The Napau Trail crosses through 7 miles of lava flows and rainforest terrain while passing by Makaopuhi Crater and ending at the edge of Napau Crater. Difficulties encountered on the hike include avoiding cuts and falls on sharp lava rock, the hazard of breathing volcanic fumes, staying safely away from the edge of craters, dealing with hot hiking conditions in the sun, staying on the marked trail to avoid ground collapses into hidden lava tubes, and knowing what to do in case of a rare volcanic eruption. Google Earth maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the Napau Trail parking lot are 19° 21.915'N, 155° 12.965'W. GPS coordinates for the end of the trail at Napau Crater are 19° 22.407'N, 155° 8.866'W.
As part of our first-ever trip to the Big Island in February of 2015, I wanted to spend some time visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. So on one day, our group did a tour of the park which included driving the full length of the Chain of Craters Road to the end at the Holei Sea Arch. On another day, I came back to do a full day of hiking. After looking over the various trails of Hawaii Volcanoes NP, there were two trails which captured my attention -- the Napau Trail and the Naulu Trail. The Napau Trail seemed to be the more outstanding of the two. In fact, it seemed to be the best hiking trail in the park because it featured such a variety of scenery. Over the course of 7 miles one-way, the Napau Trail passes through lava fields which were created from various lava flows over the years, rainforests that are 175 years old, eerie steam vents which are releasing hot steam sometimes too close for comfort, and by the edges of several major craters caused by past volcanic eruptions. After doing some research at home, I realized that the Napau Trail and Naulu Trail could be loop hiked. This option really appealed to me because it would allow me to cover both trails in a single day and see additional scenery in the park which I otherwise would have missed. There was only one catch to doing the loop hike, and that was that I would have to either hike 6.5 miles on hot pavement to get back to my vehicle or catch a ride with someone. The hiking distance for the Napau-Naulu loop hike is 12.2 miles plus the potential 6.5 miles on pavement (the Chain of Craters Road).
Waking up early one morning at our lodging in Waikoloa, I took the long 2-hour drive to Hawaii Volcanoes NP by way of the Saddle Road route. After leaving the car in the parking lot and signing into the trail register (which is a requirement), my solo hike began. During the early portion of the hike, an effort has been made by the park service to educate the public on the names of various plants and trees which are growing within the volcanic landscape. What makes it fascinating to learn about these plants is the fact that they are able to grow and thrive despite the fact that lava flows completely covered many of these areas in recent times and left a completely desolate landscape behind. Personally, I had seen nothing like this since my last trip to Iceland back in 2006. The first 1.2 miles on the Napau Trail are spent learning about these plants as the hiking alternates between rainforest and lava flow areas. Some of the highlights during this first portion also included seeing several lava tree molds. At this point, there is a spur trail off to the left which goes up to the minor summit of Pu'u Huluhulu, which is a forested cinder cone. I went ahead and took the spur trail and there were some nice views at the top toward Mauna Ulu (nearby) and Pu'u 'O'o (much farther in the distance), which is the current eruption area. There were supposed to be views also from this spot of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, but they were not visible during my hike due to vog (volcanic air pollution). Upon returning to the Napau Trail, the hike heads off into the vast emptiness of what looks like an endless lava field (see header image above). The route along the trail is marked by way of cairns of stacked volcanic rocks. Steam vents are passed by, along with a smaller crater near Alae lava shield, which is interesting to check out. One of the things that I quickly learned during this portion of the hike is that hardened lava can be quite beautiful. That's kind of unexpected because once lava rivers stop flowing, they immediately harden and begin to darken in color. However, the designs and colors which are left behind as a lava flow is frozen in time can be truly brilliant. And that's something that you will see within my included set of photographs. This portion of the hike also wraps around the base of Mauna Ulu, which stopped erupting back on July 24, 1974 (about three months before I was born). Eventually, almost 5 miles of hiking comes to an abrupt end at the rim of Makaopuhi Crater. Makaopuhi Crater is quite a sight to behold in person, being one full mile in width. The trail continues by heading into a rainforest along the rim of the crater. There are several viewpoints within this area which allow for nice crater overlooks. However, please keep in mind the need to stay safely away from the edge of Makaopuhi Crater, as portions of the rim can collapse at any time. After passing by the junction with the Naulu Trail (and the Kalapana Trail), the hike continues for 2 more miles to the edge of the Napau Crater. This final portion of the trail constricts quite a bit and you have to push yourself through lots of brush. If you're not wearing pants and a jacket, this is where you will receive some cuts and bruises (like I did). At the end, you are treated to a great view of Pu'u 'O'o, as this is the closest you can legally hike to the current active eruption site. After enjoying the Napau Crater views for a while, I went back to the earlier junction and hiked the entire length of the Naulu Trail to where it originates at the Kealakomo Overlook. A few interesting things happened along this trail, which made the loop hike worthwhile. First, I surprised one of the large non-native feral pigs by walking around a corner and startling him. That was a scary moment for both of us, but fortunately he took off running away from me. Second, the hike crossed part of an old road which had been partially covered by lava flows. That provided a startling contrast to see first-hand. And third, there was an interesting area where you can check out a lava cave or tube. Seeing that reminded me of why it is important to stay on the marked trails within the park, because it wouldn't be good to walk on ground which suddenly collapses into an underground lava tunnel. Upon reaching the Kealakomo Overlook, I turned right and began the long hike up the Chain of Craters Road on very hot pavement. After hiking 3.2 miles (halfway back up), a kind person pulled over and gave me a ride the rest of the way. My hike took place on February 8, 2015.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT