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Adventurer’s Guide to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

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Established in 1916

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park boasts active volcanoes that add an exhilarating touch to the already breathtaking scenery. Experience the thrill of standing on living ground, surrounded by epic landscapes. Nature at its wildest and most beautiful awaits.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a haven for adventure seekers, offering a unique blend of volcanic landscapes, lush rainforests, and rich cultural history. The park, which encompasses the active volcanoes Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, provides a dramatic and dynamic backdrop for a variety of thrilling outdoor activities.

One of the park’s main attractions is the Crater Rim Drive, a scenic route that circles Kīlauea’s summit caldera. This drive offers access to several fascinating sites, including the Jaggar Museum and the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater overlook, where visitors can witness the eerie glow of lava in the crater’s depths. For those looking to explore on foot, the Kīlauea Iki Trail is a must-do hike. This trail descends through lush rainforest before crossing the floor of a solidified lava lake, providing a close-up view of the volcanic terrain and steaming vents.

Adventurous hikers can also tackle the Mauna Loa Summit Trail, which offers a challenging trek to the summit of one of the world’s largest volcanoes. The journey provides stunning panoramic views and a unique opportunity to experience the raw power of volcanic landscapes. For a different perspective, the park’s Chain of Craters Road leads visitors through lava fields to the coast, where new land is being formed by lava flows entering the ocean.

In addition to its volcanic wonders, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers opportunities for birdwatching, with species like the Hawaiian goose (nēnē) and the Hawaiian hawk (‘io) often spotted in the park. The Thurston Lava Tube, a massive underground tunnel formed by ancient lava flows, is another highlight, offering an otherworldly experience as visitors walk through the dimly lit cavern.

With its diverse landscapes and thrilling activities, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts, providing a unique and unforgettable experience on the island of Hawaii.

Table of Contents:

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Getting to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the southeastern part of the Big Island of Hawaii. Here are the key details on how to get to this remarkable destination:

By Air

The primary gateway to the Big Island is through two main airports:

Hilo International Airport (ITO):

  • Distance to Park: About 30 miles (48 km) northeast of the park.
  • Drive Time: Approximately 45 minutes.
  • Description: Hilo International Airport is the closest airport to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, offering a range of domestic flights and inter-island connections. Rental cars are available at the airport, making it convenient for visitors to drive directly to the park.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA):

  • Distance to Park: About 96 miles (155 km) west of the park.
  • Drive Time: Approximately 2 to 2.5 hours.
  • Description: Kona International Airport serves more international and mainland US flights compared to Hilo. Visitors landing here will need to drive across the island, enjoying scenic views along the way. Rental cars are also readily available.
By Car

Driving is the most practical way to reach and explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

From Hilo: Take Highway 11 south directly to the park’s entrance. The route is straightforward and well-marked, passing through lush landscapes and small communities.

From Kona: Drive south on Highway 11, which circles the island’s western coast before turning inland toward the park. Alternatively, visitors can take the faster Saddle Road (Route 200) across the island to Hilo and then proceed to the park from there.

By Bus

Hele-On Bus: The County of Hawaii’s Hele-On bus service operates routes that can get you close to the park, particularly from Hilo. However, public transportation options are limited, and schedules may not align well with park visiting hours. It’s recommended to verify schedules in advance if opting for bus travel.

Tips for Visitors
  • Gas Stations: There are no gas stations within the park, so it’s advisable to fill up in Hilo or Kona before heading to the park.
  • Park Entry Fees: An entrance fee is required to access Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Fees can be paid at the entrance stations or online in advance.
  • Visitor Centers: Stop by the Kīlauea Visitor Center near the park entrance for maps, information, and ranger advice to enhance your visit.

Whether flying in from nearby islands or driving across the Big Island, the journey to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an adventure in itself, setting the stage for an unforgettable exploration of one of the world’s most active volcanic landscapes.

Human History

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, is a place of profound cultural and historical significance. The park’s human history is intertwined with the volcanic landscape, shaping the lives and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people and later influencing the development of scientific research and conservation efforts.

