Kilauea Iki Hike in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park

Where else but in Hawaii can you hike through a beautiful rain forest and then across a volcanic crater floor all in the same hike? This unique hike is one of my favorites in all of Hawaii. It’s called the Kilauea Iki Trail and it is located on the Big Island in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is truly amazing to go through the contrast of environments, from the rich rain forest to the crater with plant life barely dotted along the floor.

A view through the forest of Kilauea Iki crater floor from the trail.
A view through the forest of Kilauea Iki crater floor from the trail.

Kilauea Iki had been inactive for nearly a century when it erupted in 1959 for 36 days. If you take this hike, imagine the lava shooting up more than 1,900 feet which is four times the height of the crater walls. To learn more about the history of Kilauea Iki and see some fascinating photos taken during the eruption, see this link to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Before you start the hike, it would be helpful to stop in at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitor center. There, you can ask the park rangers for their advice on hiking this trail. With the ever changing landscapes at this park, it’s a good idea to check with the rangers for the latest information.

This 4-mile loop hike starts near the crater’s rim and descends 400 feet down to the crater floor. The path cuts directly across the crater floor before climbing back up along the crater’s rim. It is considered to be a moderate hike that should take two to four hours. You’ll find this trail off of Crater Rim Drive near the Thurston Lava Tube.

At the crater floor
At the crater floor

I highly recommend this hike if you have the time available as you explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Please note that there is a fee for entrance into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. That fee allows entrance in to the park for seven days. If you go, be sure to check in at the visitor’s center to verify that the trail is open and check for any hazards.

We advise that you:

  • bring water
  • wear comfortable hiking shoes, hiking sandals or sneakers.
  • wear sunscreen and/or sun-protective clothing
  • hiking poles are optional, but helpful for the steep sections of the trail.

If you’re not up for the hike, there is an overlook for you to take a peek at the impressive crater.

Get more ideas of what to see and do on your Big Island vacation.

  1. I have been on this hiking trail several times. When family and friends come to visit, this is the hike we take them on! Going down into the crater is easy, and walking across is no problem, hiking back up out of the crater–although not steep, is still uphill all the way. There actually is a bench conveniently located halfway up though:) You may still see my butt print there!

  2. One of our most favorite hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park when showing the park to friends and family visiting from the Mainland. Most important it’s not strenuous yet gives you the eerie feeling about Goddess Pele being around. No worries. It’s safe! Aloha, Pua

  3. Well, let me join HVG and Pua to make it unanimous: We, too, take our visitors on that hike (or recommend that they do it, if they go to the Park without us). That, and Thurston Lava Tube are must see parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

  4. Bobbie – nice to see that you also give this hike your stamp of approval. I enjoyed seeing the Thurston Lave Tube, too.

  5. I like the idea of moving between rain forest and volcano — from gentle to destructive (potentially). 🙂 Nature can be incredible! Loved the link to the observatory too!

  6. Hi Evelyn – Thanks for your comment! It really is a big contrast to go from the lush green rain forest straight to the black lava! In the crater, there’s very few plants. There are a few steam vents which make it even more interesting. I’d have to rate this hike in my top 5 in Hawaii!

    1. To be on the safe side, I’d say no. The reason being is that there are some volcanic gasses escaping from the crater floor. Those can be irritating for small children. Also, the walk across the crater floor offers no shade whatsoever.

      A brainstorm idea — What you might want to consider is a modified version of the hike. Hike down through the forest just to the edge of the crater floor and then double back. That way you’d get to enjoy the forest plus get an idea of the size of this vast crater, but still be shaded and minimize exposure to the volcanic gasses.

      1. Thank you for this advice, Sheila. I have a 2 year old and 11 year old and we are visiting for the first time. I wanted to please both while only being on the island a short time.

  7. I’m planning my and my husband’s honeymoon on The Big Island. Would you say hiking boots are recommended or required for this hike, or would tennis shoes do fine? We are from Washington State so hikes are nothing new, but I’d rather not have big ‘ole hiking boots taking up valuable suitcase space on our trip.


    1. An exercise shoe – like a running shoe — with good tread should suffice. You don’t need a hiking boot for this trail.

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