A Guide to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

hawaii volcanoes national park

Jack and I are slowly attempting to visit all of the U.S. National Parks, so on our recent trip to the Big Island in Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was a must-do. The park is home to two active volcanoes – Mauna Loa, one of the world’s largest volcanoes, and Kilauea, one of the world’s most active (it has erupted more than 60 times) –  within the park’s borders.

Something I learned while at the park is that volcano eruptions can last for years. When we were there in January 2022, Kilauea volcano was in the midst of an eruption so we were able to (very distantly) see fresh lava. While lava is visible during the day, many people go at night for an even better view. We experienced a lot more traffic and crowds as the sun went down than during the day, so expect parking to fill up quickly. 

Entry into the park is $30 per car, or you can use the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass.

Where To Stay

The two largest cities on the Big Island are Kailua-Kona and Hilo. I’d recommend staying close to Hilo as it’s a 45-minute drive to Volcanoes National Park versus the two hours from Kailua-Kona. Plan to spend a day inside the park to hit all the highlights.If you want to stay inside the park, Volcano House is on the rim of the Halema’uma’u crater. You will get the chance to wake up to volcano views. There are 33 guest rooms, dining, a gift shop, and cultural events and demonstrations. The Volcano House also manages the nearby Nāmakanipaio Campground if you’re interested in cabins or campsites.

What To Eat

The Volcano House is going to be your best option to eat unless you bring food into the park. Volcano House is worth a stop for the gift shop and the overlook, even if you don’t plan to eat. Uncle George’s Lounge is a more casual spot with burgers and pizza. If you’re looking for more upscale dining, there’s also The Rim at Volcano House.

Things To Do

The two main roads in the park are Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road. These roads will take you to all of the park’s highlights. Eruption activity constantly changes, so you never know where you’ll get the best view (if any). Some areas may be closed during your visit for safety reasons. Your first stop in the park should be the Kilauea Visitor Center. The park rangers can tell you about any closures and are super helpful in helping plan your day. You can also learn about the park’s history and pick up a souvenir from the gift shop.

CRATER RIM DRIVE

You have the option to hike the Crater Rim Trail or drive Crater Rim Drive. Both will take you around the rim of the Kilauea Caldera to the most active volcanic areas of the park. If you start at Uekahuna or the Kilauea Overlook, you can work clockwise along the drive.  

Uekahuna

For many Native Hawaiians, the park is considered sacred ground and Uekahuna is an important site for rituals and cultural practices. This is also the highest point on the rim so you’ll get views of Kaluapele (the caldera of Kilauea) and Mauna Loa. 

Kilauea Overlook

Another overlook for views of the Kilauea caldera and Halema’uma’u crater.

Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff)

You can actually feel the steam from the volcano from steam vents here. Just across the street is the trail to Ha’akulamanu (Sulphur Banks). When the volcanic gases react they produce crystals that you can see here. Beware, the gas smells like rotten eggs. 

Thurston Lava Tube

A lava tube is formed when the edges of the lava cool and harden, but the inside river of lava still flows. Once the eruption stops, the lava inside will drain, leaving behind a tube. This specific lava tube is approximately 500 years old.

Thurston is easily accessible from the parking lot. The cave is usually lit to some degree if the sun is out. However, if you plan to go early in the morning or later in the evening, bring a flashlight, as it can get very dark.

CHAIN OF CRATERS ROAD

Chain of Craters Road is approximately 20 miles long and will take you to more historic spots in the park. On the park map, you can see what year the lava is from. I’d plan to spend at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the drive as there are stops along the way.

hawaii volcanoes national park

Maunaulu

The is a moderate hike that will take you across lava fields and up the Pu’uhuluhulu cinder cone

Kealakomo Overlook

A scenic overlook of the Pacific Ocean and what is left of the village of Kealakomo. The village was buried by lava flow in the 1970s

Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs

Another moderate hike, but this will take you to see about 23,000 petroglyphs carved by the Native Hawaiians

Holei Sea Arch

A rock formation created by lava flow over 500 years ago. It extends from the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean. Due to erosion, the arch is expected to collapse within the next few years

Overall

If you’re traveling to the Big Island, Volcanoes National Park should be at the top of your things to do. Exploring the park and seeing some of the most active volcanoes in the world up close can be one of the most rewarding experiences.

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