The Byron Ledge (Uealoha) Trail is another of the numerous topnotch trails around the spectacular Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hikeable on its own, it’s also often used in combination with other routes to make various circuits through the dramatic and diverse terrain atop Kilauea Volcano, home of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele.
It’s important to stress at the outset that, thanks to Kilauea’s status as one of the world’s most active volcanoes, hiking trails in this vicinity may be temporarily closed or permanently rerouted depending on conditions. Since the establishment of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea’s eruptions have continued to reshape the landscape, destroying some features while forging new land through fresh lava flows. In the process, trails and roads have been damaged or obliterated. It’s important to keep abreast of current conditions and check in with park rangers to determine the trail’s updated status.
(And, needless to say, it’s imperative you abide by any trail closures. From choking sulphur dioxide to unstable ground and explosive eruptions, such closures are designed to protect you from some very real hazards associated with Pele’s fitful nature.)
The Byron Ledge itself—aka Uealoha—is a rim separating Kilauea Caldera from the much smaller Kilauea Iki Crater to the east.
The vast Kilauea Caldera marks the partially collapsed roof of the Kilauea Volcano. (In Native Hawaiian tradition, a dispute between Pele and her sister Hiaka opened the caldera.) Within the larger caldera lies Halemaumau, a pit crater often pooled with lava and considered the main abode these days of Pele.
Meanwhile, Kilauea Iki—“Little Kilauea”—is a pit crater that famously roared into action back in 1959, producing towering lava fountains and the striking cinder-and-spatter cone called Puu Puai (“Gushing Hill”).
While you can reach the Byron Ledge Trail from a couple of different ways, the most direct is from the Devastation Trailhead south of Kilauea Iki. The righthand path here is the Devastation Trail, which crosses once-rainforested ground transformed by the extended Kilauea Iki eruption in ‘59. The lefthand way is the 1.1-mile one-way route of the Byron Ledge Trail. This is a moderate hike that, despite the short out-and-back mileage, provides a bit of a workout.
Crossing cinder barrens getting revegetated in scrubby woodland, you’ll proceed northwestward toward Ueahola. The views include Kilauea Caldera, Puu Puai, and, in the distance, the enormous profiles of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. These are the two mightiest of the multiple shield volcanoes that, Kilauea included, build the Big Island. Mauna Loa is the most massive volcano rising above sea level on Earth, while Mauna Kea—considered from its underwater base to its summit—is the planet’s tallest mountain.
The Byron Ledge is mostly forested with lush ohia trees, ferns, and other vegetation. But viewpoints afford amazing looks out over the Kilauea Caldera, with 1974-vintage lava just below you on the east side of the caldera and the Halemaumau Crater steaming to the west-southwest. In the recent past, a southwestern leg of the Byron Ledge Trail dropped down to the caldera floor and approached Halemaumau. Eruptive activity has closed that route for the time being.
Heading north, the Byron Ledge Trail intersects the Kilauea Iki Trail, which heads eastward to the Kilauea Iki Crater. In this trail-junction vicinity, you’ll cross through a gated fence designed to keep feral pigs—one of Hawaii’s worst invasive species—out of the local forest. Make sure you close the gate behind you!
While you can turn back at the Kilauea Iki Trail for a 2.2-mile round-trip hike, those with time and energy might consider extending their trek. You can make a circuit with the Kilauea Iki and Crater Rim trails, for example, perhaps incorporating the Thurston Lava Tube as well. Or, keep going north on the Halemaumau Trail for more looks at Kilauea Caldera and a turnaround point near Volcano House.
It’s also easy enough to combine the Byron Ledge Trail with a walk on the Devastation Trail to the Puu Puai Overlook of Kilauea Iki Crater.
In other words, you’ve got options for weaving the shortish Byron Ledge Trail into a more wide-ranging walkabout on Kilauea Volcano. Wherever you go, you’ll come away amazed with views of some of the world’s most dynamic landscapes—and an unforgettable sense of Pele’s fiery and gorgeous home base!
Keep an eye out for nene, Hawaiian geese, on this hike. They’re photogenic waterfowl endemic to Hawaii. “Endemic” means nene are found only here, having evolved into a unique form from long-ago Canada-goose ancestors that made the transoceanic journey to this remote archipelago. Admire these charming birds, but don’t feed them any handouts!