Lava Tree State Monument

Lava Tree State Monument Near Pahoa: Walk Among Evocative Molds of Lava-engulfed Trees
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

An easy, 0.7-mile trail through Lava Tree State Monument in the Puna District introduces you to some fascinating geologic features. You’ll walk through a sort of petrified forest of “lava trees,” pillars of basalt hardened around trees—ohias in this case—invaded by an 18th-century lava flow. The monument is free to visit and open daily, offering some intriguing scenery in a lush regrown forest.

- The Local Expert Team

The Big Island is built upon lava, and the basaltic rock it forms upon hardening takes many shapes. At Lava Tree State Monument in the Puna District, you can get up-close looks at one of the most unique of Hawaii’s lava formations in a beautiful setting.

This roughly 17-acre park lies along the Pahoa-Pahoiki Road a couple of miles southeast of Pahoa. It’s free to visit and open during daylight hours, making a nice stretch-your-legs diversion while sightseeing or beach-hopping on the Puna Coast. Genuine geology buffs will likely consider it a destination in and of itself.

Back in 1790, lava flows swept through an ohia forest here. As lava pooled around the trunks of the ohia trees, their moisture kept them from outright incineration. A coat of lava formed around the trunks. The lumpy upright molds remained after the active flow ceased and the surrounding crust subsided. In the centuries since, a new ohia forest has grown up on the site, but the “lava trees” remain as ghostly markers of the ancient stands.

An easy, mostly level 0.7-mile-long paved loop trail at Lava Tree State Monument winds its way past some 40 lava trees: a bit less than half of the total protected in the park. The footing is a tad uneven in places, but overall the path is suitable for young and old alike and not strenuous. (Part of the path will soon be improved for wheelchair accessibility.) It’s best to give yourself a half-hour to an hour to appreciate the lava trees—and the lush living vegetation surrounding them—at an unhurried pace. The peacefulness of the site is quite soothing, so it’s a really nice break from driving.

Rest/shade structures along the way are rendered from ohia wood, one of the most important native timbers of Hawaii. So, in a sense, Lava Tree State Monument is a celebration of this remarkable and widespread native tree: from the park infrastructure to the lava molds and the living specimens.

We should mention a little bit about etiquette and safety at Lava Tree State Monument. First, don’t touch the lava trees (let alone try to climb on them). These molds are quite fragile, and human hands can accelerate their erosion. Second, be aware that the old flow here comes scattered with earth cracks, many well hidden by vegetation. So don’t stray off the path!

In addition to the parking area, trail and rest structures, you’ll find restrooms and picnic tables at Lava Tree State Monument.

Lava Tree State Monument isn’t one of the Big Island’s flashy “showstopper” destinations, it’s true. But its tranquil beauty and arresting rock formations—and the evocative story they tell—are very much worth experiencing during a tour of the Puna District.

Insider Tips:
If you’re hungry for more lava trees (we don’t blame you—they’re cool!), seek out additional examples along the Mauna Ulu Eruption Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.