Kīlauea Iki Trail
Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube)
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Round Trip Mileage: 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 555’
Gear: Bring normal gear for a dayhike, and don’t forget your raingear. The top of this hike is nearly 4000’, so you’ll also want some warm clothes.
Trail Guide: download a National Park trail guide.
Map: Topographical Map of Kīlauea Iki
Overview: If you only have time for one quick hike in the Park, this is probably the best “bang for your buck.” This trail traces the northern rim of the Kīlauea Iki (literally little Kīlauea) Crater and then returns to the trailhead across the center of the crater itself. It’s an exciting and easy hike that crosses warm fifty year old lava with steam issuing from cracks in the earth caused by rainwater that has percolated and boiled. Some of the rocks on the crater floor can be too hot to touch! Kīlauea Iki is a pit crater that is created by the ground above a void below the earth’s surface giving way and sinking together, usually leaving nearly vertical walls. In 1959, lava shot some 1900 feet into the air from Pu’u Pua’i (literally gushing hill) and began filling Kīlauea Iki until it started to drain into the main Kīlauea Caldera. There is still a slightly visible “bathtub ring” at the high point of the lava in the crater. You can overlook Pua Pua’i from near the Visitor’s Center and walk near it on the Devastation Trail, but you cannot climb or go nearer to it because it is very dangerous.
The Hike: Begin at the Kīlauea Iki Overlook and parking lot and hike on the Crater Rim Trail that leaves from the northern end of the lot. This trail takes you along the northern rim of the crater in dense rainforest. From time to time there are clearings with nice views onto the crater floor. Note the faint line that crosses the crater – that’s the trail created by many feet that you’ll be on soon. After 1.1 mile, you reach an intersection with another trail that would take you to the Visitor Center. Stay on the Kīlauea Iki Crater trail. After 0.25 mile, you reach another intersection with a trail that takes you along Byron Ledge. Again, stay on the Kīlauea Iki trail. You’re now heading south and after 0.25 mile, you turn east and begin to descend about 150’ down onto the crater floor. Hike straight across the crater on lava from 1959, following large cairns (piles of stacked rocks). Be sure to spend your time exploring along the trail, looking into cracks and steam vents. Be sure to spot the beautiful red flowers on the craggy trees – these are called ōhi’a lehua trees and they are the first life to begin to grow on lava flows. Evolved from a distant cousin in New Zealand, these beautiful trees evolved on the Big Island of Hawai’i to close their stomata to block out sulfur dioxide gases during volcanic eruptions. Local legend has it that picking the lehua blossom will make it rain. When you reach the other side of the crater, climb almost 400’ to a parking area that is used as an overflow parking area for the Kīlauea Iki Crater Overlook and is also parking for Nāhuku, Thurston Lava Tube. From here, you have to hike 0.3 mile back to your car parked at the Kīlauea Iki Overlook parking area. Find this paved trail and follow it back to your car, stopping by a few nice vantage points along the way.
Different Options: This hike can be done in the reverse. Also, for the quickest way to get to the crater floor, just park at the Kīlauea Iki overflow parking area, that is also the parking area for the Thurston Lava Tube. Park here and simply hike down into the crater and explore as far as desired and return. This can be a very short outing, and combined with the lava tube, could make about the quickest yet best trip in the park.
Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube)
While you’re in the area, Nāhuku, the Thurston Lava Tube, is a nice, short diversion. When you hike out of Kīlauea Iki, cross the Chain of the Craters road on the pedestrian crossing and spot the signs toward the lava tube. The tube is paved, very short, lighted, and unfortunately devoid of any lava features because selfish tourists removed them all over the years. It’s a compelling argument against paving and lighting such natural places. You could once continue on beyond the lighted end of the tunnel, but as of summer 2011 the rest of the tube was closed for unknown reasons. The tube extends about 1000’ from here. Exit the tube and make your way back to the Chain of the Craters road and hike back to your vehicle.