The Big Island of Hawaii is home to Hawai'i Volcanoes Wilderness and its volcanoes. This Wilderness is fragmented into four areas lying within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. In order to protect humans from hazardous fumes, the areas surrounding erupting vents are closed to travel. The northwestern extension of the Wilderness holds Mauna Loa. To the southwest, a large chunk of this Wilderness includes several miles of coastline.
More than 150 miles of trail crisscross the park, mostly within Wilderness. The Ka'aha Trail leads hikers down the fault scarps of Hilina Pali to the ocean. The Napau Trail crosses lava from the Mauna Ulu Lava Shield (1969-1974) and follows above the path of magma flowing to the vent on Kilauea's east rift.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Hawaii Volcanoes Wilderness.
Hiking over rocky terrain is strenuous. Hiking boots provide the best traction and protection when hiking on lava. Long pants afford some protection if one should fall on the sharp, glassy lava.
Allow 1/2 hour per mile when hiking on mid-elevation trails and more time as you gain elevation. Add additional time for scenic stops, and water breaks. The ahu (stone cairn) trail markers can be difficult on first sight to distinguish from the surrounding lava. However, the trails are well marked and hikers soon become accustomed to spotting the cairns in the black lava fields.
Sunlight may be intense. Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are preventive measures against sunburn. Start your trek early - avoid hiking during the heat of the day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Much of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is currently closed due to volcanic activity. Check the park website for current conditions and closures.
All overnight backcountry hiking and camping requires a permit. Permits are free and must be obtained in person from the Backcountry Office at the Visitor Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily. The earliest you may obtain a permit is the day prior to your hike. We do not accept reservations or issue permits in advance.
There are no streams in the park so backpackers must be self-sufficient and bring in all their own water. Some campgrounds have water catchment tanks (rain water collected from metal shelter roofs). Updates on their current water levels are available at the Backcountry Permit Office, 808-985-6178. Check with rangers when obtaining your permit!
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Island weather is unpredictable. Visitors should be prepared for rain and wear layers of clothing to ensure their comfort while exploring the park.
At the 4,000' summit of Kilauea, temperatures may be 12 to 15 degrees cooler than at sealevel. Coastal areas are often hot, dry, and windy with the possibility of passing showers.
Hiking on Mauna Loa (13,677') requires careful planning and preparation. Check the weather forecast before making this hike.
Safety and Current Conditions
Many hikes are through exposed lava fields and lush rain forests. Pace yourself and drink plenty of water. Pack extra clothing and your sleeping bag in plastic for waterproofness. Raingear is essential. Stay warm and dry; hypothermia (low body temperature) is a killer. Be prepared for treating injuries caused by falls on sharp, glassy lava.
Volcanic eruptions are possible at any time. In the unlikely event of a lava outbreak along the trail, move uphill and upwind of eruptive activity. Earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous.
Trails in the park traverse areas which contain very flammable grasses and brush. Open fires and smoking are prohibited.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.