Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on foot

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 23-29, 1997
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on foot
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on foot
Question: We're planning a trip to Hawaii on the Big Island and would like to get backpacking information for Volcanoes National Park and Waipu Valley. Any suggestions?

Lee Goss
Seattle, WA
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has plenty of hiking trails--150-some-odd miles--so plotting out a multi-day backpacking route is mostly just about figuring out where you want to go. The park stretches from sea level all the way to an oxygen-depleting 13,000 feet. Herewith are a couple of suggested itineraries for those with plenty of rain gear in tow.

Three to four days will get you from one side of Mauna Loa, the world's largest mountain and most active volcano, to the other. Starting from the trailhead about 3 miles west of the park entrance, you'll hike 7.5 miles the first day to Red Hill Cabin (reserve a free permit the day before your climb at the visitor center), 11.6 miles the second day to Mauna Loa Cabin on the rim of the crater at 13,250 feet, followed by a 6-mile descent to the weather observatory at 11,000 feet. Plan to have a shuttle car at this end, so you won't be forced to retrace your route. A few words of caution: Make sure the soles of your hiking boots are in good shape, as the sharp, jagged lava can do a number on flimsy boots and sneakers. Bring plenty of warm gear and a decent sleeping bag, as temperatures will drop well below freezing at night and snow is possible in the higher elevations anytime from November through May. For additional information and maps, call the park ranger station at 808-967-7311.

Outside the park, a strenuous 16-mile trek will take you across the Waipio Valley from the Waipio Valley Lookout off Hawaii 240, near Honokaa, through coastal forests, down into the isolated Waimanu Valley, and back. Keep in mind that heavy rains can make the Waipio Stream on the valley floor impassable; the good news is that high water usually abates in a matter of hours. If not, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife will close the trail until it does. You'll need to call ahead (808-933-4221) for a free camping permit no more than one month in advance. Finally, I recommend investing in a hiker's guide to Hawaii for detailed itineraries; one we like: Adventuring in Hawaii, by Richard McMahon (Sierra Club Books, $15).

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