Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Round Trip Mileage: 1.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
Gear: Bring what you need for a short dayhike. This hike is over 4,000' in elevation, so expect cooler temperatures and prepare for rain.
Trail Guide: Download a guide from the National Park Service for this hike (pdf). This guide is also available at the Visitor Center for $2.
Map: Topographical Map of Kīpuka Puaulu
Overview: This "bird park" is a kīpuka created by the Keamoku flow from Mauna Loa. A kīpuka is an area of old-growth forest that is spared between lava flows. Kīpuka Puaulu became the Park's first Special Ecological Area in 1985. The main attractions for this easy hike are the stunning amount of birds in the area and the well-protected native rainforest. Even if you're not a bird expert, you'll enjoy hearing and seeing the diversity of the avian life in the kīpuka.
Getting to the Trailhead: From the main entrance to the National Park on Hwy. 11, head west and drive for a few miles until you pass mile marker 30. Find "Mauna Loa Road" closer to mile marker 31, and turn mauka (uphill). Drive about a mile and a half and find a circular paved track for parking. The trailhead is to the east across the main Mauna Loa Road. There are restrooms nearby at a picnic area, marked on the road just before the circular parking area.
The Hike: From the parking area, cross the paved road to the east and find the trailhead. There is some information at the trailhead, and you may find the trail guide linked above available in a small kiosk for a donation of $2. A short trail leads to the main loop. If you intend to follow the trail guide's numbered stops in order, then begin by heading left (northwest). Otherwise, it doesn't matter if you do the trail in clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Near the halfway point of the trail, you'll notice the steep, muddy entrance to a lava tube near some decaying metal pipes. The Park Service asks that visitors stay out of the tube. Plan to spend about an hour to complete the loop.
More: Nearer to Highway 11 than Kīpuka Puaulu, find a short paved road that leads to some tree molds, created when lava burns a tree but retains the shape of the tree's trunk. There are about 4-5 molds marked with metal pipes at the end of the road.