About Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is 29 miles southwest of Hilo and 96 miles east of Kailua via SR 11. Established in 1916 (back when Hawai‘i was a U.S. territory), the park is one of the planet's most geologically active areas and is home to two of the five volcanoes that comprise the island of Hawai‘i: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Most Hawai‘i Island vacationers spend a hurried day at the park (it's a long drive from the Kona coast resorts), but if you're on the island for a week or more, it's well worth staying a night or two at Volcano House (the park's only hotel) or somewhere in the nearby village of Volcano.
What could warrant spending so much precious time away from the beach? For starters, Kīlauea (at an elevation of 4,091 feet) has been in almost constant eruption along its east rift zone since 1983. Spectacular outbursts with sky-high lava fountains and raging rivers of liquid rock are rare, but even seeing the volcano's normal activity (slowly oozing surface flows) may well be the highlight of your trip. That's assuming Kīlauea is cooperating during your visit. The volcano can go months at a time with no visible lava flows.
Mauna Loa, which stands at 13,677 feet above sea level, is the world's most massive active volcano, with an estimated volume of 19,000 cubic miles. Though Mauna Loa hasn't erupted since 1984, it's still an impressive sight and a magnet for hard-core hikers who come to tackle the 19-mile one-way summit trail.
Hawaiian volcanoes are not the pointy conical variety you remember from science class (think Mount Fuji). These are shield volcanoes—massive, broad mounds that typically don't erupt in the mammoth explosions commonly associated with volcanism.
The lava in Hawai‘i flows easily and tends to build smooth mountains with shallow summit depressions known as calderas. In the heart of the park, much of the sightseeing and hiking you do will be in and around the main Kīlauea Caldera. On the floor of the caldera's western side, a lava lake roils inside the Halema‘uma‘u Crater, mythical home of the Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele. It has been decades since the park service allowed visitors to stand on the rim of the crater and peer into this cauldron of magma. However, even at a distance Halema‘uma‘u puts on quite a show. By day, you'll see volcanic gas and smoke pour into the sky. At night the fuming crater glows a fiery, ominous red and can be viewed from Kīlauea Overlook and Waldron Ledge.
In addition to volcanoes, the park has steam vents, walk-through lava tube, caldera overlooks, craters, cinder cones, ancient petroglyphs, lava trees, coastal rock arch and outstanding hiking trails through native rain forests.
General InformationThe park is open daily 24 hours. From the Kailua-Kona area, one-way drive time to the park is about 2.5 hours. Drive time from Hilo averages 45 minutes. Crater Rim Drive, the park's main road, encircles the summit of Kīlauea Caldera. Chain of Craters Road intersects with Crater Rim Drive and winds to the coastal areas. All vehicles are restricted to designated roadways; speed limits are posted. There are no car repair facilities within 21 miles of the park, but gas and oil are available 2 miles from Kīlauea Visitor Center in the village of Volcano (from SR 11, take the turnoff for Old Volcano Road). Note: The national park site is culturally significant and should be treated with respect.
When hunger strikes, you'll find a restaurant, lounge and prepackaged deli fare (sandwiches and salads) for sale within the park at the Volcano House hotel gift shop near Kīlauea Visitor Center. Just outside the park in the village of Volcano are a handful of eateries (very busy at lunch time) and inns, plus a pair of general stores selling snacks and drinks.
Marked trails crisscross the park and lead to the summit of Mauna Loa and the coastal area of Kīlauea. Back-country camping permits and information about hiking and trail conditions are available at the Visitor Emergency Operations Center, a short drive from Kīlauea Visitor Center The park contains several picnic grounds, but fires are permitted only in specified areas. Hunting and trapping are prohibited.
Temperatures are noticeably cooler at higher elevations, and morning and afternoon showers occur frequently. A jacket or sweater and a light raincoat or umbrella are recommended.
ADMISSIONADMISSION (valid for 7 consecutive days) to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is $30 (per private vehicle); $25 (per motorcyclist); $15 (per pedestrian or bicyclist). A Hawai‘i Tri-park Annual Pass (which also includes Haleakalā National Park and Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park) is $55.
PETSPETS must be leashed and attended. They are not allowed on trails on Hilina Pali Road, in Kulanaokuaki Campground or in the backcountry.
COLLECTINGCOLLECTING rocks and plants, and disturbing archeological sites is prohibited.
ADDRESSADDRESS inquiries to the Park Superintendent, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, P.O. Box 52, Hawai‘i National Park, HI 96718-0052. Phone (808) 985-6000 for recorded information and information about lava flow activity.
Kīlauea Lava Lowdown“Where do I see lava?” The answer can get complicated, depending on Kīlauea volcano's current activity.
It's been several years since visitors could drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road (within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park) and witness lava pouring into the Pacific. Today, the action is happening in two locations: on Kīlauea's east rift zone at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent and at its summit from Halema‘uma‘u Crater. The Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō flows are outside the park in a forest reserve, are off-limits to the public, and are currently threatening the town of Pāhoa. The Halema‘uma‘u eruption is characterized by a lava lake deep within the crater, and while no surface flows are visible here, the reflective glow on the lava during dark hours draws thousands of visitors a day.
The best views of Halema‘uma‘u Crater are from an observation area at the site of the former Jaggar Museum on Crater Rim Drive. The most convenient place to view volcanic activity is from inside the Volcano House hotel along Crater Rim Trail. For bird's-eye lava views, hop aboard a sightseeing helicopter flight lifting off from nearby Hilo International Airport. Prices are steep, but this is the only way you'll see the beating heart of the fuming Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent.
Whatever you choose, a bucket-list experience awaits.
Points of Interest
Attractions Chain of Craters Road
Hawai i Volcanoes National Park, HI
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