Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from 1933 through 1942, Hilina Pali Road is a nine mile narrow road that travels from Chain Of Craters Road to the awe-inspiring Hilina Pali Overlook.
To be honest, the isn’t much to see on the nine mile drive down Hilina Pali Road, but the incredible views at the end of the road are worth every minute of the slow-going, curvy drive through the arid Ka’u Desert dotted with Ohi’a Trees and native brush.
The one really interesting thing you will see on this “scenic drive” is the Koaʻe Fault.
The 1.5 mile wide, 50 foot tall Koaʻe Fault stretches 10 miles down the left side of the road between the east and southwest rift zone of Kīlauea Volcano. The fault is a reversed or backward fault, which means the upper section slips down into the void, creating an inland facing fault scarp or cliff. The fault extension was created by the slippage of the ground between the northern and southern parts of Kīlauea. It is currently separating 0.5-3.0 inches per year and is the largest scarp on the south flank of Kīlauea.
At the end of the road is the Hilina Pali Overlook.
The 12 mile long Hilina Pali Overlook sits at 2,282 feet elevation and offers visitors breathtaking views of the the Ka’ū desert, the Hawaii coastline, and the sparkling blue Pacific ocean.
The Hilina Pali Overlook sits above the coastal flats of Hilina Slump, a semidetached landmass sinking 4 inches per year. In 1975, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused a portion of Hilina Pali to suddenly drop five feet and the shore to drop 10 feet. This created a 48 foot tall tsunami that killed two people and injured 19 others who were camping at the Halape backcountry campground.
When we arrived at the Hilina Pali Overlook we were the only people there. It was quiet, serene, and absolutely stunning — the perfect place to enjoy lunch! But first we wanted to explore the area a bit.
Three trails depart from the Hilina Pali Overlook picnic area:
- The Hilina Pali Trail zigzags down a sheer 1,400 foot cliff and across lava flows and windswept grasslands to several coastal sites including Ka’aha.
- The Ka’ū Desert Trail skirts the edge of the Ka’ū Desert landscape, passing through grasslands and groves of Ohi’a Trees on the way to Pepeiao. From there you can travel north through the desert or south to the sea.
- A third trail descends the cliff only 20-30 feet and leads to a stone monument with a metal semi-circle at the top that displays notable locations with arrows pointing to where they are located. Another smaller stone pile adored with flowers site just below it in memory of those who lost their lives in 1975.
After hiking along the cliffs for a while, our stomachs were growling!
Two picnic tables sit near the small overlook parking area, one protected in a three-sided stone structure and one handicap-accessible table out in the elements. We snagged the protected table because it was super windy along the edge of the cliff and enjoyed a picnic lunch while taking in one of the best views of our visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Know Before You Go
- Hilina Pali Road is located 2.3 miles from the start of Chain of Craters Road and 5.6 miles from the Kīlauea Visitor Center on Chain Of Craters Road in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
- Hilina Pali Road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from 1933 through 1942. The drive on Hilina Pali Road from Chain Of Craters Road to the Hilina Pali Overlook is 9 miles.
- The 12 mile long Hilina Pali Overlook sits at 2,282 feet in elevation.
- The Hilina Pali Overlook is VERY windy. There is one picnic table protected inside a covered structure and one picnic table out in the open.
- This scenic drive is a paved road just a bit wider than a car, which means you’ll need to watch out for oncoming cars. The road is very curvy, so while the speed limit is 25 mph, you’ll rarely be going that fast.
- There is a bathroom at the 3.5 mile point in the Kulana’okuaiki Campground and an outhouse at Hilina Pali Overlook, but no water or any other services.