Kilauea Crater Rim Drive


The colored number circles correspond to
the links on the right side of this page.

  1. Kilauea Visitor Center
  2. Sulphur Banks
  3. Steam Vents and Steaming Bluff
  4. Kilauea Overlook
  5. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory & Jaggar Museum
  6. Southwest Rift Zone
  7. Halemaumau Overlook
  8. Keanakakoi Overlooks
  9. Puu Puai Overlook
  10. Thurston Lava Tube
  11. Kilauea Iki Overlook

Crater Rim Drive, Stop 10 - Thurston Lava Tube

The lava tube formed about 350-500 years ago. At that time a large vent, called the Ai-laau shield, was erupting on the east side of Kilauea's summit. Lava from this vent buried the entire north flank of Kilauea, all the way to the ocean. After the eruption ceased, the summit of the vent collapsed to produce the Kilauea Iki pit crater. Additional collapse adjacent to the Kilauea Iki pit crater produced two other small craters. Access to the lava tube is through one of these small pit crater. The trail descends along the wall of the crater then across its floor. The 20-minute walk at Thurston Lava Tube will give you a close-up look at a Hawaiian rainforest and the lava tube. Be careful, the trail can be slippery when wet. This photograph shows the lush vegetation inside the small pit crater.

When the eruption stopped the lava drained from the tube. The trail within the tube is 400 feet (120 m) long. The tube extends beyond the main trail before pinching off (permission to visit this part of the tube must be granted at park headquarters prior to entry). The tube is named for Lorrin Thurston, a newspaper publisher that played an instrumental role in creating the park. Thurston lava tube is also called by its Hawaiian name, Nahuku, which refers to the small protuberances on the walls of the tube. Photograph by T.J. Takahashi, U.S. Geological Survey, September, 7, 1984.

The surrounding forest is one of the parks's Special Ecological Areas. Aggressive alien species are changing ecosystems in much of Hawaii. To protect native habitats within the park, rangers are removing alien species and building fences to keep out feral pigs. Pigs disturb the native plants, which helps to introduce alien plant species, and spread disease, like avian malaria.




Written and Photographed by Steve Mattox except where stated.

Sources of Information



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