Locals and hikers agree: this hike stinks but is worth exploring. Have we piqued your curiosity? Good! Let’s explore this trail, and then you’ll understand what we’re alluding to.
Halemaumau Sulphur Banks trail is near Volcano, Hawaii, and is part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And since it’s part of the National Park Service, there is a fee to enter the park.
For those curious why it’s spelled “sulphur” and not “sulfur,” the answer lies in the past. When visitors discovered the area in the early 1800s, they opted for the British spelling of the word “sulphur.”
The hike is ideal for people of all ages and offers a firsthand look at the landscape affected by volcanic heat and gases.
The loop is 1.3 miles and has 88 feet of elevation gain. The trail follows the crater’s rim and is rated easy since the path is paved and has a boardwalk. Plan on the entire route taking 30 minutes to complete.
While the path’s width is 4′ and wheelchair and stroller accessible, short, steep areas may be challenging to navigate. Visitors to the trail advise that the best ADA sections are the top half.
Paved parking is available at the Kilauea Visitor Center, and the trailhead is on the northwestern side near the Volcano Art Center. Starting your trek here puts you closer to the Sulphur Banks. Another parking option is west of the Kilauea Visitor Center on Crater Rim Drive and is the pull-off for Steam Vents. You’ll see the Steam Vents first before hiking eastward to view the Sulphur Banks.
What makes this hike unique and unusual is the impact volcanic heat has had on the environment. In 1922, scientists drilled 50′ to determine the underground temperature. They discovered that it remains at a constant 205° F.
The result is fumes and steam rising through fissures in the earth, which gets us to the stinky part of the hike! Gases emitted here are sulfur dioxide, which smells like a lit match, and hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs. When these combine, they produce pure sulfur that forms yellow deposits on the rocks. You’ll also see white gypsum, terracotta hematite, and the milky glaze of opal.
The Hawaiians have another explanation. They call this coloration kūkaepele which in Hawaiian means “the dung of the goddess Pele.” We’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks!
Another result of the extreme underground heat is the lack of trees near Sulphur Banks and Steam Bluffs. You will encounter vegetation at the start of your hike and is sections beyond these natural phenomena. Some portions of the trail have tall trees that offer shade and make them perfect for bird and nature lovers.
If you venture to Steam Bluffs, you’ll feel hot water billowing up from deep within the earth as steam. This natural phenomenon happens when water seeps down into the magma and vaporizes on contact. It returns to the surface as steam.
The Halemaumau Sulphur Banks Trail does cross Crater Rim Drive several times, but traffic is generally light. Nevertheless, watch for traffic, especially if you’re pushing a stroller or a wheelchair.
While the air may be stinky, we think you will enjoy hiking around the crater to observe how volcanoes alter the landscape.
Because gaseous fumes are present, this hike isn’t for those with breathing disorders or who are pregnant. However, some hikers used KN95 masks to avoid toxic fumes and pungent odors. Another tip is that trekkers say that the best direction to hike the trail is counterclockwise.