LavaHike to Flowing Lava

Kalapana Lava Viewing Area


Round Trip Mileage: Up to 15 miles

Elevation Gain: Up to a few hundred feet

Gear: Wear boots and long pants. Bring raingear and carry lots of water. Don't forget the sunscreen.

Weather: NOAA forecast for Kalapana

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Map: Topographical Map of Kalapana

Kamokuna Ocean Entry 2/17Overview: Seeing flowing lava is a premier experience on the Big Island and might be the most amazing thing you'll ever see in your life. Seeing the new creation of the earth is an experience that’s difficult to put into words. Hiking to see flowing lava is also extremely dangerous. The eruption cycle is constantly changing, and there is no way to plan in advance to see flowing lava. It has been flowing for several years, but this can end at any time. The current active flows are near the boundary of the National Park, requiring hikes of 10-15 miles to view lava. The Park recently bulldozed an "escape" road for emergencies from Chain of Craters Road to Kalapana. New lava covered nearly a mile of this road near the National Park boundary in 2017. This gravel road provides easy hiking to and from the active lava flows. From the end of the gravel road, you will need to negotiate harsh new lava flows. Even if you've hiked on a lot of lava elsewhere on the island, newly hardened lava is much different. It's much more sharp, loose, and prone to crumbling.

Big Island Hikes has another lava hike from the other side. See Hike to Flowing Lava - Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

Kalapana Lava Viewing Area is operated by the County of Hawai'i. Hours are 3pm - 9pm every day, with the last car allowed in the lot at 8:30pm.

Ensure you have appropriate gear and knowledge before attempting this difficult adventure. Check the USGS update. Check the current SO2 Gas Levels.

Many people attempt to hike out to see flowing lava after dark in order to locate it more effectively. I don't recommend doing this. Night hiking used to be easier when the active flows were closer to the parking areas. Accessing active flows requires miles of hiking over recent lava flows. This is difficult enough during the day, but is very dangerous at night.

LavaSearching for LavaSafety Considerations: Although this hike is along the Puna coast, pants and boots are a requirement for lava hiking. There are considerable safety considerations for this hike. Always stay out of any posted areas while hiking. Lava entering the ocean can create large explosions and flying debris. Noxious gases can quickly emerge when rain falls on flowing lava. Fresh lava engulfing vegetation can produce large explosions. Lava can emerge quickly and change direction. Hiking to flowing lava may involve crossing active underground flows through lava tubes. Hiking up onto the pali (cliffs) to view flowing lava can be extremely dangerous. The ground on the cliffs is more unstable, and lava can flow more quickly. Falls on fresh lava can produce extreme injuries - broken limbs, deep lacerations, head injuries, etc. This hike travels over jet black lava on a landscape with no vegetation - full sun can create stifling heat. Even more, standing near flowing lava feels like being near a commercial oven. Heat stroke and dehydration are major concerns. Bring lots of water and extra food. Wear sun protection.

Getting to the Trailhead: From Hwy. 11 in Kea'au, drive south on Hwy 130. Stay on Hwy. 130 through Pāhoa. Near the end of Hwy. 130, follow signs for the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area. Park in the designated area.

LavaThe Hike: From the parking area, continue to walk along the closed portion of Hwy. 130. The pavement ends quickly, and you'll soon be hiking on a gravel road. This entire area is private property - the only legal access is via the gravel road. Simply walk the road for about four miles to the boundary of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. From here, head inland and begin your search.

There are several small hills of lava in the region that provide nice viewpoints. Stop each time you pass one and look sharp from the top. Keep and eye out for heat lines - visual distortions created by the very hot lava.