Hiking the lava fields of Kīlauea is an activity that will challenge even the most adventurous travelers. The hike is filled with ~15 miles (24km) of uneven terrain covered in rocks and volcanic glass. Once outside of the county viewing area, there are no paths, no lights and no signs – Literally, you’re on your own; you have to find your own way there and back. Hiking during the day gives safety with being able to see where you’re going, but after dark is when you experience lava in all of its red hot glory.
FYI: The chances of hurting yourself, becoming disoriented and encountering hazardous gasses is high – so please be cautious if you want to take this on.
The trek to the county viewing area
Unlike my other visits to volcanoes (Irazu and Merapi) Kīlauea was actively erupting and I had to see it! Visitors park (for a fee) and must trek 4 miles (5.5km) to the county viewing area. Bikes are available for rent and a good idea to quickly get to the public viewing area, however must be left behind if you want to hike the lava fields. The county viewing area keeps visitors pretty far away from everything and requires a good camera and zoom lens to get pictures where the lava meets the ocean.
The lava fields
At the end of the county viewing area there are plenty of signs warning visitors of the perils they will encounter if they go further. The most important thing that you must fully understand is that you have to be prepared to take this on. Bring adequate water/food and multiple flashlights (head lamps are the best) and a ton of extra batteries. If you get caught there after dark, you will be astonished how dark it gets – you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
The hike is not easy – you’re constantly jumping from rock to rock and in and out of lava trenches filled with volcanic glass to make your way deep into the lava fields. You’ll spend a good 2 hours heading towards the south slopes into the middle of the lava fields.
There is no guarantee you’ll find flowing lava, but you’ll definitely know when you’re close. An intense heat emanating from the ground is your first sign you’re in the vicinity of magma. Once you can visibly see Lava (no matter the distance) – the heat intensifies dramatically – similar to opening your oven door while it’s on broil. Lava oozes out of the ground at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1100 Celsius) and will do tremendous damage to anything it touches.
RECOMMENDATION: Try to hike upwind of the lava – it will keep air temperatures tolerable and allow you to get closer.[signinlocker id=1812]