From Volcano House, this 50 mile roundtrip drops almost 4000 feet to the coast. It used to continue along the shore, providing another entry route into the Park from Hilo, but continual lava flows from the East Rift Zone have covered the road. Trails wander off the road to explore craters beyond. Several smaller calderas also lie right next to the road. At Kealkomo Overlook, there is a magnificent view towards the coast as the road begins a 1000 foot drop through the cliffs of Holei Pali. The road goes atop lava sea cliffs for several miles, thereafter, before abruptly stopping in the flowing lavas. Explore the road's end carefully. Lava hisses into the sea as island building continues. Nighttime is a special show, but be aware the road is a long and narrow one. For updates on where and how to see the lava: http://www.nps.gov/havo/visitor/lava.htm
The 40-60 foot lava cliffs which you drive along near the end of the Chain of Craters Road are very impressive. Waves originating in the vast depths of the Pacific smash up against the cliffs. It is possible to hike west from the Chain of Craters Road along the Puna Coast Trail to old abandoned settlements of Keauhou and Halape - the latter destroyed by a tidal wave in times past. It is 9.7 miles to Keauhou and another 1.6 miles to Halape. There are primitive shelters at each with the possibility of water, though check at the Park Headquarters before setting out to make sure. Besides, you will need to obtain a backcountry permit, as well. More information on hiking towards Halape can be found at: http://www.nps.gov/havo/visitor/halape.htm
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.
When possible, rangers mark a trail out to the margins of active lava flows or to the coast to view lava as it enters the ocean. For most visitors this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center to check on current conditions.
A trail out to lava flows or viewing the lava entry would leave from the end of Chain of Craters Road. The end of the road is about 30 miles (50 km) from the visitor center and takes about 1 hour to drive each way. From the end of the road follow the marked trail to the viewing area. The trail is usually less then 1 mile (1.6 km) each way. It is extremely important to follow the instructions posted on signs. Most visitors injured in the coastal area of the park have disregarded clearly posted warning signs. When possible, visitors can look down the coastline to watch lava enter the ocean. The best time to view the lava entry is at sunset. After sunset, a flashlight is required to follow the trail back to the road. Altogether the driving, walking, and lava viewing will take a minimum of 4 hours.
Another great hike is out to Puu Huluhulu. a pre-historic spatter cone. Puu Oo is the vent for the current eruption and contains an active lava pond. The Napau Crater Trail leads to Puu Huluhulu. The trail starts from the Mauna Ulu parking lot, a few miles (km) down Chain of Craters Road. Puu Huluhulu is about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the parking lot. The round trip hike takes 1-2 hours. Puu Huluhulu is the only readily accessible area in the park where Puu Oo can be seen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.