You won’t find the Devil’s Throat advertised much in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park literature, or on the official park map. This striking pit crater is nonetheless very much worth a visit if you exercise basic common sense and caution.
That’s because it’s on the decidedly primitive side of things when it comes to park attractions. It’s a very short, very easy stroll off-pavement, but not signed or edged by guardrails. The dirt path ends at a yawning, steep-walled, 165-foot-deep cavity that sort of sneaks up on you.
You’ll find the pull-off for the Devil’s Throat along the Chain of Craters Road. Coming from the Kilauea Caldera area, it’s on the right side just past the junction with the Hilina Pali Road. Across the Chain of Craters pavement, you’ll see a dirt path heading eastward. It’s a quick mosey to reach the pit crater.
What’s a pit crater, you ask? It’s a sunken depression, as the name implies. But it’s not a volcanic crater directly produced by an eruption.
On the Big Island, pit craters form from underground fractures produced by the settling of a volcano or from magma expansion, earthquakes, or other stresses. These fractures can continue expanding upwards toward the surface, their roofs progressively collapsing. Eventually, the overlying rock destabilizes and caves in, opening the pit crater. The bottom is floored by all the rubble accumulated from caved-in roofs and rockfalls off the sides.
Scientists aren’t aware of a historical Native Hawaiian name for the Devil’s Throat. It wasn’t formally described until 1909. Thus, it’s likely that this pit crater opened up some time at the end of the 19th century.
Early descriptions of it suggest the opening was once significantly narrower, hence the “throat” resemblance. In subsequent decades, the overarching ceiling has collapsed. The result is the typical pit-crater form: a straight-sided depression with a roughly circular rim that’s about flush with the walls.
The U.S. Geological Survey calls the Devil’s Throat “the best, most obvious example of a collapse crater at Kilauea and one of the best in the world.”
Because it isn’t fenced-off or heavily signed, you need to proceed a little gingerly on the access path. Needless to say, you don’t want to accidentally stumble off the edge and fall 165 feet down. This is not a destination to tackle after-hours, or (if you can avoid it) in misty or rainy conditions. If it’s windy, be especially conservative. A stiff gust could potentially blow you down into the pit if you’re too close to the edge.
The other reason not to inch too close to the brink is the fact that the “collars” of pit craters are unstable. As we’ve already suggested, rockfall or outright edge collapse can occur without warning. So stay a ways back! The Devil’s Throat is better than 150 feet across, so you’ll have a nice view even while maintaining a little buffer zone.
By the way, the Devil’s Throat may be among the most perfectly proportioned and easily reached Kilauea pit craters, but it’s far from the biggest. Some on this volcano yawn more than 3,000 feet across and drop more than 600 feet deep.
For being rather under-the-radar, the Devil’s Throat is a very quick detour on a Chain of Craters drive. Check it out—but keep your wits about you when you do!
-As far as parking goes, feel free to park on the side of Chain of Craters Road in a small inlet just past Hilina Pali Road.
-The Devil’s Throat isn’t necessarily a great attraction for young kids. If you do visit with young children, keep them close as you walk the dirt path. Don’t let them run ahead!