One of the most unique and must-do hikes on the Big Island is the Kilauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
This Kilauea Iki hike has it all! Walking through a lush tropical rainforest, walking inside a former lava crater lake (how cool is that!), having the chance to see an awesome huge lava tube and amazing views, all in a moderate 3-mile trail that is doable by most people.
I recently visited Big Island with my family and spent a week exploring the entire island. Hiking the Kilauea Iki crater was on my Hawaii hiking bucket list, and it was one of the first things we did on our Big Island vacation. Even before the beach!
Where is Kilauea Iki Trail
The Kilauea Iki crater is in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
In 1959, the Kilauea Iki volcano erupted, creating a gigantic crater filled with a lava lake. Over the years, the lava lake solidified and is now called the Kilauea Iki crater.
On the Kilauea Iki Trail, you will walk inside this crater of a solidified lava lake. I cannot think of anything more mind-blowing! Definitely a bucket list hike in any Big Island itinerary!
How to reach the Kilauea Iki Trailhead
Kilauea Iki volcano crater is in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, in the southeast of Big Island, Hawaii. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance is on Hwy 11.
Once past the entrance gate of the National Park, the Kilauea Iki Trailhead is only around 1.5 miles and takes about 5 minutes to reach by car.
Distance and travel time from Kona to Volcanoes Park
Visiting Volcanoes Park is one of the top Kona attractions. Volcanoes Park is around 83 miles from Kona and takes around 2 hours to drive each way from Kona.
If doing a day trip to Volcanoes Park from Kona, make sure to start really early in the day. You can also take one of the Hawaii Volcano tours from Kona and leave the driving to the local experts.
Distance and travel time from Waikoloa
From Waikoloa, Hawaii Volcanoes Park is around 88 miles and takes 1 hour 45 minutes to drive. Again, start very early in the day if doing a day trip from Waikoloa to Volcanoes Park.
Distance and travel time from Hilo
Volcanoes Park is more easily accessible from the Hilo region as it is only 42 miles away and takes around 45 minutes to drive from Hilo downtown. We stayed overnight in Hilo to explore the Hilo region and Volcanoes National Park.
Instead of driving yourself you can also take one of the Hawaii volcano tours from Hilo and ensure you get to see all the top sights of the Volcanoes Park.
Finding the Kilauea Iki trailhead
Once past the entrance gate of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Take a left on Crater Rim Drive, and you will reach the trailhead. The Kilauea Iki trailhead is only around 1.5 miles from the entrance and takes about 5 minutes to drive.
Parking for Kilauea Iki Hike
There are three parking lots near the trailhead that can be used to park for this hike.
The main parking lot at the Kilauea Iki Trailhead – This parking lot is right at the trailhead and the busiest. The trail starts from this parking lot. This is the most convenient place to park. If the parking lot is full, I recommend waiting for 10-15 minutes for someone to leave. We found a parking spot this way.
The parking lot at Thurston Lava Tube – If the main parking lot is full you can try the parking lot at Thurston Lava tube. To reach this parking, continue further down Crater Rim Drive and you will reach this smaller parking lot in around 0.4 miles.
The parking lot at Kilauea Visitor Center – The last alternative is to park at the Kilauea Visitor Center, which is 1.5 miles away and is a bit of a walk to reach the trailhead.
Kilauea Crater Hike Statistics
Below are some Kilauea Iki hike statistics:
- Hike Length – 3.2 miles
- Time needed – Around 2 to 3 hours
- Hike Route Type – This is a loop hike; you can do this hike clockwise or counterclockwise from the main parking lot. More about which direction is best later in the post.
- Elevation – Around 740 feet
- Difficulty level – Moderate due to elevation
- Trailhead Location – Starts at Kilauea Iki trailhead
- Region – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
- Kid-Friendly – Yes, lots of kids on the trail.
- Dog-friendly? – No, dogs aren’t allowed on this trail.
- Stroller/wheelchair friendly? – No. The hike is a dirt road and uneven, not paved.
How to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail
The Kilauea Iki hike can be divided into five parts:
- Climbing down via the Crater Rim Trail
- walking across the crater floor
- climbing back up through the rainforest
- visiting the Thurston Lava Tube
- Finally making your way back to the Kilauea Trailhead through the Connector Trail (Assuming you have parked there).
