Explore Thurston Lava Tube

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

April 2019 Update, some parts of Volcanoes National Park are still closed due to the 2018 Eruption of Kilauea. Check Here to see if Thurston Lava Tube is still closed.

Explore the Thurston Lava Tube

Around 1.5 miles past the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will find a huge lava cave perfect for exploration. After a short trail hike through lush vegetation at an altitude of around 3,900 feet, you will cross a small bridge and find the Thurston Lava Tube.

Thurston Lava Tube

There are several lava tubes and lava caves you can visit around the Big Island but the Thurston Lava Tube, named after Lorrin Thurston, a newspaper publisher instrumental in creating the park, is easily accessible and an exemplar lava cave. Scientists estimate that Thurston Lava Tube dates back some 350-500 years.

How Thurston Lava Tube Formed

Lava caves are formed when a tributary of lava flows beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Leaving the point of eruption in rivers, lava generally stays hot even as it’s surface cools, creating a crusted surface that encases the channel. As the neighboring lava cools these channels can get thick enough to form an insulating tube as an outlet for the flowing lava.

Thurston Lava Tube Entrance

When the lava flow stops and the last of it passes downhill, a lava tube cave can be formed. These tubes can be a few feet high stretching for miles with high ceilings. With a ceiling height of more than 20 feet in places, the 600-foot-long Thurston Lava Tube (a.k.a. Nahuku) is an excellent example illustrating the molten forces of Kilauea.

Thurston Lava Tube Cave

Marginally lit by electric lights, the cave floor is uneven and dark in spots, so don’t forget to wear good shoes and bring a reliable flashlight. There is even an unlit section of the cave, and a walk of 50 yards in pure darkness is a unique experience. Restrooms are available near the entrance to the trail.

National Park Service Website

Thurston Lava Tube Map

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