Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Guide
Hawaii is full of attractions that are unlike anything else in the world, but even among these unique wonders, Hawaii’s volcanoes stand out as truly remarkable. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HAVO) protects some of these natural marvels, including two of the largest, most active volcanoes in the world. If you’re looking to view lava, there’s no better destination than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
At the park, you’ll also be able to see landscapes, formations, and archeological sites created by these volcanoes. There’s so much to see inside the park, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, Shaka Guide’s Volcanoes National Park driving tour has 26 stops and 86 points of narration throughout the park.
Brief History and Eruptions of HAVO
Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks contains two of the most active volcanoes in the world, including the single most active, Kilauea, which has been erupting for most of the last three-and-a-half decades. What's more, the volcanoes inside the park are shield volcanoes, which means their lava moves at slow speeds that are safe for viewing.
In 1983, Kilauea began erupting from its Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō crater. Although the Lava moved slowly, it remained an unstoppable force and attempts to divert the lava were unsuccessful. Residents were challenged over the next thirty-five years of lava inundation with road closures, evacuations, and, unfortunately, lost homes until 2018 when the eruption finally stopped.
So, as of now, there is no flow on the Big Island of Hawaii or lava viewing in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, according to volcanologist, the lava pool at the bottom of Halema'uma'u has begun refilling indicating that the volcano is still active and likely to erupt within the next few years.
Active Volcanoes in Hawaii
Most of Hawaii’s volcanoes are dormant or extinct. Of the five active volcanoes in Hawaii, four are on or adjacent to the Big Island. And, of these, two are within the boundaries of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. These are Kilauea and Mauna Loa, the most active and largest volcanoes in the world, respectively.
Where to See Lava in Hawaii
There are no current lava flows in Hawaii. However, you should check back often since both of HAVO’s volcanoes are due for eruptions. Kilauea has been erupting for most of the last 35 years, and Mauna Loa has erupted fifteen times since 1900. The most recent flow from Kilauea ended in September 2018, which you may have seen on the news.
Lava from the Kilauea Volcano hitting the ocean | Photo by Cedric Letsch
Mauna Loa’s last eruption was in 1984, and scientists are saying it could happen again anytime. In the mid-90s, Mauna Loa seemed ready to burst, however, a large chunk of the volcano shifted south allowing a larger magma chamber to form underground, which relieved the building pressure. For now…
Things to See in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There’s plenty to do and see inside the park’s boundaries, even without the lava. Between the hikes, backpacking, camping, ancient petroglyphs, and geological formations, you’re more likely to be overwhelmed than bored. Here are some of the park’s most popular attractions.
Hiking Kilauea Iki Crater
Take a deep breath before you continue trekking the Kilauea Iki Crater hike
The hiking through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is all wonderfully unique, and the Kilauea Iki Crater trail exemplifies the one-of-a-kind beauty you’ll find inside the park. This day hike begins at a parking lot along Crater Rim Drive.
You’ll take the trail form the head a few hundred yards, linking back up with Crater Rim Drive. This is also a great time to visit the Thurston Lava Tube, which you can read more about in the next section. The trail then begins the descent into the crater through a lush rainforest jungle. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the crater when you see it. The sight of an almost 2000-foot high eruption in 1959, the Kilauea Iki crater is an immense, barren, steaming landscape that you’ll have to see to believe.
The Kilauea Iki Crater hike is a four-mile loop of moderate difficulty. The crater can also be viewed from the scenic overlook where you park if you aren't looking to hike.
Hike to Halema’uma’u Crater
Walking between the moss covered rocks on the Halemaʻumaʻu trail | Photo by National Park Service
Halema’uma’u is the center of activity inside the much larger Kilauea Caldera Crater in terms of lava and the native Hawaiian religion. Until vents opened up in lower puna in 2018, the crater was a full-on lava pond. However, much of this lava flowed from these puna vents and this, combined with a large collapse around the crater, caused the lava to no longer be visible. In addition to being a ‘hotbed’ of volcanic activity, the Halema’uma’u crater was said to be the home of the volcano goddess Pele.
