In this remarkable old growth forest, you can still see the imperfections and battle wounds of 1790, when a powerful eruption of lava made its way through the area. Rapid lava enveloped the trees. When the lava came into contact with the cool, wet bark, hardened lava flows formed around the tree trunks. And when the initial wave of lava subsided, the casts of those tree trunks remained, a ghostly reminder of the once awe-inspiring trees that had towered over the forest.
Tree washers are often mistaken for petrified wood, and the confusion is understandable. They look alike. But the centers of the lava tree trunks are hollow; organic matter burned during the lava flow. What you see is not petrified wood, but the shape of wood that was once, preserved for eternity in hardened lava. If you look closely inside a hollowed-out lava tree (don’t touch it!), You can see the bark imprint, almost as if the tree has left its own handprint on it. inside the lava that ultimately took his life.
Lava Tree State Monument, also called Lava Tree State Park, is located on the southeast side of the Big Island, just 3 miles from Pahoa Town. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
There is much more to see than the lava trees
After reading about how lava trees form, you might think the whole area is nothing but dark, smoky, weird shapes. But Lava Tree State Monument is actually a really pretty park! Next to the charcoal-colored lava trees, you’ll see ferns and delicate flowers. You will spot orchids, birds and huge flowers everywhere you look. The whole park is a testament to the power of nature in many ways. You will see new plant growth covering hardened lava and massive root systems that have recently tipped over. Everything here is constantly changing – living, dying and being reborn.
The park is big, but the loop is small
Although the Lava Tree State Monument is large (17 acres in total), much of this space is devoted to ecological preservation. Visitors can explore via the Lava Tree Trail, a 0.7 mile path that loops from the main parking lot. It’s paved, well marked and easy to follow. Dogs on a leash are welcome.
It is important to stay on the way
In just about every park you will see signs urging visitors to stay on the path. At the Lava Tree State Monument, it’s not just a suggestion. There are carefully camouflaged cracks in the earth that can seriously injure unsuspecting explorers. This is a place where avoiding the proverbial road less traveled is great advice.
This is a great deal
What makes the Lava Tree State Monument such a great deal? It’s free! There is no admission fee or parking fee. It’s also open 24 hours a day, which is ideal for late-day travelers or those eager to catch one final attraction early in the morning before setting off. But while it would be nice to watch the sun go down in the park, there really is no point in being there after dark. A visit is all about seeing the plant life, which of course you can only do in daylight.
The weather is unpredictable
The Big Island of Hawaii has wonderful weather, but it is mistaken for the unpredictability. Just because the weather is nice in nearby Pahoa doesn’t mean it will be at Lava Tree State Monument. If you are traveling with a small umbrella or raincoat, bring it with you. You’ll also want to bring sunscreen, a sun hat (smart wherever you are in Hawaii), and sturdy shoes. The path is in good condition, but there are some muddy and slippery sections.
Expect limited amenities
Lava Tree State Monument is a small park, and you don’t need much other than a willingness to explore. But it’s worth noting that amenities here are limited to washrooms, picnic tables under a pavilion, parking, and interpretive and information boards. There is no gift shop, food service, or even staff. Bring your own bottled water and snacks.
Some portions are accessible
Lava Tree is accessible to ADA – in theory. In 2018, work was planned to improve sections of the main paved loop to improve accessibility. But those plans were halted when the need to repair the damage from the earthquake arose. Fortunately, the two projects overlapped somewhat, and efforts to restore parts of the park after the earthquake included renovating part of the path for the benefit of all. However, it should be noted that there is still a long way to go. For example, tree roots caused cracks and heaving sections of the path.
Don’t skip the museum
Lava is much more than a geological phenomenon for the people who live in and around Pahoa. The recent lava eruptions have brought tremendous heartache, lost homes and lost businesses. They also brought scientific research, spiritual reflection, and community growth. You can learn about the many facets of life with lava at the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum. This wonderful new museum is also home to artifacts from the now closed Jaggar Museum which was a popular attraction in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
There is a great cafe nearby
If you need a memorable dose of caffeine after your exploration, you’ll find it in the town of Pahoa. Sirius Coffee is so small that you might miss it if you’re not careful. This small cafe and internet cafe offers espresso-based drinks and coffee made from Hawaiian-grown coffee beans. Try the Sirius Mocha with your choice of orange or mint flavor. You’ll also find all the other favorite coffees, including smoothies, tea, and baked goods, plus a free lending library. (Note that this small space does not have a toilet.)
There is also a laundromat – the deliciously named Suds’ n Duds – just behind the next building. If you’ve gotten muddy while exploring the Lava Tree State Monument, this is where you’ll want to be!
Where can you see lava trees?
Just because there’s a volcanic eruption doesn’t mean there will be lava trees. They only form under very specific conditions, which is why they are so rare. They are also delicate ecosystems, susceptible to damage in future eruptions, to be removed for agriculture and development, and to be taken as souvenirs. Unsurprisingly, they are among the most unusual and difficult to find ecological phenomena in the world.
You can see lava trees in nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park has several lava trees, as well as some lava tree mold. Tree mold occurs the same way as lava trees, but the final lava flow never decreases. Instead, you can see the mold on the tree by looking into the hardened lava. The park is also home to lava tubes, natural conduits where lava once flowed beneath the hardened surface.
Tree washers are also located around the base of Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Etna in Italy (where they are known as “cannon stones”).