Day two in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park began with a visit to the Jaggar Museum and Halema’uma’u Overlook, followed by a stop at the deserted Kīlauea Overlook and exploring the steam vents near Steaming Bluff in the rain.
We already had our ponchos on and we could see the start of Sulfur Banks Trail across the street from the Steam Vents parking area, so we decided to take the short walk over. The entire way, because it was really windy and we were walking through a wide-open meadow, we had to hold our ponchos down and tilt our heads down to keep our hoods on!
When we started down the offical Sulfur Banks Trail, it was lined with trees and we were protected from the wind. As we got closer and closer to the boardwalk, we began to see caution signs warning hikers of toxic gas and stinky fumes.
We could smell the sulfur banks before we could see them. The scent of pungent, rotten eggs was hitting our noses and it was gross. Eventually we reached the wooden boardwalk with periodic interpretive displays teaching us all about the science behind the smoking landscape covered in lime green streaks, yellow splotches, red layers that lay before us.
Walking the Sulfur Banks Trail was like walking on another planet, but it was also very stinky, so we read all the signs, learned some new fun facts, snapped some photos, and continued on our day of adventuring. Next up was driving Hilina Pali Road to the Hilina Pali Lookout, walking down the closed portion of Crater Rim Drive to Keanakāko’i Crater, and visiting the lava tree molds.
Ha’akulamanu — Sulphur Banks Trail
Sulphur Banks Trail is an easy 1.2 mile round trip walk on a paved trail and wooden boardwalk to an area where volcanic gases deposit colorful sulfur crystals and other minerals.
This trail has two trailheads that lead to the Sulfur Banks in the middle:
- One end of the trail begins at the far left of the Kīlauea Visitor Center parking lot past the Volcano Art Center Gallery.
- The other end of the trail that is wheelchair-accessible begins across the street from Steaming Bluff and the Steam Vent parking area.
At Sulphur Banks, known as Ha’akulamanu, volcanic gases seep out of the ground along with groundwater steam. These gases are rich in carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide — the gas that smells like rotten eggs. Some sulfur gases deposit pure crystals at Sulphur Banks. Other sulfur gases form sulfuric acid which breaks down the lava to clay. This clay is stained red and brown with iron oxide. Due to underground heat, this volcanic thermal area has very few trees.
Know Before You Go
- The The Sulfur Banks Trail is located 0.6 miles from the Jaggar Museum, 1.5 miles from the Kīlauea Overlook, and 0.7 miles from the Kīlauea Visitor Center on Crater Rim Drive in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
- Across the street are the volcanic Steam Vents, which means you can park in one place for both attractions.
- You can walk here from the Kīlauea Visitor Center (0.3 miles one way). The trailhead is located at the far left of the Kīlauea Visitor Center parking lot past the Volcano Art Center Gallery. Or you can take the wheelchair-accessible trail from the Steam Vents parking area (0.4 miles one way).
- Visitors with heart or respiratory problems (such as asthema), pregnant women, infants, or young children should avoid this walk.