Hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Kilauea Iki Trail

One of our family’s favorite things about hiking while traveling is finding trails that are unique to the location we are visiting. On our recent visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we enjoyed hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail which provided an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the volcanic landscape of the national park. The trail offers jaw-dropping views of the crater and takes hikers along the floor of the Kilauea Iki crater. At just under three and a half miles, and only 400 feet in elevation change, it is a very approachable hike for families.

From the the main trailhead parking, we headed counter-clockwise. For the first mile or so, the trail heads along the rim in relative shade of the forest. There are turnouts for taking in the view of the crater and getting a preview of the barely distinguishable trail through the lava rock down below. We also enjoyed the informational signs about the native flora and looking and listening for different birds, including several Kalij Pheasants, and other fauna. Eventually, the trail turns down into the crater. The descent is short, only about .3 miles, but quite steep. Taking the clockwise route, hikers descend a number of deep, irregular stairs in addition to the slope.

After the forested slope of the descent, hikers emerge into the other-worldly landscape of the Kilauea Iki crater floor. The trail is marked largely by ahu (stacked lava rock) and at first meanders a bit, but eventually is a line straight along the crater. Throughout this portion of the hike, we felt like we were walking on the moon and marveled at the magnitude of the amount of lava and the sheer scale of everything. It was also interesting to see life in the form of the native ohi’a lehua trees with their bright red flowers poking through the fissures in the black crust.

We had an early start, so the trail wasn’t particularly crowded or hot for the first half of our hike, but after walking across the crater, the shade of the forest was welcome respite from the strengthening sun. The trail up out of the crater is less steep than the descent and was a relatively easy 20 min walk that delivers you right to Nahuku (the Thurston Lava Tube). A half-mile detour to experience this intriguing feature allows hikers to walk through a tube originally created by flowing lava, and increases total mileage to about four miles. It’s an easy 10-15 minute walk along the rim back to the trailhead, with the trail once again offering views of the crater below – perhaps with a newfound appreciation for what lies below.

It’s worth the short detour to the lava tube once you reach the rim of the crater.

Hike Logistics – Given the length and the elevation change, this hike is good for most families with kids 5 and up who are accustomed to moderate hiking. We also saw some younger children, but most of these were in a carrier part of the time. As mentioned earlier, it’s best to leave for this hike as early as you can to avoid parking challenges, crowds on the trail and the heat of the day. Hiking poles aren’t generally necessary, but we were glad to have hiking shoes instead of our regular trainers. It’s always a good idea to bring a rain shell when hiking in Hawaii. And of course, always bring plenty of water and snacks!

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