Ancient Hawaiian Presence

The earliest human presence in the area dates back over a thousand years. The Native Hawaiian people, or Kanaka Maoli, have always regarded the volcanic landscapes of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa with deep reverence and spiritual significance. Kīlauea, in particular, is considered the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele resides in the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater at Kīlauea’s summit. The eruptions of Kīlauea are seen as manifestations of her power and presence.

Ancient Hawaiians lived in harmony with the land, developing sophisticated agricultural practices to cultivate crops such as taro, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit. They also built extensive fishponds and practiced sustainable fishing. The fertile volcanic soil and diverse ecosystems supported a thriving culture. Numerous archeological sites, including petroglyphs, heiau (temples), and habitation sites, provide evidence of their long-standing connection to the land.

European Contact and Early Explorations

European contact began in the late 18th century with the arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook. Cook’s arrival marked the beginning of significant changes for the Hawaiian Islands, as Western influences brought new technologies, diseases, and cultural shifts. By the early 19th century, missionaries and traders had established a presence in Hawaii, leading to increased interactions between Hawaiians and foreigners.

The first recorded ascent of Mauna Loa was made by a missionary named Reverend Asa Thurston in 1834. The same period saw increased interest from naturalists and scientists who were drawn to the islands’ unique geology and biodiversity. One notable visitor was Mark Twain, who visited Kīlauea in 1866 and wrote vividly about his experiences, bringing international attention to the Hawaiian volcanoes.

Establishment of the National Park

The idea of preserving the volcanic landscapes of Hawaii gained traction in the early 20th century. Dr. Thomas Jaggar, a prominent volcanologist, played a crucial role in advocating for the establishment of a national park. His work in studying volcanic activity and promoting public awareness highlighted the scientific and educational value of the area.

On August 1, 1916, Hawaii National Park was established, encompassing Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. It was the 15th national park in the United States and the first in a U.S. territory. In 1961, the park was divided into two separate entities: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park on the island of Maui.

Modern Developments and Conservation Efforts

Throughout the 20th century, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park continued to evolve as a site for scientific research, tourism, and cultural preservation. The park’s unique geological features attracted researchers from around the world, contributing to our understanding of volcanic processes and earth science.

In recent decades, efforts to restore and protect native ecosystems have become a major focus. The park is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to Hawaii and found nowhere else on Earth. Conservation programs aim to control invasive species, protect endangered species, and restore native habitats.

Cultural Preservation and Education

The park works closely with Native Hawaiian communities to preserve and interpret the cultural heritage of the area. Programs and initiatives aim to educate visitors about the rich traditions and history of the Hawaiian people, ensuring that their stories and connections to the land are honored and respected.

Today, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stands as a testament to the enduring relationship between humans and the natural world. It is a place where ancient traditions meet modern science, and where the dynamic forces of nature continue to shape both the landscape and the human experience. Visitors to the park can explore its fascinating history, witness the power of active volcanoes, and gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural and ecological significance of this remarkable region.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a place of extraordinary ecological diversity. Encompassing over 335,000 acres, the park’s varied environments range from lush rainforests and dry volcanic deserts to high alpine regions. The park’s unique geology and climate have fostered the evolution of a wide array of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. This rich biodiversity makes Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a vital refuge for native species and a critical area for ecological research and conservation.

Diverse Ecosystems

The park’s vast and varied landscape is divided into several distinct ecosystems, each supporting unique communities of plants and animals. The primary ecosystems include coastal lowlands, mid-elevation rainforests, dry forests, subalpine regions, and high-altitude alpine deserts.

Coastal Lowlands

  • Description: The coastal lowlands are characterized by rugged lava fields, sparse vegetation, and a harsh environment where waves crash against the black volcanic rock. This area is constantly shaped by the ongoing volcanic activity of Kīlauea, which frequently sends lava flowing toward the ocean.
  • Flora and Fauna: Despite the harsh conditions, coastal lowlands support hardy pioneer species like ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), ferns, and lichens. Marine life, including green sea turtles (honu) and various seabirds, can also be found in this zone.

