Time: 1.5-3 HOURS
Distance: 4 MILES
Elevation Gain: 500 FEET
Foot Traffic: HIGH
Challenges: Shadeless Crater, Some uneven footing, Hot steam and rocks, Limited Parking at main trailhead
Sights: Kilauea Iki Crater, Mauna Loa, Kilauea Caldera, Steam Vents
What to Bring: Sunscreen, Water (>1L), Hiking Shoes
One of the most popular day hikes in Volcanoes National Park (VNP), Kilauea Iki takes you through a lush rainforest and a volcanic crater, all in one short hike. As you make your way along the trail, imagine glowing orange lava shooting 1900 feet in the air. Because in 1959, that is exactly what happened here. 60 years later, this solidified lava lake is what is left of that massive eruption. In another 60 years, who knows what the still active Kilauea Volcano will do to this park. There's no better hike to let your imagination run wild and appreciate the true power of this volcanic landscape.
I never thought I could sleep so well in the back of a car wrapped in a wet sleeping bag. But I suppose if you tire yourself out enough, you can sleep anywhere. After the past few days hiking through VNP's backcountry, I woke up with the sun for my final day on the Big Island before heading back to Oahu. My flight didn't depart until the evening, so I was debating how to spend my day. After some oatmeal and coffee, I was feeling warm and content, with a nice little coffee buzz going, I felt motivated to knock out a few short VNP hikes. First up, a VNP classic--Kilauea Iki.
This hike is a loop, going either clockwise or counterclockwise. Part of the hike will be along the crater rim through a rainforest, the other part will be through the actual Kilauea Iki Crater.
There's a couple ways to actually access this hike, but the primary and most convenient way is in the designated parking lot. It shouldn't be hard to find, there's plenty of signs pointing you there from the park entrance. Unfortunately, as of the time of writing this, the overflow parking lot, which is right across from the Thurston Lava Tube, was closed. It is possible you will have to wait for a parking spot if you come here on a busy day. But at 8am, I had beaten the rush. What a great view to start the morning! That hump behind the crater is Mauna Loa AKA "Long Mountain."
I decided to do the route clockwise. This would make the morning sun be at my back as I hiked through the crater.
Regardless of the direction, you will be in the trees as you descend to the crater. That cool morning air coupled with the sunburst through the trees makes the start of the journey all the more pleasant. I'm already glad I made the decision to lace up my hiking boots instead of bumming at the beach (although still a great option ;)).
It took me about 20 minutes to reach the base of the crater. And this is what you have ahead of you, a long shadeless walk across a solidified lava pool. It feels pretty surreal.
Technically you aren't free to roam the crater at your leisure. There is a set path--follow the piles of rocks (aka Ahu) lining the crater. There's a reason the path exists--there are steam vents throughout the crater and some of the rocks near them could actually burn you! The vents are created from precipitation that seeps through the cracks in the earth and is boiled from the heat below. While you can't get super close, keep your eyes peeled for those vents, because it's pretty cool. Reminds you of the craziness going on just below your feet.
The crater has its own little nuances in its terrain. Here is some nice orange coloration to the solidified lava.
And then some of those epic fissures created from the eruption.
Continue following the trail through the crater until you reach the trees on the other side.
From here, you circle back around the crater along the tree covered rim, smelling that fresh rainforest aroma.
You will see a few forks along the rim. If you were doing the trail counterclockwise, you will run into this juncture. Right and uphill will lead you to the Byron Ledge Trail, left will lead you to the Crater.
And another fork. This is the (closed) Crater Rim trail, that leads you all the way back to the Visitor Center. Unfortunately, many of these trails are now closed due to the activity in the park. But, if they do open back up, it's interesting to know that you could hike all around these interconnected trails without ever having to get in your car.
After looping back around the rim a little bit, you will a good look into the Kilauea Caldera. When I came here back in 2016, this thing was giving off a constant stream of smoke. But currently it's all quiet... for now...
An hour and half later, I was back at the starting point with one last look at that stunning landscape. Next, we will get an even better look of the "devastation" caused by this volcano.
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Also Check Out:
- The NPS website description of this hike