Back in June, when I went to the Big Island with a friend, we gave ourselves a lot of time to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I love national parks, and I wanted to do everything in Hawaii Volcanoes. We hiked around, saw the lava flow, and took our time seeing all of the sights. One thing that I would urge you not to miss if you have more than one day here is the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Trail. Today, I will tell you why.

On the day that we drove Chain of Craters Road, we knew that we wanted to do a short hike along the way. We chose Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs Trail because it was only .7 miles and because I had never seen petroglyphs before.

Pu‘u Loa  Petroglyphs Trail is very different from any other hike I have ever done. The views at the end are not natural wonders like gushing waterfalls or majestic mountains, but petroglyphs carved by Hawaiians. That was some history that I knew I needed to see.

Pu‘u Loa

Pu‘u means hill. Loa means long. So, Pu‘u Loa literally means “Long Hill.” But the underlying meaning, or kana, is “Hill of Long Life.”

Pu‘u Loa is sacred to Hawaiians, especially those of Kalapana. There are over 23,000 petroglyphs of circles and other geometric designs, human representation, canoe sails, and even feathered cape motifs.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings. They are stunning to look at, but they also serve a deeper purpose. Petroglyphs at Pu`u Loa are interpreted to have recorded travel around the islands, express consideration for human longevity and well being, communicate current events as well as history, and boudaries and trails.

These petroglyphs tell a story.

Getting there

There are ten stops on Chain of Craters Road. On the day that we drove it, we stopped at all of them. Most of the stops are lookout points, so you don’t get a good chance to stretch your legs. You will see craters, incredible views, and lava rock from different lava flows as far as the eye can see.

Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs Trail is the eighth stop on this road. We wanted to do the trail, but we didn’t know how much time we would have. By the time that we got here, I was ready to do some walking!

One thing I love about National Parks is how clearly marked everything is. You won’t miss this trail. When we went, it was not hard to park at the lot adjacent to the trail. We only saw two other groups hiking the entire time.

Hiking the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs Trail

The trail itself isn’t much of a “trail.” You can see where you need to go, but there is no paved path to get you there. Instead, you will walk on actual lava rock. The lava rock is not smooth and undulates, with no wheelchair access.

The beginning of the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs Trail. You will need to walk on lava rock to get to the petroglyphs.

The views throughout the entire trail are stunning. Do you see that plume of smoke? That’s the lava flowing into the ocean.

From the trail, you can see the lava going into the ocean when it's flowing.

How often do you get the chance to walk on lava rock? I felt like I was walking back in time. As much as I wanted to look around, I tried to keep my eyes on where I was walking.

Watch your step! How cool is that lava rock?!

Once you get to the Petroglyphs, you can’t miss them. There is a large boardwalk raised above the surface so that you can walk above the Petroglyphs. This way, you get to see a lot of all at once, without disturbing them. You walk in a big circle around. We actually walked around twice before heading back. Some of the petroglyphs we saw.

These are some of the petroglyphs that we saw on our hike.

Tips for hiking the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs Trail

Remember that you are walking on sacred ground. Being quiet is a way to show respect. Don’t take anything, and don’t leave anything, either. There are plenty of trash cans throughout the park!

Another way to show respect is to stay on the boardwalk. Do not touch the petroglyphs. Making a rubbing of a petroglyph image causes damage by exacerbating the erosion process, which destroys the petroglyphs.

Stay on that boardwalk!

Many people will choose to hike this trail as they are driving Chain of Craters Road. So, you might not be prepared for a hike. Even though this trail is only .7 miles, you should treat it as a hike.

Wear proper hiking shoes or sneakers as well as suitable clothing. There are no trees, so there is no shade. Be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lots of water. It gets hot walking on the lava rock. Plus, the lava rock remains uneven and sharp, so it would not be good to fall on.

Also, bring a packed lunch or snacks with you, since there aren’t any opportunities for food along this drive. After any hike, I always need something to eat!

There are no restrooms or water fountains here, but plenty of other stops along Chain of Craters Drive have them. In fact, the very next stop on your drive, Hōlei Sea Arch, has a bathroom.

Pro Tip: Pu`u Loa is not the only place within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park you can see petroglyphs. They are also found at many different places along the coast and on Kilauea volcano.

Want to learn more about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

Check out my recent post, The Ultimate Guide to One Day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

And, don’t miss my step-by-step guide on How to See Lava on the Big Island.

What do you consider to be must-dos in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?


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