Which direction should you hike the Kilauea Iki Crater?
You can do the Kilauea hike clockwise or counterclockwise from the Kilauea Iki trailhead. I recommend doing this hike counter-clockwise, i.e., start at the right side entrance from the parking lot.
Here’s why you should do this hike counterclockwise – If you start counterclockwise, your return climb will be through a shaded lush rainforest, which is great for the climbing part of this hike.
Also, at the end of the climb is the Thurston lava tube, and you can cool off in the lava cave. The rest of this hike is described in this counterclock direction.
Crater Rim Trail
In the first part of the Kilauea Iki hike loop you go down a forest path via the Crater Rim Trail. This part is easy as it is all downhill with some flat areas. The downhill grade is gradual, making it a pleasant walk.
There are a couple of overlooks here with rail guards to look down at the crater below.
You will see a faint line in the middle of the crater, which is the trail path on which you will be walking once you reach down. If you look closely, you will see people walking on that path. They look really small from up here.
The Crater Rim trail towards the end descends down into the crater. There are some steps here and some uneven grades, but nothing too difficult.
Walking inside the Kilauea Iki Crater
Once you are down on the crater floor, you start your journey across the crater floor. The crater floor is uneven and broken, and it is very important to stay on the trail path.
You will see huge broken lava rocks and uneven surfaces around you. It is surreal to think that this was a molten lava lake less than 75 years ago.
The walk across the crater floor is around a mile. If it’s a sunny day, this is where you might need water as there is no shade on this path.
You might see native trees and flower blooms growing on the lava rocks and crater floor. Hikers were having fun climbing on the broken lava rocks.
Puupuai is a giant cinder cone that you can see on one side of the crater. Once you reach the other end of the crater, you will find the path to go up the crater.
You will see the Ohia native tree growing in the lava rocks. The tree has some showy red flowers that look so pretty against the black lava rocks landscape.
Climb up through a lush rainforest
If you did this hike counterclockwise, the way back up from the crater passes through a lush rainforest.
It is shaded and cool, and the elevation here doesn’t feel that bad. We were easily able to climb back up, admiring the various trees and tropical plants.
There are a few clearings here to glance at the crater that you just walked, presenting a different angle for photos. As we were walking through the rainforest, the fog started to set in, and the crater views were not that clear.
Visit the Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube
Once you reach the top of Crater Rim Drive, you will see the Thurston lava tube across the street from the parking lot.
I highly recommend you make time to visit this 500-year-old lava tube, as it is huge and amazing. It is one of the biggest lava caves I have seen to date.
The total walk inside the lava cave is less than half a mile and easily doable by all. There are no steps in the lava tube. The cooler temperature inside the lava tube feels great after the climb back up from the crater.
The lava tube has lights inside during the day from 8 AM to 8 PM. There might still be some dark corners for which you might need a headlamp or phone light.
There are some low ceilings for which you might need to watch your head. There also could be some water puddles on the floor of the cave if it rained recently. We visited during winter so there were some water puddles.
Connector Trail: Making your way back to the Kilauea Trailhead
After visiting the Thurston Lava Tube, you will notice a trail path across the parking lot that takes you back to the Kilauea Iki Trailhead. This trail path is the Connector Trail between the two parking lots. It is mostly flat and less than half a mile.
There is an overlook here to take a final peak at the Kilauea Iki crater. After a short walk, you will reach the trailhead. What a rewarding hike!
Where to stay for the Kilauea Volcano Hike
Most visitors make a day trip to Volcanoes Park from Kona, as that is where the best Hawaii resorts are.
Between Kona and Hilo, Hilo is closer to the Volcanoes Park, and there are options to stay in the Volcanoes National Park as well.
Stay in Kona-Waikoloa
Hilton Hawaiian Village is a great ocean-front resort in North Kona’s Waikoloa region.
Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is at a great location in downtown Kona and has a beach right out front.
Stay in Hilo
Alternatively, the town of Hilo is only a 45-minute drive from Volcanoes Park and has some good hotels to stay.
