Trek into the coastal wilds of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Keauhou Trail, a popular route for backpacking. This 7.2-mile one-way Kau District wilderness trail could be done as an out-and-back day hike, but that would be particularly grueling. Consider getting the requisite permit to overnight at the Keauhou primitive camp it accesses. The austere scenery and sense of remoteness are rewards for those up for a challenging trek.
The Keauhou Trail descends from the Mau Loa o Maunaulu Trailhead along the Chain of Craters Road by nearly 3,000 feet. In doing so, it traverses slopes and benches of raw lava fields, scrubby ohia woodland, and sprawling grassland.
You’re mostly fully exposed to the elements here, which may include socked-in “vog” (volcanic fog), blustery winds, or fierce, baking sun. Bring along sunscreen as well as wide-brimmed hats, bandannas, and other sunwear. You also need lots of water. You should be drinking three to four quarts a day in this mostly barren coastal country.
Speaking of: Check with a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger (as when you get your backcountry permit) about water availability at the Keauhou Shelter. There’s a catchment tank alongside it that collects rainwater and other runoff from the roof. But sometimes there’s no water available here, and you won’t find any natural sources along the way. If there is water at the catchment tank, be aware you still need to filter or otherwise treat it before drinking.
At 5.6 miles, the Keauhou Trail meets the Hilina Pali Trail. Two miles behind that, you reach the junction with the Puna Coast Trail. Here you’ll find the Keauhou Shelter, catchment tank, and camping area. There’s also an outhouse with a composting toilet. The three-walled Keauhou Shelter provides welcome shade from the sun.
The coastline here includes a little rocky bay and coastal pools. Many decades ago, though, there was a landing here for loading the cattle that grazed the pasture slopes and other shipping purposes. What remained of this smattering of development was destroyed in 1975 by the devastating tsunami sparked by a 7.7-magnitude offshore earthquake. That tsunami killed a couple of campers at Halape, just a short way west along the coast from Keauhou.
(It’s worth noting that the National Park Service warns about retreating immediately to higher ground if you feel an earthquake while exploring the Keauhou area.)
Dayhikers won’t have much time to enjoy Keauhou, as they’ll have the long, grueling climb back to the trailhead to tackle before nightfall. Those camping at Keauhou for one or more nights can snorkel in the bay, or hike along the wilderness coast west to Halape or east to Apua Point. Both Halape and Apua Point also have primitive campsites; Halape has a shelter, water tank, and outhouse.
The Keauhou Trail reveals a whole other side to the Big Island, offering real coastal wilderness in the Hawaii Volcanoes backcountry. Those equipped with wildland necessities—and plenty of water—can enjoy deep solitude and stirring undeveloped scenery.
–Snorkeling or simply scanning the nearshore waters around Keauhou Point, keep an eye peeled for sea turtles, which are frequently seen here.
-Because of the intense solar blast and heat you can experience on this trail in clear weather, it’s best to hike early or later. Avoid the late morning through mid-afternoon hours if possible.