You can take an awesome hike through the Halemaumau area if this sounds interesting to you. The landscape will likely seem quite foreign, as this rainforest has burned and re-established itself several times over creating an intriguing lava rock/jungle juxtaposition. The Halema’uma’u trail is 1.6 miles round trip of easy difficulty. Watch your feet, though, there are a few places you could trip and fall if you're not careful. You can't see the crater from the road, so if you want to view the area you'll have to hike in!
Thurston Lava Tube
Lava tubes are created when the top layer of a lava flow cools against the air. The stream of lava underneath, however, continues to flow and gradually cool, creating walls and a thicker roof. This insulation allows the stream to stay hot and continue flowing. At some point, the lava flow runs dry, leaving a hollow tube.
The Thurston Lava Tube is a massive cave, which visitors are welcomed to explore. A new electrical system was recently installed in early 2018, which lights the tube and also emits rays that inhibit the growth of invasive species. From 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. the tube is left dark for viewers that would rather experience the tube in its natural state. You’re required to bring a flashlight to enter Thurston Lava Tube.
Over 23,000 petroglyphs can be viewed along the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Boardwalk hike. These beautiful cultural and historical artifacts were used to record travels, navigate, express wellbeing, and record events and births. Along the short hike, you can see images of circular motifs, geometric designs, human representations, canoes, and other objects from ancient Hawaiian life that are dated between 1200-1450 CE. The hike is 1.4 miles and rated easy since it is along a wooden boardwalk.
Historical petroglyphs of Pu'u Loa
Other Hiking Trails
There are six other trails throughout the park that you might also be interested in taking. The sulfur bank is an easy hike along a wooden boardwalk that offers yet another wholly unique landscape with colorful, steaming mineral deposits. Or, you could view the beginning stages of returning life along the mile-long Devastation Trail. You can view all the trails available inside the park here.
Check out the Sulphur banks at Ha‘akulamanu outgassing deposits of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide | Photo by Aleksomber
Backcountry Hiking and Open Areas
If you’d rather hike off-trail or through open country, there are seven areas throughout HAVO and its two volcanoes perfect for trailblazing or backpacking. Keep in mind that these areas are badly overgrown and not heavily trafficked. Cairns guiding you through the park are often not visible or damaged, so it is best to bring a GPS system just in case.
Halape is the most popular of the backcountry hikes, but Apua is equally beautiful and both treks follows along the park’s magnificent coasts. You can also hike through the more remote Ka’aha coastal lava field, Keauhou Bay, Napua Crater, and Pepeiao’s grassy lava fields. Each of these adventures should only be carried out by experienced hikers. The area’s most strenuous hike goes up Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano.
You’ll need to pay a $10 fee to enter any of these areas, which also grants access to campsites that are available along each adventure.
There are several great camping sites available throughout the park. Each requires a permit and some require advanced reservations. Permits for backcountry camping are $10 and are included with your self-service pay station fee. Permits for the two drive-in camping grounds, Kulanaokuaiki and Nāmakanipaio Campgrounds, cost $10 and $15 per night, respectively.
You can also reserve cabins at the Nāmakanipaio campground for $80 per night or other accommodations in and around the park here.
Kīlauea Visitor Center
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Visitor’s Center should be your first stop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The center’s staff can give you the most up-to-date safety and closure information, and they are also excellent sources of knowledge and act as a sort of park concierge. There are also park exhibits focusing on the Island’s formation, wildlife, ecosystems, and protection inside the Visitor Center.
The center’s standard hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, however, these times are subject to change depending on park happenings like eruptions and events. If you’re looking for more information, you can reach the visitor center at (808) 985-6000.
Find out what's inside and learn more at the Kīlauea Visitor Center
Visitor Information and FAQs
Map and Directions
There are two entrances to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. To get to the park from Hilo, follow Highway 11 all the way through the town of Volcano. You can also enter the park from the west by traveling southwest on Highway 11. The visitor center is located at 1 Crater Rim Drive, Volcano, HI 96785.
