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Pahoa, Hawaii, United States

Hawai'i Chain of Craters Drive

An unforgettable drive from the top of Kilauea in Hawai'i to the Pacific Ocean.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 22 miles / 35 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly
Overview: 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.

Tips: You will need a good supply of water and sunscreen as there is no shade once you move onto the lava fields.

Bring a lunch as there is no food available anywhere on the drive. You don't want to have to turn around because people are getting hungry. It's 20 miles to the sea, but it will take hours to get there with all the stops and slow driving.

Before starting on the drive, go to the Visitor Center and take a short drive to the Vocano Observatory where you can see the summit vent up close. Or, save this for later. I suggest dinner in Volcano at the Thai Thai Restaurant and then return in the evening to see the summit plume at night.

Points of Interest


The Top of Kilauea

This is the view from the Volcano Observatory. You will want to come here after dark to see the glowing summit plume caused by a swirling lava lake at the bottom of the crater. This is as close as they will let you get. From here you can see the upper vent of the volcano. Come here at

Kilauea Iki

Kilauea Iki is the crater from the 1959 eruption. The ground still seeps steam and vapor, but you can hike across the crater floor.

Thurston Lava Tube

Don't miss the Thurston Lava Tube. A short walk off the road brings you to a long tunnel created when lava flowed to the ocean through this tube. You can walk through the tube for a ways along a lit portion.

Crater Drive

As you drop away from the summit crater, the ferns and jungle take over as the road winds through on the way down the mountain.

1979 Lava Flow

Here you can see where lava flowed across the road in the November 1979 eruption. Get out and walk on the hardened lava and look at the plant life growing in the cracks.

Drive Through The Lava

As you descend along the road you travel past amazing lava flows. You can see A'a lava flows, called that because it is a sharp and crumbly lava that hurts your feet when you walk across it, making you say "A'a." You also pass by beautiful pahoehoe lava that is smooth and flowing lava forming wonderful pillows and braids that are amazing to walk around and look at. Get out of your car and explore both types of lava.

Lava Fields Down To The Sea

The lava fields reach all the way to the sea here.

Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Trail

Just a short 0.7 mile hike off the road are the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs. Bring some decent shoes because you are walking across the lava rocks and cracks and following cairns most of the way. When you get there, there is a raised boardwalk that takes you around the petroglyphs. The Petroglyphs with holes represent a newborn baby. The custom was to come out with the umbilical cord, create a new hole, and put the umbilical cord in the hole.

The Ocean Cliffs and a View of the Lava

From here you can park your car and walk out on the lava cliffs. Looking down the cliffs, you can see the plume of vapor where lava is reaching the sea. It's cold and windy here, so bring a jacket.
Pictures in this guide taken by: tonyfarley
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Visited on Jan 02, 2016

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