Winster Cavers - an adventurous perspective on our natural world.
Follow us on Facebook to keep up with our latest adventures Like our website?
'Like' us on Facebook...



Have you found this site useful? If so, why not make a small contribution to our running costs. Just click on the button below for more details:


Walking on Big Island, Hawaii - The Napau Crater Trail to the Pu'u O'o overlook

A moderate - hard walk over open desert.





Altitude Gained:



6 hours

The fuming volcanic crater of Pu'u 'O'o has, in recent years, become iconic of the current eruption on Hawaii Big Island. The area close to the crater was, at the time of our visit, out of bounds, but this long walk across open lava fields affords good views across the Napau Crater towards Pu'u 'O'o.

Right: The fuming crater of Pu'u 'O'o amid threatening weather, September 2008
© Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles, 2008

Mauna Loa viewed from Pu'u Huluhulu - September 2008

Walk in brief:

When the current eruption on Kilauea started in 1983, a series of spectacular fire-fountains on the East rift zone of Big Island, Hawaii gave rise to the cone of Pu'u 'O'o. Magma is still degassing through Pu'u 'O'o, and it is this area on Big Island, and fractures to the South of Pu'u 'O'o, that give rise to much of the current activity.

This mostly level walk starts from part way down the Chain of Craters road, to cut across the desert towards the cone of Pu'u 'O'o. It is not safe/possible to get close to Pu'u 'O'o, but the views you gain over the Napau Crater are about as good as you'll get from anywhere on the island – unless you're up for a helicopter tour, that is.

Although of moderate length, the walk drops just 200m in altitude as one heads out towards the Napau Crater. As with many of the hikes in the area, much time is spent on open lava fields where there is virtually no shelter from the weather (take sun block, plenty of water and light rain gear) and the terrain is fairly rough under foot.

A back-country permit is required for this walk. Call in at the Kilauea Visitor Centre to get your permit (free at the time of writing).

The approach:

Having obtained your permit, take the Chain of Craters road South from the Kilauea visitors centre. After approx. 6 miles, a turning left takes you to the car parking area for the start of the hike. There are public toilets here and, if you are lucky, nene (Hawaiian geese).

The Napau Crater Trail:

At the far end of the car park, some interpretation panels on the left indicate the start of the walk – NOT to be confused with the continuation of the road/track which looks inviting, but would soon lead you off-track.

A cairned and fairly well-travelled path skirts along the edge of the lava flow/forest boundary towards the small mound of Pu'u Huluhulu (hairy hill). Yes, there are at least two Pu'u Huluhulu's on the island!

Hiking across the immense lava fields on the Napau Crater Trail, Big Island,Hawaii.

Hiking across the immense lava fields on the Napau Crater Trail, Big Island, Hawaii.
© Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles, 2008

As you approach Pu'u Huluhulu, the path turns right and upwards to skirt round the West and South sides of the hill. A small path to the viewpoint at the top of Pu'u Huluhulu makes for a short, but worthwhile diversion. On our visit, we could see not only the fuming crater of distant Pu'u 'O'o, but also the plume from the even more distant Waikupanaha ocean entry.

The cairned path follows the South side of Pu'u Huluhulu, before turning more Southwards and across the open lava field. Navigation in good conditions is easy, but note that the cairns could become difficult to spot in poor visibility or in darkness.

A fairly relentless trek across the desert passes an impressive rift from the Mauna Ulu eruption, and a fine example of the start of a lava tube, before reaching the immense Makaopuhi crater after ~3 miles. As you skirt around the West and then South side of the Makaopuhi crater, the path enters a forest of false staghorn ferns, tree ferns and ohia trees – becoming more defined as it does so. Pleasant walking through the forest, surrounded by birdsong, gives some welcome shelter from the elements.

Pass the Kalapana trail on the right, and follow the main route as it swings gently North East, continuing as a clearly defined trail through the forest. A further three miles brings you to a junction. Straight on (left) would take you further towards Pu'u 'O'o. At the time of writing, this area was closed. Right follows a short dead-end trail to bring you to the edge of the Napau Crater. A small clearing on the crater rim looks out across the crater – with a fine view of Pu'u 'O'o. This, the Napau Crater overlook, makes for a fine lunch spot before returning by simply reversing the route.