HAVO’s website has an excellent interactive map.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was closed for a long time following eruptions and collapses that damaged much of the park’s infrastructure in 2018. The park has reopened, however, there are new safety guidelines that you should be aware of before entering the park.
First and foremost, bring lots of water. Dehydration has always been an issue inside the park’s boundaries where it can get quite hot and arid at lower elevations, but the 2018 volcanic activity also destroyed many of the potable water stations adding to the problem. You shouldn’t count on finding water at any of the attractions, so bring plenty of your own.
Many cracks and sinkholes have also opened up due to the 2018 activity. Stay far away from the edges, as these areas are inherently unstable. Similarly, stay away from cliffs since the park is currently at increased risk of rockfalls and slides.
Bring lots of water, it can get quite hot! | Photo by Niagara66
How is the weather?
The weather varies a lot inside the park depending on the elevation. The lava fields at lower elevations can get scorching hot, while higher elevations are usually 10 to 12 degrees cooler. Wear layers to prepare for these changing temperatures.
Can I Do Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in One Day?
You can’t trek the whole park in a day, but with the right help you can see most of the park’s popular attractions in a day! Shaka Guide offers an audio driving tour from Hilo or Kona all the way through the park. It can be completed in about 6 hours.
Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with Kids?
Outdoorsy kids will love Volcanoes National Park and all of the natural wonder that has to offer. HAVO also offers a park-specific Junior Ranger program and Hawaii Island National Parks Junior Ranger program. The park-specific program offers two handbooks, one for children under the age of 7 and one for 7 to 12-year-olds.
You can also download and print other children’s activities for the park here.
The park itself is open to visitors 24/7, 365 days a year. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Do not explore the park at night without a flashlight.
Entrance to the park costs $25 per vehicle or $12 for bikes and pedestrians. There are also several designated National Park free days, which you can check here.
Some of the open country and backcountry hiking areas also have a $10 fee. The two campgrounds have $10 or $15 fees depending on where you stay.
How Much of HAVO is Wheelchair Accessible?
Much of the park is wheelchair accessible, including a few of the hikes which follow boardwalk paths. Ha'akulamanu Sulphur Banks Trail and the Steaming Bluff are both Wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair accessible bathrooms can be found at the Kīlauea Visitor Center, Volcano House, Kīpukapuaulu picnic area, and Mauna Ulu.
Wheelchairs are available for use from the Kilauea Visitor Center.
Are Any Tours Available?
The park itself doesn’t offer any tours, but it does have several special programs available which are excellent sources of information and entertainment. You can check up on the current special events here. Of course, Shaka Guide offers an awesome audio tour through the park.
Discover the many sceneries and flora at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Photo by Steve Halama
What Should I Bring and Wear?
Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunblock, and money for any of the fees you’ll be paying (at least $25). The $25 park entrance fee can be paid with card, but some of the other self-service pay stations will require cash.
You should dress in layers since temperatures in the park vary a lot depending on altitude. You’ll probably want a hat, as well, since you’ll likely be in direct sunlight most of your time in the park. Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes with a thick sole because the lava can be quite sharp.
Should You Take a Tour or Drive Yourself?
Both! You can take a tour through the park and have your own vehicle available for exploration if you use Shaka Guides Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Audio Tour!
Volcanic rocks meet the sea | Photo by Niagara66
When is the Best Time to Visit?
It’s always a good time to visit HAVO. If you’re only going to view lava, hold off on your visit to the park until there is a fresh flow. There is currently no lava viewing, but check back soon! On the other hand, if you want to witness the resiliency of life, plan your visit ASAP to watch as plant life takes hold of the park’s lands once again.
Is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Still Worth the Trip?
YES! Although much of the park was damaged by recent lava flows, and there are no flows to view anymore, there is still a ton to see, do, and experience throughout the park’s open attractions. In fact, seeing the landscape's plant life reestablish itself as it has many times before is one of the most surreal experiences that Volcanoes National Park has to offer. Experience it all on our Shaka Guide Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour!