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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour: Thurston Lava Tube


The Need to Knows:
  • The Thurston Lava Tube is located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park along Crater Rim Drive in Volcano, HI.  Its exact location can be found here:
  • The trail takes about 20-30 minutes and is about 1/3 of a mile long.
  • Bathrooms and a water fountain are located here along the path.
  • Since there are steps and steep descents involved along the path, I wouldn't recommend this area as wheelchair or stroller-friendly, but it's definitely kid-friendly.
  • If the parking lot here is full, go back to the Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot and park there.  It's about a half mile walk from that parking lot to the Thurston Lava Tube.
  • As always, for updated information on closures within the park, be sure to visit this NPS page here.  Also keep in mind that any information in these posts is subject to change any time by the National Park Service!
The Thurston Lava Tube, also known as Nahuku, is a very large tunnel-like structure created by lava that once flowed through this area.  It is maintained by the National Park Service, which allows for you to actually venture through it and see the interior of a pretty amazing piece of geology!


Lava tubes are created when surface flows harden but lava is still able to move freely beneath it.  As the lava shifts to another area, these conduits cool and solidify into cave-like structures.  Lava tubes can be active or extinct.  Active lava tubes are one reason why areas where lava is actually flowing  are pretty dangerous since you never know where they are since you can't see them.  They can potentially be very thin, but you'll never know until you walk over one and fall in.  So definitely exercise caution if you choose to go hiking around active lava flows!


This particular lava tube was discovered by Lorrin Thurston, a local newspaper publisher, in 1913 and is around 400 feet long.  It is estimated to be several hundred years old.  Back when Thurston discovered it, the roof of the tube was covered with lava stalactites, but those were removed as "souvenirs" by early visitors.  That should definitely serve as a testament to leave nothing and take nothing (yes, that includes lava rock and beach sand!) when you're visiting not only Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but Hawaii as well.



Now let me stress that this lava tube is not in a natural, wild state like some other lava tubes you may come across on the Big Island.  It's understandable why this is so -- the NPS has to make things safe for its visitors lest they be held accountable for something tragic happening.  But I get that to many people it can be a disappointment when they see lighting and paved paths throughout the lava tube.  Personally, I did not see any other lava tubes while on the Big Island, so the Thurston Lava Tube was great to check out.  If you've seen others on your trip, you may be underwhelmed by this one, so feel free to skip ahead to the next stop.

Mr. L and the Lava Tube (kind of sounds like a children's book title...)
Definitely be careful not to fall here...it's a long way down so that'd probably be painful!


The interior of the lava tube was really fascinating.  The walls had such a unique texture and it was really easy to see how the lava traveled under the ground hundreds of years ago.  It was such an awesome peek into how Madam Pele shapes the landscape here and it was super cool to walk where lava once flowed.



Now, unless you've seen other lava tubes during your visit to Hawaii, I absolutely recommend making this stop on your Volcanoes National Park driving tour.  The Thurston Lava Tube is very accessible and fascinating and is a great way to get a glimpse of the power of Mother Nature and Madam Pele of course!

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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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