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  3. Kilauea Iki Trail: hiking on the lava lake of Kilauea Iki
Written by Sandrine Updated on 17/03/20
Loop of 6,4 km

The Kilauea Iki Trail is probably the most popular trail in Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park! And for good reason, it takes us walking on the cooled lava lake of Kilauea Iki, formed during the last eruption in 1959. And what an eruption it was!

1The eruption of Kilauea Iki in 1959

After 3 months of seismic tremors that went crescendo, the volcano began to spit out lava forming a gigantic lava fountain that holds the record for the highest lava eruption recorded with nearly 580 meters high reached on December 16, 1959!!

Following this eruption, a huge lava lake formed, reaching up to 126 meters deep! The chaos is such that rapids and lava eddies are observed in the lake!

Since then, the lake has cooled and solidified. The crust that had formed as it cooled subsequently cracked and collapsed in places. Today you can observe all these phenomena by taking the Kilauea Iki trail.

Don't forget to read the information panels in the car park that tell the story of the eruption with some photos from that time.

2The Kilauea Iki trail

The Kilauea Iki trail is a 6.4 km loop starting from the Kilauea Overlook car park.

Before the eruption of 2018 it was possible to start the trail from the Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube) car park, but this was restricted due to damage to the park. Finally, the entire Kilauea Iki trail was reopened on 22 September 2019 (previously only a round trip to the bottom of the lava lake was possible).

The trail forms a loop, so it is possible to walk it in both directions. However, we recommend that the route be done in a clockwise direction, i.e. start by walking to the Thurston Lava Tube car park and then begin the descent to the lava lake. The following description is made in this direction.

The hike step by step

From the car park, a first section of 1 km/ 0.6 miles on a very slight uphill, runs along the shoreline and offers several small lookouts on the old lava lake.

Sandrine at one of the belvederes overlooking the lava lake of Kilauea Iki
Here I am at one of the lookouts overlooking the old lava lake.

Quite quickly, we reach the parking lot of Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube). From here, the trail gently slopes down to the lake, winding several laps through lush vegetation. It is very pleasant!

Descent into the jungle - Kilauea Iki trail
The path goes down through the jungle.
Flo at the bottom of the descent - Kilauea Iki trail
Flo at the bottom of the descent.

Finally we come to the vast expanse of the lava lake. We can very well imagine the time when the lake was in a state of liquid lava. Today, the thin crust on the surface, fractured in places, looks like that of a chocolate cake coming out of the oven.

Lava Lake Trail - Kilauea Iki trail
I'm walking into the lava lake.

The trail then continues across the lake almost in the middle. Just follow the cairns and enjoy the scenery.

Kilaua Iki trail
Just follow the big cairns.

In places, fumaroles can be seen coming out of the ground. These fumaroles form when rainwater seeps into the ground and meets the rocks that are still warm at the bottom of the lake!

After crossing the lake, we arrive in a much more chaotic area, first with a few collapses on the sides, then in a field where the lava has clumped together in bundles.

Kilauea Iki trail
Collapse of lava on the sides.
Lava field - Kilauea Iki trail
Chaotic lava field after the lake.

The trail then climbs up to reach the edge of the Halema'uma'u caldera, which it follows for a few moments before branching off through the jungle to return to the parking lot.

It takes about 2 hours to cover the 6.4 km loop.

Our opinion