Trees grow big and strong, but they are outmatched by the forces of lava. A tree’s last stand against a lava flow can result in a tree mold – a hole in the surface of hardened lava where a tree once stood. Tree molds provide information about lava flows and preceeeding forests. See tree molds with your own eyes at a spot near the entrance of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
Visit the Tree Molds site off Mauna Loa Road, just a couple miles from Kīlauea Visitor Center. Walk around about a dozen lava tree molds and have a look down the trunk-shaped holes in the basalt ground. Each tree mold is fenced off so that you won’t fall in. The barriers make the tree molds easy to spot.
A panel at the Tree Molds site explains how these molds were cast when lava flooded an old forest:
The land shudders. Up slope, the fiery blood from the heart of the earth spews forth once more. Old land is covered, but the grand trees cannot flee. Their water-laden trunks, resistant to the lava’s first touch, allow the flow to harden around them. The heat is too great though, and each tree eventually bursts into flame. The flow stops, but tree molds in the flow mark the former forest and the flow’s depth.
The trees cooled the lava around their trunks for long enough for the lava to harden, but not long enough for the trees to live. Once the trees are gone, the holes that remain can be measured for depth to see how thick the lava flow was, as well as for width to measure the size of the vanished trees.
Walk around the tree molds and then return to your vehicle and continue exploring Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Nearby Kīpukapuaulu Trail, which goes through a living forest, pairs nicely with the Tree Molds.
- Tree molds can be viewed near volcanoes all over the world, like along the Trail of Two Forest in Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington
To get to the Tree Molds: Take Hawaii Belt Road (Route 11) to Mauna Loa Road, located 2.3 miles east of the main entrance of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (which is 30 miles south of Hilo). Mauna Loa Road will be on the right when traveling from Hilo. Turn up Mauna Loa Road and quickly make the first right onto Tree Molds Road (follow signs for Tree Molds). Drive less than half a mile to a loop at the end of the road where you’ll find a parking area for the tree molds.
Tree Molds address: Tree Molds Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96785
Tree Molds coordinates: 19.43442, -155.28128 (19° 26′ 03.9″N 155° 16′ 52.6″W)
Use the map below to view the location and get directions:
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