a good option for me!
I did walk the first section, to the point where a sign started warning of “earth cracks and cliffs” on a pretty slippery looking trail! That was enough for me. There are some spectacular views from up here, and if you are happy with taking the risks associated with a cliff trail, it’s probably a pretty interesting way to link up to Kilauea Iki.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on this incredible National Park. As of writing, the Park remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. As the beaches and retail start to open up on the island, we’re hoping it opens again while we’re still here (currently we plan to leave at the beginning of June, flights allowing).
Remember: The East of the Big Island is wetter and cooler in general. In Volcanoes NP it can be very wet, and a lot colder that the coastal areas. You need to be prepared with sunscreen, waterproofs, light jackets, etc, as the weather can change in an instant. Proper hiking shoes are recommended for all trails
In my next post, I’ll be writing about more adventures in Volcanoes National Park, including the Old Crater Rim Drive.
For now, stay safe and Mahalo for reading!
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