Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Ka`u Trail / Footprints

Monday, August 4th, 2014

The day after our Hilina Pali hike, we dialed things back and went on two short hikes, instead of one long, challenging one…with a visit to a winery in between.

The hike that was new for us was the “footprints” trail. It starts on Mamalahoa Highway. There’s no parking lot, just a pullout alongside the uphill-bound lane. Keep a sharp eye out for it — the trailhead is very easy to drive past, especially given the speed of traffic on this section of the road. But once you find the right place to stop, the trail is easy to follow.


This is an easy hike. It’s short, there’s very little elevation change, and trail conditions are mostly good. In fact, part of the trail is paved with asphalt. I think this is leftover from the days of long ago when the National Park Service had better funding.

This is called the “Footprints Trail” because at different times in past centuries, people walked through this area during severe volcanic activity, leaving footprints behind in thin layers of clay. The park service built a shelter over an example of footprints, but over the years the prints have been vandalized and aren’t really recognizable. Nevertheless, this is a great hike to see the old lava flows and the sparse vegetation on this side of the area known as the Ka`u Desert. Highly recommended if you want a short outing!

Note that the Footprints Trail meets the Ka`u Desert Trail, which runs for miles in both directions. You might want to continue on for a bit — but don’t get carried away.

And that winery? It’s Volcano Winery, of course! We liked the guava-grape wine.

This is near the start of the Footprints Trail.

This is near the start of the Footprints Trail.


Hilina Pali Trail

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Last week my husband Ron and I did some hiking on the Big Island. Our first venture was the Hilina Pali Trail, inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

My quick summary?
Spectacular scenery, but not a pleasant hike. I’m glad we did it, but I doubt we’ll do it again.

Here I am at the start of the Hilina Pali Trail. It's all downhill from here -- that is, until it's time to head back.

Here I am at the start of the Hilina Pali Trail. It’s all downhill from here — that is, until it’s time to head back.
Photo by Ronald J. Nagata

(There are a lot more photos at the end of this write up!)

Here’s the longer version:

Volcanoes is a huge park, with extremely varied terrain that runs from the shoreline to Mauna Loa’s 14,000-foot summit. Hilina Pali — and “pali” is the Hawaiian word for “cliff” — is an escarpment on the southeast coast. The trail begins at the end of a nine-mile-long spur road that branches off from Chain-of-Craters Road. Starting elevation is about 2,260 feet. The trail descends a steep 1,200 feet through sometimes difficult terrain. It then crosses a wide bench, slowly descending another 800 feet. From here, it’s another 200-foot drop to near sea level. Roundtrip mileage is only around eight or nine miles according to the map, but I believe it’s significantly longer than this, by another mile or even two.

This is a tough hike! Not so much for the mileage, but because of the heat, the terrain, and the monotonous landscape. The initial descent is the hardest part of the hike. It can be quite steep, and the footing is treacherous in parts. It crosses an `a`a lava flow and some of the trail is paved in `a`a “clinker”–loose stones that can easily roll out from under your boot. I skidded several times on the way down and fell down once. The trail doesn’t seem to get a lot of use. Grass and weeds are overgrowing it, so it’s often hard to see where you’re placing your feet. And it’s hot. Did I mention it’s hot?

We were actually lucky, because a very strong wind was blowing all day. Now and then while on the cliff we would find ourselves in the lee, and it was sweltering!