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Monday, July 20, 2015

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour: Devastation Trail

The Need to Knows:
  • The Devastation Trail is located along Crater Rim Drive in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Pahoa, HI.  The exact location of the parking lot and trailhead can be found here:
  • The Devastation Trail is about a mile long round trip and should take approximately an hour to complete (we turned around at about the midway point and probably spent a half hour here).
  • This trail is paved and is considered wheelchair and stroller accessible.  Keep in mind that there are areas of this trail with a grade of greater than 8 percent.
  • After you break from the trees, there is no shade on this hike, so be sure to apply sunscreen and/or wear a hat.  It can definitely get hot here!
  • There are no restroom facilities or water fountains located here.
  • Please always stay on the designated paved path in order to preserve the surrounding environment and also do not climb the Pu'u Pua'i Cinder Cone seen from the trail!
  • As always, for updated information on closures within the park, visit this NPS page.  Also keep in mind that any information in these posts is subject to change any time by the National Park Service!
Just a heads up -- there's another stop between the Thurston Lava Tube and here at Devastation Trail called the Pu'u Pua'i Overlook.  We missed it on this trip, but if you'd like to stop, head over to the National Park Service's website to find out more information.  You can also start the Devastation Trail from that overlook if you want to combine two stops!


The Devastation Trail is a short 1-mile round trip hike within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park close to the Kilauea Iki Crater.  The beginning of the Devastation Trail also serves as the trail head to the Byron Ledge Trail, a difficult 7.8 mile back and out hike in this area.

The reason why this hike is called "Devastation Trail" is a direct result of the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption, which I talked about a couple of posts ago for this driving tour.  After a set of earthquakes in the area, Kilauea Iki began erupting, and this area (that used to be dense rain forest) was completely destroyed.

The first part of the trail is wooded and beautiful.  This is how the area used to look before Kilauea Iki decided it wanted to change things up a bit.  The vegetation is thick and if you look closely, you should be able to spot typical Hawaiian plants such as 'Ohelo berries and Ohi'a trees with their gorgeous lehua blossoms.  The Ohi'a tree is a colonizer of recent lava flows, which is why you see it along this trail, and both plants love the climate and elevation here in Volcanoes National Park.

'Ohelo berries
The Ohi'a tree and its lehua blossoms actually have a very interesting Hawaiian folklore tale explaining their existence.  One day Madame Pele, the goddess of volcanoes and crater of the Hawaiian Islands, saw a handsome young man named Ohi'a one day and fell in love with him.  The problem was that Ohi'a was already in love with a woman named Lehua, and when Pele found this out, she was furious.  She used her powers to turn Ohi'a into a tree.  When Lehua discovered what had happened, she pleaded with Pele to change him back into a man.  Pele refused, so Lehua went to the other gods for help instead.  The gods decided to change her into a flower to be adorned on the Ohi'a tree, ensuring the lovers would be forever united.  The legend goes that if you pick a lehua blossom, it will begin to rain because you have separated the two lovers.  So obviously, don't pick the flowers if you come across them!  And you're welcome for your Hawaiian history lesson today ;)

Lehua blossom on an Ohi'a tree

But then as you continue down the path, the vegetation gets scarcer and suddenly you understand firsthand how the Devastation Trail got its name.

View of the Pu'u Pua'i Cinder Cone in the distance

Beyond the treeline, this area is truly desolate.  In some places life is beginning to take root again, but it is easy to see just how powerful a force such as lava can completely destroy anything and everything in its path.  It's also a testament to Mother Nature, however, that things can begin to grow again after such a devastating event.

I loved how you can already see the transition of the lava as it breaks down more and more to turn into fertile soil to support life in this area.  So fascinating!

Close up of the lava rock along the trail
I think Mr. L and I spent about 20-30 minutes here total since we didn't walk the full trail.  I'd spend at least that, preferably more if you have the time available.  Unfortunately we didn't and we had to get moving on down Chain of Craters Road before the daylight began to fade.

And that's it for the Crater Rim Drive portion of this driving tour!  The Chain of Craters Road portion is up next week, so be sure to stick around for that!  :)


Catch up on the rest of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour below!

Crater Rim Drive
Chain of Craters Road


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