Mid-Elevation Rainforests

  • Description: The lush, mid-elevation rainforests receive abundant rainfall, fostering dense vegetation and a humid environment. These forests are often shrouded in mist and feature a rich understory of ferns, shrubs, and mosses.
  • Flora and Fauna: Dominant tree species include the native ʻōhiʻa lehua and koa (Acacia koa). The rainforests are home to numerous bird species such as the ʻiʻiwi (Vestiaria coccinea), ʻapapane (Himatione sanguinea), and the endangered Hawaiian hawk or ʻio (Buteo solitarius). Endemic insects and snails also thrive in this moist habitat.

Dry Forests

  • Description: Dry forests occur in areas with less rainfall and are characterized by more open canopies and drought-tolerant vegetation. These ecosystems often exist on the leeward side of the park, where rain shadows limit precipitation.
  • Flora and Fauna: Key plant species include the māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) and the native sandalwood (Santalum spp.). Dry forests support unique bird species like the ʻamakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) and the palila (Loxioides bailleui), the latter of which is critically endangered.

Subalpine Regions

  • Description: The subalpine regions, found at elevations between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, are characterized by cooler temperatures and a mixture of shrubland and grassland habitats. These areas are transitional zones between the forests below and the alpine deserts above.
  • Flora and Fauna: Subalpine regions host plants such as the pūkiawe (Styphelia tameiameiae) and ʻōhelo (Vaccinium reticulatum). These zones are also critical for the survival of the Hawaiian goose or nēnē (Branta sandvicensis), which feeds on the native berries and grasses.

Alpine Deserts

  • Description: Above 9,000 feet, the alpine deserts are harsh environments with sparse vegetation, strong winds, and extreme temperatures. These areas are dominated by volcanic rock and cinder cones.
  • Flora and Fauna: Plant life in alpine deserts is limited to hardy species such as mosses and lichens. Fauna is also sparse, but the area provides critical habitat for certain insect species and the endangered Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis).
Unique Flora

The park’s diverse ecosystems are home to an impressive variety of plant species, many of which are endemic to Hawaii. The ʻōhiʻa lehua is the most common and ecologically significant tree in the park. This versatile species thrives across a range of habitats and plays a crucial role in stabilizing lava flows and providing habitat for other species.

The silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense), found in the subalpine and alpine zones, is another iconic plant. This striking plant has adapted to the harsh conditions of high elevations, with silvery leaves that reflect sunlight and help conserve moisture.

Efforts to restore native plant communities involve controlling invasive species such as fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), which threaten native biodiversity.

Diverse Fauna

The park’s fauna is equally remarkable, with numerous endemic and endangered species. Birdwatchers can spot native Hawaiian birds like the nēnē, the state bird of Hawaii, which has made a significant recovery thanks to conservation efforts. Other notable birds include the Hawaiian goose, ʻio, and various honeycreepers that exhibit remarkable diversity in color and beak shape, reflecting their specialized feeding habits.

The park also supports native mammals such as the Hawaiian hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) and a variety of endemic invertebrates, including unique species of spiders, insects, and snails. These creatures play essential roles in the park’s ecosystems, contributing to processes like pollination, seed dispersal, and decomposition.

Conservation Challenges and Efforts

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park faces numerous ecological challenges, primarily due to invasive species, habitat loss, and climate change. Invasive plants and animals disrupt native ecosystems, outcompeting or preying upon indigenous species. Feral pigs, goats, and rats are particularly destructive, damaging native vegetation and threatening ground-nesting birds.

Park management has implemented extensive conservation programs to mitigate these threats. Efforts include fencing to exclude invasive mammals, habitat restoration projects, and captive breeding programs for endangered species. The park also collaborates with local communities, researchers, and organizations to promote ecological stewardship and raise awareness about the importance of preserving Hawaii’s unique biodiversity.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a living laboratory of ecological diversity, shaped by the dynamic interplay of geology, climate, and life. Its varied ecosystems, from coastal lowlands to alpine deserts, harbor a rich array of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Through ongoing conservation efforts and a commitment to ecological research, the park strives to protect these natural treasures, ensuring that future generations can continue to experience and learn from the wonders of this unique volcanic landscape.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a geological wonderland that showcases the dynamic processes shaping our planet. The park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, and features a diverse range of volcanic landscapes. The geological history of this region is both fascinating and complex, offering insights into the processes of volcanic activity, plate tectonics, and island formation.

