“The Kingdom of Desolation: As we trotted up the almost imperceptible ascent and neared the volcano, the features of the country changed. We came upon a long dreary desert of black, swollen, twisted, corrugated billows of lava - blank and dismal desolation! Stony hillocks heaved up, all seamed with cracked wrinkles and broken open from center to circumference in a dozen places, as if from an explosion beneath. There had been terrible commotion here once, when these dead waves were seething fire; but now all was motion less and silent - it was a petrified sea! The narrow spaces between the upheavals were partly filled with volcanic sand, and through it we plodded laboriously. The invincible ohia struggled for a footing even in this desert waste, and achieved it - towering above the billows here and there, with trunks flattened like spears of grass in the crevices from which they Sprang. We came at last to torn and ragged deserts of scorched and blistered lava - to plains and patches of dull gray ashes - to the summit of the mountain, and these tokens warned us that we were nearing the palace of the dread goddess Pele, the crater of Kilauea”
— Mark Twain, 1866
MAUNA IKI TRAIL
From Hilina Pali road
To The Twin Pit Craters
HAWAI'I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
ROUND-TRIP MILEAGE: 6.5 MILES
ELEVATION GAIN: 100’
A desert in Hawai'i? The Kaʻū Desert isn't technically a desert because it receives too much rainfall. The desert-like appearance of Kaʻū is due to the combination of the rain shadow from massive Mauna Loa and acid rain created from the gases erupting from Kīlauea Volcano. The ph of this acid rain can be as low as 3.4 and inhibits most plant growth. The lava here is also very permeable, percolating most rainwater deep into the earth before plants can avail themselves of it. This desert is an amazing and unique landscape on an island full of such landscapes. This hike begins at the Kulanaokuaiki Campground along the Hilina Pali Road and travels to the Twin Pit Craters for a moderate dayhike. The Mauna Iki Trail continues all the way to Hwy. 11 as described here.
Trailhead: The trailhead for this hike is the Kulanaokuaiki Campground along the Hilina Pali Road. From Chain of Craters Road, turn onto Hilina Pali Road and follow it for several miles until the road is closed due to the 2018 eruption. At this closure, turn right and drive to the Kulanaokuaiki Campground. The campground has a vault toilet, but no other services. Plan accordingly.
Gear: This is a long hike into one of the most remote areas of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Bring plenty of extra water and food. The hike is 3000' above sea level, so temperatures are much cooler than coastal destinations. Wear boots and don't forget your raingear.
Hike: From the campground, walk back to Hilina Pali Road and pass the road closure signs. (It’s ok to walk along the road even though it’s closed to vehicles). Walk less than a half mile and find the trailhead for the Mauna Iki Trail departing to the west. The trail is marked with periodic ahu (cairns) through the rough lava. There is a considerable amount of ash from the 2018 eruption cycle along the way. After two miles, you reach a large rift where you hike down through a weakness in the cliff. After descending the short slope, the terrain and lava colors change and you’re close to the Twin Pit Craters. These craters house white-tailed tropicbirds who nest in the walls. Stay away from the eroding edges of these craters. This is the turn-around for this hike, but you can continue all the way to Hwy. 11 as described here.