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Step right up ... at least for now.

After almost five years of constant eruptions from Kupaianaha vent, Kilauea is no longer flaunting its fire. Molten rivers of lava stopped flowing from the volcano to the sea in late 1991, and for now volcanic activity is limited mostly to inaccessible areas. But three trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offer visitors good views of craters, lava, or the newborn, lava-formed land on the Big Island's southeast coast.

Kilauea is as unpredictable as the Hawaiian Islanders' most temperamental goddess, Pele: it may or may not erupt at any time. For recorded details on current eruptions, call (808) 967-7977.

From Hilo, it's a 45-minute uphill drive on State Highway 11 to the park. Pick up a map at the park entrance ($5 per car), then orient yourself at the nearby Kilauea Visitor Center. Inquire here about ranger-guided hikes.

There are no services along Crater Rim Drive or Chain of Craters Road; be prepared with sufficient gas, food, and water.


From Kilauea's Crater Rim Drive, take the short trail to Halemaumau firepit--with some precautions. Because acidic fumes are rising from cracks in the trail and the firepit, park rangers advise pregnant women and visitors with heart or respiratory problems not to hike it. At Jaggar Museum on Kilauea's rim (open 7:45 A.M. to 5 P.M.), watch a working seismometer, and learn how tiltmeters measure magma rising and falling 2 miles under your feet.


Newly hardened lava in all its subtle shadings is a highlight on this 2-hour, roughly 2-mile hike. Allow 2 to 3 hours to make the drive from Kilauea Visitor Center to the trailhead and back (65 miles round trip). Park at the end of Chain of Craters Road, 1 1/2 miles past Kamoamoa Campground. Carry water, and protect yourself from sun with sunscreen and a hat.

From the trailhead, follow trail signs and cairns (rock piles that serve as trail markers) for about a mile over glassy new lava to Wahaula. Look on the lava's surface or in cracks for golden threads of spun volcanic glass ("Pele's hair") and translucent golden flakes--pieces of volcanic glass bubbles ("Pele's seaweed," limu o pele).

Where the shiny black lava surface has lifted and split like a ruptured blister, notice striped layers beneath it. These brown, red, or yellow layers are the result of oxidation and various temperatures as the lava cooled.

Though lava destroyed the Wahaula Visitor Center, it only skirted the nearby heiau--a Hawaiian temple built about 1250. On the ocean side of the heiau, you can clearly distinguish the brand-new land: the fresh lava is shiny black against the gray of the old lava seawall. Keep your distance from the unstable sea cliff edges.

The new lava here sizzled into the ocean after coursing 7 miles underground from Kupaianaha vent in Kilauea's east flank. If you look up the slope, you'll see large dark patches between green portions of the cliffs; these dark patches are lava flows that spilled from Puu Oo cinder cone between 1983 and 1986.

Back at Kamoamoa Campground, stroll on the black sand beach that formed over a rocky cove in 1987 when lava from the recent eruption hit cold ocean water, solidified, and shattered. Now, waves are removing the sand in nature's dynamic landforming cycle. The beach, though unsafe for swimming, is a picturesque picnic spot.

The park staffs a mobile information center in a trailer at Kamoamoa.


This 1 1/2-mile hike takes you over the 1974 lava flow from nearby Mauna Ulu to Puu Huluhulu Overlook. From here, you can see the glow of the lava lake in Puu Oo cinder cone. To see the glow at its greatest intensity, plan to be at the lookout at sunset (pack a picnic supper to carry with you).

From Kilauea Visitor Center, follow Crater Rim Drive to Chain of Craters Road, then go 4 miles to the Mauna Ulu trailhead and parking lot.

Wear long pants and hiking shoes, and carry a jacket to ward off evening chill. Trails over lava are not well worn, so watch carefully (carry a flashlight) for cairns marking the way.

For more information about the park, write to Superintendent, Box 52, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 96718, or call park headquarters at (808) 967-7311.
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Title Annotation:hiking on Mount Kilauea, Hawaii
Author:Bowman, Sally-Jo
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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