Throughout the Hawaiian Islands, you will find unsurpassed natural beauty everywhere you go. While there are some wonders that can only be seen via strenuous hiking trails or crazy expensive helicopter tours, there are others that simply require a vehicle. Even though we can’t take a traditional road trip like our friends on the mainland, the Hawaiian Islands are home to several incredibly stunning back roads and highways just begging to be explored.
But not all scenic drives are created equal: located on Hawaii Island, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is the 18.8 mile Chain of Craters Road, which will take drivers – and their passengers – on an unforgettable journey from 4,000 feet above sea level to the ocean that will make you feel as though you’re a million miles away from civilization. Plus, the views are positively second to none.
As the name indicates, this scenic road leads drivers from the center of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park towards the coast, past several volcanic craters from historic eruptions, lava formations, and incredible vistas and scenic spots overlooking the island’s southern coast.
Here’s where you should stop along the way:
First up, stop at the Lua Manu Crater.
Formed approximately 200 years ago, the Lua Manu crater is 330 feet in diameter and nearly 125 feet deep and is the uppermost crater along the Chain of Craters Road, as well as the upper east rift zone. The crater was formed when lava drained from the lava chamber beneath the surface, creating a void.Next, we’re headed to Pauahi Crater.
This massive crater was the result of a 1973 eruption that lasted 31 days. This culturally and historically significant volcanic crater is approximately 2,000 feet long, 300 feet wide, and nearly 500 feet deep. To view the crater – and take an epic photograph – walk across the boardwalk to the viewing area. Mauna Ulu is certainly a sight to behold.
Translating to “the growing mountain” in the Hawaiian language, Mauna Ulu currently stands at 400 feet above its pre-eruption base. It erupted from 1969 to 1974, covering nearly 17 square miles in lava.The Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu lava flows are pretty neat.
Stop here for an expansive look at the Mauna Ulu lava flows that covered the landscape in the early 1970s. Here you will be able to witness the “shiny” glaze of the pahoehoe lava flow, created from the outer layer of silica, surface glass.
The Kealakomo Lookout is stunning.
For panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the vast lava flow that buried the ancient village of Kealakomo. The viewing area is the perfect spot to take a few photographs – or stop for a picturesque picnic lunch.The Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs are fascinating.
Next up on our journey is the culturally and historically significant Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs trail. More than 23,000 petroglyph images can be found in this expansive field, and you will see many of them along the 1.5-mile (round trip) boardwalk trail.And finally, you’ll find that you’ve made it to the end of the road. Park your car and check out the nearby Holei Sea Arch.
This impressive sea arch – which was formed within the last 100 years – is currently 90 feet high. Cut into the cliff of an ancient lava flow, the Holei Sea Arch has a limited lifespan, and will eventually crumble into the ocean.Now, it’s time to turn around and appreciate the incredible views on the way back into the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Don’t be unprepared for your journey: you won’t find any food, water of fuel along the path, and cell reception in this area can be spotty. Most importantly, enjoy the trip – and don’t forget your camera! If you’re not on Hawaii Island, consider taking a scenic drive along any of these amazing Hawaii backroads.