Located in Volcano National Park, the Kilauea Iki Trail is both popular and worthwhile. John and I hiked this trail for the first time this past Tuesday and looking back I have to ask myself “What took me so long!”
I’d put this hike at the top of my list for Big Island Hikes. Why? Because you will not only hike along a crater rim, and gaze at spectacular vistas and descend onto the floor of the crater to see the scale of volcanic power up close and personal; but you will also be treated to wonderful walks through old growth ‘Ohi’a forests filled with native I’iwi and ‘Apapane birds that will serenade you with their lovely native songs.
To begin the hike you will park at the Kilauea Iki Overlook. The Trail starts off to the right (you will be traveling counter clockwise). I recommend hiking the trail as suggested in the trail guide (available for purchase – $2.00 at the visitor’s center). While you are on this hike you will see many people headed toward you – they are folks who have started at Thurston’s lava tube and headed down for a quick jaunt to the crater floor. Few of them will actually do the entire hike. Also of note is that the climb out of the Kilauea Iki Crater is much easier if your hike the trail as the guide suggests.
I should take a moment here to advise that you wear hiking boots, not tennis shoes, crocks, or flip-flops (yes we saw all the above and it was obvious their owners were walking in pain) . Also, I drank 48 oz of water on this hike and was still really thirsty once we got back to the car. So wear a light pack and carry lots of water. We also ate our lunch on the trail – it was plenty cool enough and relaxing. The entire hike took us 2 hours and 50 minutes (including a good 20 min. lunch break). I would rate the trail as moderately difficult, only because walking on crumbly lava requires your attention and where there are steps on the trail down into the crater they are in poor condition, so again, you must pay attention to where you are stepping. Having said all that, as you can see I am not in the best physical condition and I completed the hike with energy to spare.
I recommend using the hiking guide, please purchase a guide at the visitor center as the $2.00 helps support the park and will provide you with information about the 15 points of interest along the trail. There are quite a few opportunities to catch a glimpse of the venting gasses over at Halema’uma’u crater. Amazingly the steam rising from the Kilauea Iki crater floor is steam caused by rainfall and not escaping poisonous gasses. You still need to use care when looking into the steam vents as the steam is very, very hot.
The forest is so beautiful it is difficult not to stop every ten feet to take a photo! But it is a wonderful opportunity to see many of Hawaii’s native species in their native habitat. Don’t forget to look up ans see if you can see any of the native birds. You will hear them, they will sing to you for most of the hike.
Once down on the crater floor I was surprised at how cool it was. there was a strong breeze blowing through the crater so we never felt hot, except when visiting a steam vent of course. In the photo above, the tiny specks in the center of the photo are other hikers. Kind of gives you some perspective of just how big the crater is.
Once across, it is back up into the forest. The shade feels wonderful after the sun in the crater (oh yea, take a hat!) but it is slower climbing out. Take your time and and enjoy the forest again. This forest is a bit different from the first one you waled through. It is younger and thus has fewer native species (meaning more invasive non-native plants) It is still quite pretty though.
I hope we have inspired you to take this hike when you visit Volcano National Park. There are so many hikes in the park that are worthwhile, but this is a favorite of mine. I hope you will enjoy it as well.