Formation of the Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands are a chain of volcanic islands created by the movement of the Pacific Plate over a stationary hotspot in the Earth’s mantle. As the plate moves northwest over the hotspot, magma from the mantle rises to the surface, forming volcanoes. Over millions of years, this process has created the Hawaiian Island chain, with the oldest islands located to the northwest and the youngest, including the Big Island, to the southeast.

Kīlauea: The World’s Most Active Volcano

Kīlauea is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, with a continuous eruption history dating back at least to the early 19th century. Located in the southeastern part of the park, Kīlauea’s summit caldera and its associated rift zones are the primary sites of volcanic activity.

Summit Caldera

  • Description: The summit caldera of Kīlauea is a large, oval-shaped depression formed by the collapse of the volcano’s summit during eruptions and magma withdrawals. The caldera is approximately 2.5 miles wide and features the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, which is considered the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.
  • Recent Activity: In recent years, Halemaʻumaʻu has been the site of frequent lava lake activity, with spectacular eruptions that have drawn visitors and researchers from around the world. The 2018 eruption saw significant changes, including the draining of the lava lake and the collapse of the caldera floor.

East Rift Zone

  • Description: The East Rift Zone is an elongated area extending from Kīlauea’s summit toward the southeast coast of the island. It is characterized by numerous fissures, vents, and lava tubes.
  • Recent Activity: The 2018 lower Puna eruption along the East Rift Zone was one of the most significant in recent history, with extensive lava flows that destroyed homes, covered roads, and created new land as lava entered the ocean.

Mauna Loa: The World’s Largest Shield Volcano

Mauna Loa, the largest shield volcano on Earth, rises over 13,000 feet above sea level and extends approximately 30,000 feet from the ocean floor, making it the tallest mountain on Earth when measured from its base. Unlike the explosive eruptions of stratovolcanoes, Mauna Loa’s eruptions are typically characterized by effusive, low-viscosity lava flows.

Summit Caldera: Moku‘āweoweo

  • Description: The summit of Mauna Loa features the Moku‘āweoweo caldera, a large, elliptical depression formed by the collapse of the summit following massive eruptions. The caldera measures about 3 by 1.5 miles and contains several smaller craters and fissures.
  • Recent Activity: Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, with lava flows reaching to within a few miles of the city of Hilo. The volcano remains closely monitored due to its potential to affect large areas of the island.

Southwest and Northeast Rift Zones

  • Description: Mauna Loa has two primary rift zones extending from the summit caldera: the Southwest Rift Zone and the Northeast Rift Zone. These rift zones are sites of frequent eruptions and extensive lava flows.
  • Volcanic Features: The rift zones are dotted with cinder cones, spatter cones, and fissures, creating a rugged and varied landscape.

Other Volcanic Features

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is rich in other volcanic features that illustrate the diverse processes of volcanic activity.

Lava Tubes

  • Description: Lava tubes are natural conduits formed by flowing lava that cools and solidifies on the outside while the molten lava continues to flow inside. When the flow stops, a hollow tube remains.
  • Example: Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku) is one of the most accessible and well-known lava tubes in the park, allowing visitors to walk through a subterranean tunnel formed by an ancient lava flow.

Cinder Cones and Spatter Cones

  • Description: Cinder cones are small, steep-sided volcanoes built from particles and blobs of congealed lava ejected from a single vent. Spatter cones are similar but formed from more fluid lava that spatter around the vent.
  • Examples: Puʻu ʻŌʻō, a cinder cone on the East Rift Zone of Kīlauea, has been a site of prolonged eruption activity since 1983.

