Crater Rim Trail

Crater Rim Trail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: An Accessible Volcanic Adventure
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Awe-inspiring hikes abound on Hawaii's Big Island, but few can possibly match the unforgettable scenery of the Crater Rim Trail. Don't miss this opportunity to experience the visual drama of this national park gem.

- The Local Expert Team

Witness the drama of volcanic activity up close as you meander Hawaii’s Crater Rim Trail. There, you’ll observe the Kilauea Caldera and the Keanakakoi Crater. The lush rainforest gives the journey even more visual appeal, to the point that you may spend more time standing around and using your camera than actually hiking. As one of the most popular hiking opportunities at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this journey is not to be missed.

The trek is surprisingly easy from a physical exertion standpoint, but includes several safety hazards, such as slippery edges near the steam vents and cliffs. Still, if you’re cautious, you can enjoy this route even if you’re not in the practice of hiking on more advanced trails. 

The exact length of this hike can be difficult to discern, as there are so many access points. What’s more, significant portions of the trail may be closed at any given point in time, as eruptions — or ensuing damage — may occasionally place visitors at risk. The full trail spans 11 miles, but many visitors hike for just 3 or 5 miles. 

No matter how far you intend to hike, you’ll want to stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center before you set out. There, you’ll find a wealth of information about current trail conditions, plus bathroom facilities and a park store that sells books, guides, maps, water bottles and more. If you have any questions about your route or current volcanic activity, don’t hesitate to ask a ranger.

Once you’re ready to depart the visitor center, you’ll set out on a crushed gravel trail. You can find the Crater Rim Trailhead around the back side of Volcano House. At this point, you’ll need to make an important decision: clockwise or counter-clockwise? There are advantages and downsides to both options.

Regardless of which direction you choose, you’ll be pleased by the serenity you encounter during your walk. While this route is popular, it’s long enough that people are often spaced out. As such, you’ll likely feel as if you’re alone for significant portions of your hike.

If there is any challenge to this trail, it’s the sheer elevation. This won’t be a huge problem for most visitors but may be worth considering for those who typically struggle with elevation of any sort. Additionally, you may occasionally encounter roots in the trail — but the path is wide enough that most people can walk around such obstacles. When the incline increases, guardrails will often be available to help you get up hills.

Along the way, signs will help you remain on track, also highlighting your distance from destinations such as the visitor’s center or the Thurston lava tube. That being said, you’ll want to take full advantage of an available guide, which offers an intriguing insight into many of the trail’s most noteworthy spots. These checkpoints all make for wonderful photo opportunities.

One of the most appealing aspects of this hike? The constantly-changing scenery, which will keep you entertained for the duration of your journey. The misty forest views feel ethereal, while the crater and lava desert transport you to a different world. 

Insider Tip:
If physical strain is a concern, traveling counter-clockwise may help you avoid some of the steeper uphill sections. Some people prefer clockwise in the morning or counter-clockwise in the evening to avoid looking into the sun.