Napau Crater Trail is a 11.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Pahoa, HI that offers scenic views and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and nature trips and is accessible year-round.
Directions from Chain of Craters Road: Napau Trail begins at Mauna Ulu parking lot on Chain of Craters Road. The distance from the visitor center to the trailhead is eight miles.
This is a cool hike with the opportunity to camp out overnight at the Napau Crater Rim. See below for a review of the hike with aerial birds eye view of the route.
Completed this hike Feb 19, 2013. The trail starts out flat and simple with info markers. It is a tourist trail. When you past the markers and see the sign for the Makaopuhi Crater, you are on your way. There are stone markers all along the route to keep you on track. You will pass several steam vents where the lava crust is very brittle. BE CAREFUL. I ended up breaking through several places just by walking too far off the trail to explore. There is also a very large crater here that is not marked in the map. BE CAREFUL. The edge is fragile and you can see how the crater wall is collapsing. This is the most active earthquake zone as well. When you get to the Makaopuhi Crater the view is amazing. There is a large steam vent along the side wall. The trail stops here, but the stone markers show you the route to the Npau Trail.
The hike through this rainforest is absolutely amazing. Huge ferns, flowers, trees covered in vines. It travels along the edge of the Makaopuhi Crater on a decent trail with some muddy places, your hiking boots best be waterproof. Because it travels along the edge of the crater you have some different views along the way. BE CAREFUL. There are areas marked where the edge is undercut and not well supported. The trail continues along to the closed Npau camping site, there are wild orchids all along the trail which are a spectacular site to see in nature. Once you reach the camp site, the trail is very over grown, as I noticed hiking through the rainforest, many people stop at Makaopuhi Crater. Follow the sign towards the old pit toilet and you will catch up with the stone markers again. Take notice to all the lava coated tree stumps in this area, very cool. The trail continues down to the Npau Crater edge then is blocked by the warning signs. Just beyond you see a well marked trail down the crater wall and across the old lace lake. Pu'u 'O'o will be smoking and steaming in the distance. Glance to the right of your position and notice the trees with no leaves in the distance, that's from Sulfur Dioxide. Nasty stuff. The trail goes on to the base of the active volcano. I would not suggest "yes or no" to take this trail as you are violating several State and county laws, but make your own decision on the risk you are willing to take.