I drove all the way down to the end (where it was closed by a lava flow) of Chain of Craters Road and I got out and went to see the Holei Sea Arch. It was just a short walk but the surface was VERY uneven and it was very hot and sunny so it was hard for me. I wanted to see the arch because a similar arch in Aruba has collapsed and that is always a danger with these kinds of formations, although this one looks like it is pretty study.
My grandmother wanted to see this arch, so we drove down to the end of Chain of Crater's Road and we both walked out to see it. There were all kinds of warning signs and people not paying attention to them.
On the way back from the Hōlei Sea Arch it started to rain when we got up in the central area. I asked my grandmother to let me off to do this trail. Initially I went the wrong way and ended up at the steam vents. So I turned around and went the other direction. I thought it was a loop trail that would come back to where I started, but it wasn't It ends up at the visitor's center. It was raining pretty hard, so I didn't take many photos even though there were steaming cracks and colorful mineral deposits. The NPS website says
Distance: 1.2 mile (2 km) round trip
Trail begins at the far left of the Kīlauea Visitor Center parking lot past the Volcano Art Center Gallery
(The other end of the trail can be picked up across the street from the Steam Vents)
Due to sulphur fumes, people with heart or breathing problems, pregnant women and young children should avoid this trail. Stay on the trail; beware of steam and cracks. From the Kīlauea Visitor Center, trail grades are eight to twelve percent. Wheelchair accessible from Steam Vents to Sulphur Banks.
If to take Chain of Craters Road all the way to the end, it is about 18 miles long. Though we didn’t take every stop nor hike any trails, it took us almost 1.5 hours to reach the end. Here are our stops along Chain of Craters Road:
- Lua Manu Crater: small 327-foot crater and first chance to walk on harden lava!! The lava rocks here are a matte black and dry.
- Pauahi Crater: larger 1,800-foot crater. You can find lava rock here that is shimmer black and glossy.
- Pu’u Hulululu & Mauna Ulu: We only used the restroom here. It’s the only one between the Thurston Lava Tube and the end of Chain of Craters Road so use it!! It’s more like a permanent port-a-potty than a modern toilet. No flushing and no sink so bring some hand wipes.
- Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu: View of Mauna Ulu on left and Pu’u Hulululu to the left of it. There is also a vast lava field here and it seems like lava goes as far as the eye can see.
- Muliwai a Pele: Stunning 5-mile long “muliwai”, or river of lava.
- Kealakomo: A gorgeous view of the ocean and overlooks the coastal village of Kealakomo, which was buried in a 1971 lava flow. The shelter mentioned in some guides no longer exists!
- Alanui Kahiko: This was my favorite stop along Chain of Craters Road. You can walk on the old highway that was covered by lava in 1972. It was just so cool to walk on the harden lava with parts of the old highway peaking through.
- From here to the end of the road, there are several scenic points to see some awesome coastal views.
- Holei Sea Arch & Ranger Station: This is the end of Chain of Craters Road. When you reach the ranger station, take the turnaround and park on the right. You can then walk down 40 feet to the Holei Sea Arch overlook. The Sea Arch is a stunning example of the power of the ocean, even up against solid lava cliffs. There was no attendants at the Ranger Station that we could tell. There are several more of those permanent port-a-potties here. You can continue walking past the Ranger Station but we didn’t. There was a couple coming back from there and said they walked down quite a ways and there wasn’t much to see so we got back in the car and headed back up Chain of Craters.
- It took us 40 minutes to come back up without any stops.
If you drive along Chain of Craters Road and expect to make it to Hilo, you will run into a bit of a surprise. In 1983, a volcanic eruption covered the road with lava. While repeated attempts were made to re-open the road, the regular lava flows made this impractical. At the impromptu "end" of the road, there's a mobile ranger station, designed to be moved in case threatened by a new lava flow. Park at the ranger station, and continue on to view the lava.
On the Chain of Craters road there is one crater that is not just full of lava. Ko'oko'olau Crater is an excellent example of what happens to a crater after about 200 years of an absence of lava. The crater is completely overgrown with native forest.
The Chain of Craters road goes 24 miles downhill toward the sea.
You will pass several craters and then drive about 5 miles along the coast.
There you will have to find a place to park and start walking.
Most everything that was once in this area is now covered in lava.
There are some nice views of the sea from here.
A must see is the Thurston Lava Tubes. You must park your car and get out and walk to see this. Take your bins with you also because there are many birds around this rain forest area.
The inside of the tube is well lighted.
When you drive the Chain of Craters road, I'd highly recommend stopping for a walk to see the petroglyphs. The trail is well marked and easy.
While the natural wonders of the volcano are the big draw here, it is good to take the human element into perspective and think about the earlier inhabitants of the island, who lived intimately with nature and the elements. We pass through in a day or two, but they lived their lives here without the advantages and disadvantages of modern technology, when the powers of the volcano were unchallenged by other distractions.
This remarkable formation was caused by lava flowing into the sea. When it cooled, it hardened in the form you see. The area has a small ranger station and picnic tables, as well as a walking path. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, as the black rock really retains the heat.
The Chain of Craters Road is a 19-mile, one-way drive that ends where lava crossed the road in 2003. This is currently the best place in the park to see flowing red lava. Sometimes, you can see lava flowing from the end of the road without hiking. At other times, a brutally hot, fairly strenuous hike over dried lava beds will be necessary to see flowing lava. On my visit, seeing red lava required a hike of more than 2.5 miles, which I was unable to do due to time constraints. Even if you don’t see red lava, the drive and at least a short hike out from the end of the road are worth it. The highlight will be the distant views of steam explosions caused by lava flowing into the ocean.
This is the most fun activity in the whole national park because you actually get to see red hot lava flow.
For the more adventurous, a hike into the field is recommended because you can see more things. And if you hike in far enough (a couple miles at least), you can see hot lava next to you. The lava flow is constantly expanding. In 2005, the park gained 44 acred due to lava flow.
For less fit and adventurous, go to end of the road after sunset. You can see lava flow from a distance. It's still pretty spectacular.
Chain of Craters Road gets busy. Cars parallel park along the road. Try to be there around 4 pm or 6 pm so you can get a good parking spot and position yourself for best lava viewing.
Sea cliffs in this area are 80 feet high and new land is being created by current lava flows. It is very unstable, crumbling, and prone to collapse. Rangers advise you to stay well back from the cliff edge and at least 1/4 mile away from the steam/fume cloud produced when lava enters the ocean.
Coming down from the volcanos to the coast, losing 4000 feet, you travel along a shore road that used to provide another entry route into the park from Hilo. Numerous lava flows have covered this road with the latest one when I was there having occurred on February 22, 2003.
It is here that you can explore the moon-like landscape and catch glimpses of lava. I really like this picture because of the "No Parking" sign trapped in the solidified lava. Obviously nobody paid attention because absolutely everybody is parked nearby.
The road disappears abruptly into the lava flow of the 1984- eruption, which is still continuing. It's got to be one of the most bizarre sights on earth! Just before the end of the road, there is a turnaround with a ranger hut, outhouses and a concessionaire with cold drinks (a lifesaver after hiking the lava field beyond!) No parking lot, only roadside parking.