The Napau Crater Trail is found in The Volcano National Park Located on the island of Hawai’i, the largest and newest of the Hawaiian islands. The park is home to two active volcanoes, Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and Mauna Loa, one of the world’s largest. The beginning of the trail is found just off the Chain of Craters Road 12km south of the Kilauea Visitor’s Centre, there is a carpark right at the trailhead.
The trail up to the Napau Crater is 10km one way and the hike can easily be made in one day taking roughly four to five hours round trip. There is also the option to camp at the rim of the Napau Crater where there is a basic campsite with a pit toilet but no running water, to do so you need to obtain a free permit from the Backcountry Office which is only a couple of hundred meters away from the Visitors Centre, the rangers will advise of the trail conditions and will notify you of any closures due to weather warnings or dangerous volcanic activity.
I did the hike on the 3rd of August 2015 while staying in the Volcano National Park region for four nights, I had wanted to do it the following day but when I got to the Backcountry Office to obtain my camping permit the Rangers told me the park would be closed the following day from 6pm due to Tropical Storm Guillermo which was destined to hit the Hawaiian Islands on the night of the 4th and the park would be closed indefinitely thereafter. I got my permit at 2pm for camping there that night so I didn’t have much time to go off buy food, get my shit together and hike the trail as far as the campsite before sunset.
I got back to where I was staying, a few km away from the national park and rammed everything I thought I’d need into my backpack before heading off to a grocery store to stock up on some food for that night and the next morning before making my way back to the park and ditching the car at the Napau Trail parking lot.
The hike up to the crater is not so difficult in terms of strenuous activity but sometimes the cairn route markers can be quite difficult to spot as they totally blend into the volcanic background, the cairns themselves just being stacks of volcanic rock. The first two-thirds of the trail is almost entirely spent hiking over solidified lava flows and at eye level you don’t really get an appreciation for the volcanic formations and features that surround you, the Google Earth movie below is an aerial view of the trail that I made which gives you a much better insight into what you are actually hiking through.
The final third of the hike is spent walking through a recently regenerated fern forest which is quite dense in places and is probably one of the nicer parts of the trail. The forest leads to an old walled ruin of the Pulu Factory not far from the campsite which was used in the previous century for processing & drying stuffing for mattresses and pillows made from the brown silky material found on new curled up fern leaves. The process was unsustainable as it involved cutting down the slow growing fern trees, that and the realisation that the silky material crumbled to dust after a few years led to the demise of the Pulu industry.
I made it to the campsite with an hour to spare before sundown and I had the place to myself. There was lots of activity going on during the night with animals running around and scratching outside the tent, I don’t really know what they were but they weren’t bears so it didn’t really matter, thankfully there are no bears on the island! The next morning there was steam coming out of the bushes beside the campsite, probably from the rain overnight that seeped down to hot earth through cracks in the ground which was pretty intimidating to walk past!
The park has a lot more to offer than just the Napau Crater Trail, there are many other trails and hikes in the park as well as other interesting volcanic features such as lava tubes, steaming volcano craters, lava flows and other funky stuff!