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Best Hikes In Hawaii: The Thurston Lava Tube Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: The Thurston Lava Tube Trail
  • Where: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Distance: .5 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 56 feet
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • More Information: National Park website

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

Map of the Thurston Lava Tube Trail

Thurston Lava Tube Map

Thurston Lava Tube Narrative

A must see attraction at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is to hike the Thurston Lava Tube Trail.  This is a popular hike which causes parking to be limited, so arrive early if you want to find parking near the trailhead:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

This is a short half mile trail that allows visitors to explore a lava tube cave.  The trail starts by descending to the lava tube cave through the dense surrounding rainforest:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

The tropical rainforests that cloak a large portion of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are really quite beautiful.  A lookout before walking down into the lava tube cave has signboards that provides information about the surrounding rainforest:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

The rainforests on Hawaii’s Big Island are also very alive with the sounds of birds, much more so than on Oahu in my opinion:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

After reading the signboards my family and I followed the short paved path down towards the lava tube cave:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

As we descended down the trail the rainforest became even more lush and beautiful:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

After about a 10 minute walk the trail comes to the entrance of the lava tube cave:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

My three and six year old kids had no issues walking through the cave since it was well lighted the entire way:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

According to the National Park website this lava tube was discovered in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, a local newspaper publisher. At that time the roof of the tube was covered with lava stalactites, but those soon disappeared to souvenir collectors:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

This cave was formed approximately 500 years ago when the outer layers of lava cooled, but inside the lava continued to flow.  Once the eruption stopped no more lava flowed through the tube and it instead became a cave:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

The trail actually only traverses through a small section of the lava tube.  An iron gate blocks access to the remainder of the cave:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

Looking through the gate the rest of the cave looked like it was composed of uneven terrain and thus not suitable for the general public to access:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

From the gate there is a staircase that leads up and out of the cave and back to a paved trail:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

The paved trail leads back to the trailhead.  The hike on this section of the hike was quite pleasant as I enjoyed taking in the scenery from the surrounding rainforest:

Picture from Thurston Lava Tube

Conclusion

Overall this is a short half mile hike that just about anyone should be able to complete.  My three year old completed this hike with no issues.  This is a hike I recommend everyone visiting the park check out, even those with a limited amount of time to visit the park.  This is because the trail is short, but still gives visitors the opportunity to see a lava tube cave and the surrounding lush rainforest unclose and personal.  My family and I enjoyed this hike and I am sure most other people will too.

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