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Best Hikes In Hawaii: The Kilauea Iki Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: The Kilauea Iki Trail
  • Where: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 594 feet
  • Time: 1.5-3 hours
  • More Information: National Park website

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Map of the Kilauea Iki Trail

Map of the Kilauea Iki Trail

Elevation Map of the Hawaii Iki Trail

Hawaii Iki Trail Elevation Map

Narrative

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is filled with many great hikes that range from short scampers, day hikes and multi-day hikes. One of the best day hikes in the park is the Kilauea Iki Trail.  This is a loop hike that goes around the side of the Kilauea Iki Crater before descending into and across the solid lava lake inside the crater.  How many trails in the world give someone the opportunity to walk across a solid lava lake?  Well this one does!  The start for the hike was a short 10 minute drive from where I was staying at the Kilauea Military Camp located in Volcanoes National Park.  At the trailhead there was a signboard explaining how Kilauea Iki roared to life on November 14, 1959 and erupted for five weeks filling the basin below with hot lava 400 feet deep:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Today the lava has cooled and hardened leaving quite a site for visitors who come to the Kilauea Iki overlook.  Besides the hardened lava lake the overlook also provides another view of the currently erupting  Halema’uma’u Crater and the giant 13,679 foot Mauna Loa volcano in the distance:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Read more about the Halema’uma’u Crater at the below link:

The Kilauea Iki Trail crosses over the lava lake, but first I had to decide which direction to start my loop hike from.  I decided to go to the right and take the eastern trail into the crater due to how the sun would be right in my face if I walked in the other direction.  Something I noticed on the trailhead signboard was that drones are not allowed in the National Park which is a sign of the times that we live in:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The trailhead for the eastern portion of the hike is located a short distance to the right of the overlook:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The high quality trail begins with a mild descent from the overlook:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Along the path there was a reminder that I was in fact walking on an active volcano:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

As I walking down the trail I ran into the only wildlife I saw all day which appeared to be some kind of chicken:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

This chicken lived in an incredibly lush forest that stands in direct contrast to the desolate crater below it:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is the view from one of the lookouts providing a view of the Kilauea Iki Crater.  The round hill on the center right is where the lava shot out from back in 1959 to fill this crater:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

As I was walking through the lush forest I could not help but think that at any time the ground here could open up and swallow this entire forest with lava like what happened in 1959 to all the forest that was destroyed by the eruption then:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

From the various lookouts down into the crater the steam rising out of the lava bed was a reminder of the volcanic activity still happening in this area:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

However, this part of the hike I really enjoyed because how lush and beautiful the forest was:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The forest was also filled with the sounds of birds though I could never really spot them in the trees:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The smell of the forest was quite nice as well:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is another lookout I came to that looked directly across and into the caldera where the lava flowed out of back in 1959:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

From the same lookout I could also see the Halema’uma’u Crater which is currently pushing out lava today:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is a closer look at the crater:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Shortly after this lookout the trail then begins to descend down into the Kilauea Iki Crater:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

At the bottom of the trail I found myself looking across the lava lake with plumes of steam visible in various areas of the lava lake:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is a wider angle view of the Kilauea Iki Crater in front of me:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

There was a sign telling me to follow the “Ahus” which in Hawaii are cairns used to mark the trail across the lava lake:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Considering the fact that there was hot lava below me I wanted to make sure I stayed on the trail.  It was actually initially difficult to spot the cairns, but I eventually found the first one and it led to a well defined trail across the lava lake:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

As I walked across the crater the lushness of the crater’s walls stood in stark contrast to the desolate environment I was now walking across:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The ground was composed of crumbly lava rock, but the trail overall was firm and safe:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

I eventually reached the caldera where all this lava once flowed out of back in 1959 and wondered if this lava vent would ever come back to life again?:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

I followed the cairns that led up to the caldera:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

As I hiked up and peered into the caldera I was just glad that it did not reopen while I was walking across the crater:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is a closer look at the caldera:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is a panorama picture I took that shows the caldera on the far left and the section of the crater I hiked across on the right:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The last half of the lava lake I found to be very different from the first half I had crossed because now the terrain was more smooth:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

I don’t know why the lava rock surface here is so different, but it was definitely easier to walk across than the crumbly rock earlier in the hike.  Here is another panorama picture looking back across the lava lake with the caldera once again visible on the far left:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is a couple of more panoramas looking back over the lava lake which really shows how smooth the trail is during this section of the hike:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is another panorama picture looking back across the lava lake from further down the trail:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Something I noticed on this hike was how plant life is beginning a comeback inside of the crater:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Just about any place where there was a crack that could collect rainwater a shrub could be seen seen growing in it:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

It made me wonder how many decades would need to pass before this whole crater is filled with trees and the fact that it is a hardened lava lake become barely noticeable?:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

At the end of the lava lake as I approached the forest I was greeted with a number of rock piles that people have built over the years:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Here is a picture from these rock piles looking back across the Kilauea Iki Crater:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

The next section of the trail ascended up the crater’s cliff which was cloaked once again by a lush forest:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

One of the flowers that was quite abundant on this section of the hike was what is known as a Kahili ginger.  This flower is not the type of ginger that humans eat, but instead is considered a destructive weed on Hawaii since it chokes out and kills native plants:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

It is still a beautiful flower to look at despite being an invasive species on the island.  This portion of the hike is the steepest of the entire trail, but once again the trail is of high quality and easy to hike up:

Picture from the Kilauea Iki Trail

Conclusion

In total my Garmin Fenix GPS measured the Kilauea Iki Crater Trail to have 594 feet of elevation gain with the majority of it on the very last section of the hike.  I also measured the trail as being 3.6 miles long though it is often advertised as being 4 miles roundtrip.  This means that this is not a physically demanding hike which is why I recommend it to anyone with reasonable fitness to try.  For those that don’t want to do the full hike at least walk down into the crater using the western section of the trail and then walk back up.  This would be about a mile hike roundtrip and was something many other people were doing the day I hiked the trail.  I would assume that people visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park came to experience volcanoes and hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail is one of the best ways to do just that.

 

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