Sunday, June 22, 2014

Best trails to see Hawaii Volcanoes' wonders

Ha‘akulamanu Boardwalk non the Ha'akulamanu
(Sulphur Banks) Trail. Photo courtesy Hawaii Volcanoes NPS. 
Among the best ways to see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – the world’s largest volcano, lava flows, petroglyphs, rainforests, and smoking rock banks.

World’s largest volcano
Visit this national park, and you’ll spend a good portion of your time on the sides of the world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa. While hiking to the summit requires a three-day park-led excursion, you can day hike part of the nearby Kīlauea Caldera via the 0.8-miles round trip Crater Rim Drive Trail. The trail heads past now hardened lava flows from 1974 to the Keanakākoʻi Crater overlook and offers a panoramic view of Mauna Loa.

Lava flows
As the park contains active volcanoes in the process of building an island, no visit would be complete without seeing lava flows. Usually a post-sunset 1-mile round trip hike on the End of Chain of Craters Road Trail offers the best opportunity to spot orange lava streams. During the day, steam clouds often be seen.

More than 23,000 petroglyphs have been etched into hardened lava in the Pu'u Loa parking area; a number of them are more than 500 years old. They can be seen along the 2-miles round trip Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs Trail, which leaves from the parking lot mile marker 16 on Chain of Craters Road.

Hawaiian flora and fauna began to evolve in complete isolation more 70 million years ago. You can spy some of those plants and birds on the 'Iliahi (Sandalwood) Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that leaves from the Volcano House hotel.

Smoking rock banks
Along the active volcano’s side are a number of steaming cracks of multicolored mineral deposits. The 1.2-mile round trip Ha'akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) Trail provides the opportunity to see both.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.