This Hawaii hike takes you across a once-molten lava lake
The crater floor peers at me through the rainforest foliage as I walk along the rim of Kilauea Iki — a 400-foot-deep crater created by Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii‘s most active volcano.
I started my day early in the morning so the 3.3 mile loop hike I set out on is peaceful with only the occasional passerby. The sun warms an otherwise cool forest and the air smells of morning dew as I hit the trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The trail gradually leads me down to the crater floor of Kilauea Iki. It’s a nice, well-maintained walk, but I’m excited for the main attraction — and the occasional views scattered through the trees are a major annoyance.
While Kilauea Volcano is Hawaii’s most active, it’s not the youngest—that honor goes to Kamaehuakanaloa (formerly Loihi), which is currently erupting underwater. Kilauea is a shield volcano that is low and long with many craters. Halemaumau Crater is the most famous, known for its glowing red lava lake.
But on the other side of the caldera from Kilauea, separated only by a tree-covered ridge, lies Kilauea Iki – “Little Kilauea” in English. Although smaller than neighboring Halemaumau, this crater is still large at about a mile wide.
The last eruption at Kilauea Iki was in 1959, when a spectacular series of lava fountains shot 50 to 100 feet into the air and sent lava down the crater walls to the bottom where it pooled.
“I’m watching fireworks that make the Fourth of July look like some guy lighting a match,” an eyewitness said in a 1959 Honolulu Advertiser newspaper article. “Observers called it ‘more amazing than anything that’s happening in Halemaumau is’.”
After about a month, the eruption stopped and formed this hardened lava lake that you can hike across today.