A Full Day at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park offers a wide variety of experiences, and I wanted to make the most of a day there. To do this, I began my visit with a trip to the visitors’ center to find out about viewing lava flow. At the time I visited, the only volcanic activity that I could see on my own (without taking a specialized tour) was the steam coming from Kilauea during the day and the glow of the caldera at night. I would highly recommend that any visitors stop by the visitors’ center at the beginning of a visit to get the most updated information about lava sighting.

Steam rises from Kilauea

After making the obligatory stops at popular points like the Thurston Lava Tube and an overlook into the steaming crater of Kilauea, I wanted to explore a few of the trails at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Kilauea Iki Trail

The Kilauea Iki Trail takes hikers to a crater formed by a 1959 eruption

Of the hikes that I completed in the park, the Kilauea Iki Trail certainly had the most elevation change. This trail allows hikers to explore a crater formed by a volcanic eruption in 1959. The walk down to the crater floor leads through a rain forest, which offers welcome shade that isn’t available once you reach the crater itself.

Though the landscape in the crater appears dry and empty at first glance, you can find beautiful plants if you look

Devastation Trail

The Devastation Trail truly shows the impact of volcanic eruptions

The Devastation Trail comes by its name honestly. While it is likely the least attractive trail in the park, if not all of Hawai’i, it does truly depict the devastation that results from a volcanic eruption. In this area, only an occasional tree or shrub breaks the monotony of the lava rocks on the ground.  I am glad I stopped by this trail, but I didn’t care to spend a lot of time there.

Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Trail

I then took Chain of Craters Road to the ocean. Where the road is cut off, having been covered by lava, I could park and see the Holei Sea Arch. This was a unique feature, but not a highlight of my drive. Instead, I preferred looking back inland and wondering at the landscape covered by cooled lava and small plants that have begun to spring up again.

Looking inland from Chain of Craters Road

On the way back, I discovered my favorite trail in Hawai’i Volcanoes NP, the trail to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. To begin with, walking over the uneven lava was a fun experience. I have hiked on a variety of surfaces, including rocks, sand, dirt, pavement, and wooden boards, but the varied terrain of the lava was new for me. As I walked, I began to see that not all of the patterns in the rocks were natural. The carvings of native Hawai’ians lined the path. The trail took me to a boardwalk, from which I saw an increased concentration of the petroglyphs.

Carvings by native Hawai’ians can be found along the Pu’u Loa Trail

After having some dinner and waiting for the sun to set, I returned to Kilauea to see the glow of the volcano at night. The overlook was fairly crowded, but the unique experience was more than worth the cramped atmosphere.  

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a great way to see and learn about past and present activity of volcanoes on the island. If you find yourself in this area, be sure to also check out the southern part of the Big Island.    

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