The Hilo Hawaiian hotel is a nice ocean-front property in Hilo on the popular Banyan Dr and within walking distance to Coconut Island.
Grand Naniloa Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton is the only brand-name resort in Hilo and is also an ocean-front property.
Stay in Volcano town near Volcanoes Park
If you want more time to explore the Volcanoes park, staying closer to the Volcano town is a great option.
Kilauea Lodge is just 1 mile from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and has an in-house restaurant. It’s a great place to stay close to the park.
The Volcano House is the only option to stay inside the National Park and has excellent views of the Halema`uma`u crater from the overlook. It has guest rooms, cabins, and campsites.
Kilauea Iki Trail travel tips and FAQs
The below tips will be helpful to make the most of your visit to the Kilauea Iki Crater and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Best time of the day to do the Kilauea Iki hike?
Mornings or evenings are the best times of the day to do the Kilauea Iki hike. Afternoons can be hot, and there is no shade on the crater floor portion of the hike. Make sure to carry enough water with you on the hike.
Are there restrooms at Kilauea Iki Trail?
There are restrooms at the Kilauea Crater Trailhead as well as at the Thurston Lava Tube near the parking lot. There are no restrooms on the actual Kilauea Iki Trail.
Stay on the designated Kilauea Iki Trail.
Make sure to follow the park rules and trail boundaries and signs. Stay on the trails. Wandering off the trail here can be dangerous due to unexpected collapses and cracks in the surface.
Follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your path.
The park rangers here often mark trail paths with a small pyramid of lava rocks which are called ‘ahu’. Do not change the rock stacks or create your own, please!
Where to eat near Kilauea Iki Trail?
The only place to eat inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and near the Kilauea Iki Trail is The Volcano House. There is a restaurant here called The Rim At Volcano House and a Lounge for quick snacks.
I highly recommend packing your food on the way to the park. That way, you can eat after your hike. We packed food from a local restaurant on the way from Hilo and ate after the hike.
What else can you do after the Kilauea Iki crater hike
There are several things you can do in Hawaii Volcanes National Park after the Kilauea crater hike:
- Visit Volcano house and admire the views from the Halema`uma`u crater overlook
- Drive the Chain of Craters road all the way to the Holei Sea Arch
- Visit the Sulphur Banks and Steaming Bluff
- Stay for the lava glow after dark from the Devastation Trail overlook
- Do additional hikes in Volcanoes Park, like the Byron Ledge Trail hike, Devastation Trail hike, or Halema‘uma‘u trail hike.
What to pack for the Kilauea Iki Crater hike?
Below are the essentials you should pack for the Kilauea Iki hike:
- Water in a reusable water bottle
- Snacks and maybe lunch/dinner
- Cap or hat
- Backpack with first aid kit and other essentials
- Hiking poles are usually not needed, but keep them if you need them for ascending/descending the crater.
- Hiking shoes, but sneakers will work as well
- Rain jacket, as it can rain anytime in Hawaii
- Headlamp or phone light for the lava cave
Hawaii Volcanoes Park hours and admission fees
Kilauea Iki Trail is inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is open 24 hours a day, all year, even on holidays.
You must pay the entrance fee below to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- Private Vehicle ($30, valid for seven days)
- Motorcycle ($25, valid for seven days)
- Individual/Bicycle ($15, valid for seven days)
Final takeaways: Hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail
Kilauea Iki trail is a unique hike and should be on your Hawaii bucket list for sure.
Walk inside a solidified lava lake, hike through a lush rainforest, and visit a 500-year-old lava tube. This is the most popular hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National park and is only around 3 miles. It can be easily done in 2 to 3 hours in the morning.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park after hiking the amazing Kilauea Iki trail.
Looking to explore Volcanoes National Park by taking a tour?
Taking a tour is a great way to ensure you do not miss the top sights and get in-depth information about the Volcanoes Park from an expert guide. Below are some highly-rated tours:
Wanting to do a day trip to Volcanoes Park from Oahu?
Day trip from Oahu to Volcanoes National Park and Hilo – Includes inter-island flights and a ground tour in Big Island that covers top sights in Volcanoes Park and Hilo!
Visiting Big Island, Hawaii? Check out my other posts in the Big Island series: