The Keanakako’i Crater trail is a short out and back  trail within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The trail offers some incredible views of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, the Keanakako’i Crater, and the intermittently active Halema’uma’u Crater.

Hiking Keanakako’i Crater and Lava Tree Trail

The Keanakako’i Crater is a very lightly trafficked trail within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This trail features in what my opinion are two awesome gems that this park has to offer. The first one is Keanakako’i Crater itself. This crater is from a short eruption that took place in 1982. The eruption left a large lava field behind as well as small patches of a tropical rain forest that were spared. Other portions of forest weren’t so lucky. The lava came out at such a high flow rate that it engulfed the trees at a high velocity. Because of this, the nearby eruption site is littered with dozens of “lava trees.” These trees are lava cast molds of trees that were swallowed up by the lava flow. In some cases the lava clung to the trees bending them to form unique lava tree arches.

Keanakako’i Crater is a very short trail. The trail ends at a steep overlook into the crater several hundred feet below. Disclaimer: there is no fence at the crater site so use caution if standing on the ledge. Rock slides could happen and you could fall to your death if you’re not careful. From the crater’s edge, on a clear day the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are visible. Both peaks are an incredible view if they are snow capped which can be a regular occurrence during the winter.

On A Personal Note:

This trail is one of my favorite short hikes in the park. It’s a great addition to other day hikes such as the Kilauea Iki Crater trail. The lava tree field isn’t listed on the park brochure and it’s a bit off the beaten path of the main trail. One of the park rangers pointed out the quick trail deviation to us and we are forever grateful for that tip. Check out the trail details to find out how to get there and see the pictures below. Keanakako’i Crater makes for a great photo backdrop.

Looking for another hike nearby? Check out the Kilauea Iki or Thurston Lava Tube Trail. THe Kilauea Iki hike drops straight down into the floor of a crater. The Thurston’s hike travels through a tube formed by flowing lava. 

Have you done this hike before? Please share your pictures in the comments below and update us with trail conditions.

  • Overall Difficulty 40% 40%
  • Overall Views 85% 85%
Keanakako'i Crater and Lava Tree Trail Quick Facts:
  • Elevation: 3,799 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 121 Feet
  • Estimated Distance: 1.6 miles
  • My Actual Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Estimated Time: 1 hour.
  • My Time: 45 minutes.
Keanakako'i Crater and Lava Tree Trail Directions:
Open in maps. Price to enter is the cost of admission to the national park. An America The Beautiful Pass will also work. To find Keanakako’i Crater the directions are fairly simple. Follow Crater Rim Drive until you get to Chain Of Craters Road. Once at Chain Of Craters Road start traveling down the road. At about one hundred yards past the intersection, Crater Rim Trail will intersect the road. Right at this trail crossing there will be a small gravel turnout about the size of one to two cars on each side of the road. Park alongside of the road along one of these spots. If these spots are taken, the other parking option is to park at the Devastation Trail parking lot. That lot is located at the intersection of Chain Of Craters Road and Crater Rim Drive. Once parked, you’ll take the Crater Rim Trail to the west and follow it until you reach Keanakako’i Crater about 0.8 miles in.
Keanakako'i and Lava Tree Trail Pictures:
Who Keanakako'i Crater and Lava Tree Trail Hike Is For:
Novice Hikers: If you’re new to hiking, I think this would be a great short hike that is off the grid and offers some incredible views. The lava tree portion of the trail is a little difficult to find if you’re not experienced with hiking off trails. So, only do so if you’re comfortable with hiking on very unstable terrain and feel comfortable about finding a trial once you’re off the path.

Advanced Hikers:This is a perfect hike with incredible views. The hike is short and to the point. Getting off the trail and finding cool views and finding the trail again is also a fun challenge.

Expert Hikers: This is a simple hike with fun and interesting views.

It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.

Best Time Of Year To Hike Keanakako'i Crater and The Lava Tree:
The time of year doesn’t make a difference. Winter time can be a few degrees cooler but not really by much. In cloudy conditions temperatures can vary from 75F to 90F. Hardened lava is a glossy black and absorbs heat so when the sun is out ground temperatures in the crater can read near 100F. Heavy downpours of rain are common any time of year as are windy conditions. Elevations are in the higher side so sometimes temperatures can be in the 50’s at times during the early morning and night hours. Dress accordingly if you want to stay dry and/or minimize exposure to sun. Half of the trail is through a forest but the canopy isn’t that thick and the rest of the trail is exposed to the sun.
Keanakako'i and Lava Tree Trail Conditions:
The trail is very well maintained due to mostly through foot traffic. If you choose to do the portion of the trail that includes the lava trees and lava arches, there is no well defined path. Once off the main trail you’ll be walking on unsteady, uneven, and sharp terrain. Keep your eyes on the ground to avoid falls. Lava can be sharp as glass and cause severe lacerations. About half of the trail is through the edge of forest but trail conditions are still very good. The last half of the trail leading up to the crater is open. Once at the crater, be cautious to not steep too close. There is no fence guarding the crater and a fall would likely result in death. With that being said, the view is worth it. From the craters edge you can also see smoke billowing out of the Halema’uma’u crater where active lava is.

Locating The Lava Tree Field 

The tricky part is locating the lava trees. There is no defined trail to this portion of the park and the only information we got was form one of the park rangers. Follow these directions but I highly recommend also asking the park ranger at the visitor center about the trail. Once on Crater Rim Trail there will be a point about half way in where the trail takes about a 45 degree turn to the right. At this point, take a 90 degree turn to the left and get off the trail and walk about one to two hundred yards out. Before getting off the trail, pick a marker alongside the trail like two trees so that you can locate the trail once again.

About one to two hundred yards off the trail there will be a large field with a plethora of lava trees and also lava arches. Once you’re done looking through the field of lava trees, find your trail markers that you had initially picked out and walk straight back to them to get back on Crater Rim Trail. Follow the trail to the east to get back to where you parked.