Hawai'i Chain of Craters Drive is a 21.9 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Volcano, HI that features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.
An unforgettable drive from the top of Kilauea in Hawai'i to the Pacific Ocean. Many people come to Hawaii for the beaches, but Kilauea is a place you do not want to miss on any visit to the Big Island. Set aside an entire day, at least, for seeing Kilauea and all its sites. This drive down the Chain of Craters Drive is an unforgettable journey from the top of the volcano, past volcanic floes and craters from ages past, and down to the ocean where the lava flows into the ocean. On the way you can stop and walk through a lava tube (you can check out the video on the Thurston Lava Tube point of interest) and a short walk gets you out of the car an across the lava fields to see petroglyphs in the lava. This drive gets you away from the tourist filled beaches and into a different world, the world of the volcano.
An excellent drive, you got to do it if you are here.
Must do drive in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This review is from my notes in 2007 and 2008, the volcano is still active and new vents open all the time, so the landscape has likely changed. Check the NP website for the latest conditions and not recommended to go off trail. The road is 19 miles to the sea - Allow 3 hrs down and back with stops. Best time for photography of the landscape at the top of the road is either before 9 AM or after 3 PM (when sunlight slants off the lava). Make sure you wear hiking shoes, take lots of water even at night, but more in the day, and if it rains you’ll need something waterproof to protect your camera or phones, wear pants and hat, take flashlight and binoculars and stay on the trails. Should be at the end of the road by nightfall to see the lava glow - preferably 1-2 hrs before dusk (4:30-5) to see lava in the daylight as well as the dark. Allow time to hike to the lava – sunset is around 7PM (don’t forget your flashlight). Where lava reaches the sea, you will have a toxic cocktail of HCL acid and sulfuric acid, stinging the eyes and damaging sunglasses and cameras - commonly called "vog." Make sure to wipe off camera afterwards (air is acidic and is hard on electronics). If you get too close to the lava, the heat may consume your camera battery. Be prepared for intense sunlight and noxious fumes.
For about 4 miles as you head towards the coast, the route follows the upper part of the active East Rift Zone. Scenic turnouts and short walks bring you to the rims of several impressive craters, but don’t bother with the Kookoolau. First road to the right is Hilina Pali Rd with blind curves, sharp rises and fog (after 2.2 miles). At the end of the road (8.3 miles) is the impressive Hilina Pali Overlook, a lookout at 2280 ft with a GREAT view of the southeast coast – trails in this area lead to the coast but are long, hot, and dull. Back to CofC Rd and at .1 miles from the intersection stop at Devil’s Throat on left (60 sec walk & it is UNMARKED). Next take the turnoff on the left of C of C Rd (3.5 mile down C of C Rd - Distance from VC to TH is 8 miles/25 minutes) and park in the Mauna Ulu parking area to take the Puu Huluhulu Overlook Trail (first leg of the Napau Trail = 18 miles and 9 hrs long - the first 5 miles of the trail follows what was once C of C Rd), a 3 mile RT (2 hr) hike up to Pu’u Huluhulu to the overlook at the top - crosses over lava flows from 1974 and climbs to the top of a 150 ft cinder cone, where you will have a panoramic view of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Pu’u O’o vent (look for steam far to the east), Kilauea, the East Rift Zone, the ocean, and Mauna Ulu - the large steaming domelike hill directly to the south. Bring water. Prepare for hot and dry or wet and windy weather. Follow the (rock piles) over the lava flows. Sulfur fumes may be strong on some days. Next, back on the C of Craters Rd. you will drive over several miles of Pahoehoe lava flows produced when the Mauna Ulu formed in the 1970’s. At the turnouts you can stand on some of the newest ground on Earth (At the 14 MM look at the segment of the old partially covered CofC Rd and just past the 15MM there’s a lava tube on the left). This lava is more than 2000 degrees F and begins fluid then chills to a smooth, ropy surface. This rock contrasts with a’a – thicker, slow-moving lava that has hardened into a chaotic jumble of rough jagged cinders. Stop at turnouts to see sweeping views of lava flows and white-capped waves pounding the black shoreline (Picnic at Kealakoma at the covered picnic shelter). Then Petroglyphs trail area (1.25 hrs and 2 mile RT walk). About 21 miles offshore, a huge undersea volcano is building a future Hawaiian island, named Loihi. Next, just before the 19 MM, look for the sign marking the Holei Sea Arch (walk less than a minute) - the huge coastal shelf is breaking away and sinking into the sea. The road ends at a 2003 lava flow. Since 1986 an almost continuous flow of lava from Pu’u O’o has buried several miles of the road and a VC at the end - follow the reflectors to a safe observation point. Stay at least 400 yards inland and take your flashlights. RT can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hrs. Park rangers mark a path to a safe viewpoint close to current flows. Port-a-potties, but no water, check with rangers to see what’s happening, including what you can see at night. We've enjoyed this trip twice, each time is something new. Love the end of the road signs under the lava. Definitely an experience.