Lava is the lifeblood of the Hawaiian Islands, the embodiment of the goddess Pele. Pele both destroys and creates, and nowhere is this more visible than in Volcanoes National Park, where lava constantly flows from Kilauea, both destroying everything in its path, and creating new land in the process.
The Puna Coast Trail is a stark reminder of lava flow, old and new. It starts on Chain of Craters Road, across from the pullout for the Puu Loa Petroglyphs. The trail is a total of 6.6 miles to the end at Apua Point, but hikers can feel free to turn around at any point along the way, as the full distance of the hike is fairly strenuous. Hikers who do intend to do the full hike should visit the Volcanoes National Park website for information about backpacking permits, suggested supplies, and water availability.
The trail starts on old lava flow, and even has a few petroglyphs and grass starting to sprout. Be mindful of any petroglyphs by not walking on them or taking rubbings. As with any hike, try to always stay on the trail.
Early in the hike though, the trail seemingly ends with a swath of newer, black dried lava that extends as far as the eye can see. Upon closer inspection, there is a rough path visible. The path is darker than the surrounding dried lava, and in some places is slightly reflective. To help mark the trail there are small stone piles, often topped with a piece of white coral to guide the way. It’s easy to lose the path in bright sunlight, but the stone piles make it easier to stay on track.
In some sections of the hike, dried lava extends in all directions and it feels like a different world. It’s clearly visible that the path travels through several different lava flows, and the scenery can feel both desolate and astonishing, just as Pele surely intended.
Because of the lava flow, there is little to no shade. Be sure to wear protective layers and apply sunscreen regularly. It is very easy to become sunburned and dehydrated. Always be sure to bring supplies including at least four liters of water per person per day, snacks, a mirror (for signaling), sturdy hiking boots, and any overnight supplies for those who intend to backpack overnight with a permit.
This is a strictly leave no trace trail. Respect Pele and the park by not leaving any waste along the hike.
The Puna Coast Trail is remote. It is best to go with at least one other individual, and to let others know hiking plans before starting any hike. Cell phones are advisable, though there is very limited cell phone service.
Despite the remoteness and heat from the unrelenting Hawaiian sun, this hike is truly stunning.
For more information on staying safe during a hike, visit our hiking safety blog.
Photos by Julie Yaste