The Nāpau Trail – Through the woods

A close up of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent of Kilauea Volcano.
A close up of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent.
The Napau Trail passes through dense forest.
I met Yogi on the trail just before entering the forest. Here, he makes his way through the dense growth.
Huge Hapu’u ferns line the forested section of the Nāpau Trail.
Huge Hapu’u ferns line the forested section of the Nāpau Trail.
The old Pulu Factory on Napau Trail.
The old Pulu factory.

Yesterday, I posted about the first part of the Nāpau Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which crosses extensive lava fields. Today’s post picks up from there, on the rim of Makaopuhi Crater, where the trail slips into dense forest on its way to the Nāpau Crater overlook.

The Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent from the Nāpau Crater overlook.
Puʻu ʻŌʻō from the Nāpau Crater overlook.

It’s a remarkable contrast between the stark lava and thriving forest. Birdsong is continuous. Ferns of every kind grow in abundance. Bamboo orchids pop out here and there. And above it all, tall Ohia trees provide the backbone of the forest. This forested trail is clear, but somewhat overgrown. I was hiking in shorts and, at the end of the day, my legs were generously scratched.

Early on in this section, it’s possible to get views of Makaopuhi Crater. Also in this area is the junction with the Nāulu Trail, which starts out at the Kealakomo Overlook, farther down Chain of Craters Road.

The forested part of the trail is about 2.5 miles and towards the end of it is an old Pulu factory. The sign there reads: “Between 1851 and 1884 great quantities of pulu, the soft, reddish-brown fiber covering the coiled fronds of the tree fern (hāpuʻu), were harvested on Hawaii. Much of it was processed within these walls, later to be shipped from Keauhou Landing to foreign markets for use as stuffing in pillows and mattresses.” Unfortunately, in drier climates, pulu quickly breaks down so the industry collapsed.

A little farther along is another junction. To the left is the very basic Nāpau campsite, a few open flat areas and an outhouse. To the right, the trail continues to the overlook, where I was lucky enough to have a wonderful, clear view of Puʻu ʻŌʻō, busily pumping out sulphur dioxide and other gases, and of course, million upon millions of gallons of lava, currently entering the ocean on the southeast coast.

Picking the right day for the hike is not always obvious and weather changes quickly around here. At the visitor center, on the way in, it was completely overcast and drizzling, but by the time I got to the trailhead the sun was out and a nice breeze blew. The wind direction is also important. On this day, the northeast trades were blowing and the vog trailed away to the southwest, which is fine for this hike. But if the wind blows more easterly or south of east, then this trail would be downwind of emissions from the volcano, which could potentially be a dangerous situation.

For more information about this, and other hikes on the Big Island, go to
For more information about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to
For more information about Kilauea Volcano and it’s eruptions, go to

6 thoughts on “The Nāpau Trail – Through the woods

  1. Pingback: Danger: Bowled Out | What's (in) the picture?

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