Lava Fields

  • Description: Vast expanses of hardened lava flows create otherworldly landscapes of jagged rock, smooth pāhoehoe lava, and rough ʻaʻā lava.
  • Example: The Chain of Craters Road provides access to numerous lava fields, offering a firsthand look at the results of recent and historic eruptions.
Geologic Hazards and Monitoring

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a dynamic landscape, and volcanic activity poses significant geologic hazards, including lava flows, ashfall, gas emissions, and earthquakes. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), located within the park, plays a crucial role in monitoring volcanic activity and providing early warning of potential eruptions. The HVO uses a network of seismometers, GPS stations, gas sensors, and webcams to track changes in the volcanoes and provide valuable data for research and public safety.

The geology of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a testament to the powerful forces that shape our planet. From the continuously active Kīlauea to the massive Mauna Loa, the park offers a living laboratory for understanding volcanic processes and the formation of islands. Its diverse volcanic features, from summit calderas and rift zones to lava tubes and cinder cones, create a landscape of unparalleled beauty and scientific value. As one of the most geologically active areas in the world, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provides an extraordinary opportunity to witness the ongoing creation of new land and to appreciate the dynamic nature of Earth’s geology.

Best Places to Stay

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers a range of accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets. From rustic campgrounds and charming bed-and-breakfasts to cozy lodges and vacation rentals, visitors can find the perfect place to rest after a day of exploring the park’s volcanic landscapes and lush rainforests. Here are some of the best places to stay in and around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

In-Park Accommodation

Volcano House

  • Description: Located within the park, Volcano House is the only hotel inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This historic hotel offers a unique opportunity to stay close to the park’s main attractions, with stunning views of the Kīlauea caldera.
  • Accommodation Options: Volcano House features 33 rooms, including crater view rooms, deluxe rooms, and standard rooms. For a more rustic experience, the hotel also offers 10 cabins at the nearby Nāmakanipaio Campground.
  • Amenities: The hotel provides a range of amenities, including an on-site restaurant, gift shop, and complimentary Wi-Fi. The cabins offer basic amenities with shared restroom facilities.
  • Highlights: Staying at Volcano House allows guests to enjoy early morning and late evening access to the park, with the possibility of witnessing volcanic activity from the comfort of their accommodations.

Nāmakanipaio Campground

  • Description: Managed by Volcano House, Nāmakanipaio Campground is a popular choice for campers looking to immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty. The campground is located about three miles from the Kīlauea Visitor Center.
  • Accommodation Options: The campground offers tent camping sites and 10 rustic cabins. The cabins provide a more comfortable camping experience with bunks, picnic tables, and shared restroom facilities.
  • Amenities: Amenities at the campground include restrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue pits. Firewood is available for purchase.
  • Highlights: The campground’s location within the park provides easy access to hiking trails and scenic viewpoints. The crisp mountain air and starry nights make for a memorable camping experience.

Nearby Accommodation Options

Kilauea Lodge

  • Description: Located in the village of Volcano, just a few miles from the park entrance, Kilauea Lodge offers charming accommodations in a peaceful rainforest setting. This historic lodge was originally built as a YMCA camp in the 1930s and has since been transformed into a cozy inn.
  • Accommodation Options: The lodge features a variety of rooms and cottages, each uniquely decorated with comfortable furnishings and modern amenities.
  • Amenities: Guests can enjoy amenities such as a hot tub, complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and an on-site restaurant serving gourmet meals.
  • Highlights: The lodge’s proximity to the park makes it an ideal base for exploring the area. Its serene setting and warm hospitality create a relaxing retreat after a day of adventure.

Volcano Village Lodge

  • Description: Nestled in the heart of Volcano Village, this boutique lodge offers luxurious accommodations surrounded by lush rainforest. Volcano Village Lodge is known for its tranquil atmosphere and personalized service.
  • Accommodation Options: The lodge features five private bungalows, each designed to blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings. The bungalows are equipped with modern amenities, including kitchenettes, private bathrooms, and outdoor decks.
  • Amenities: Guests can enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast delivered to their bungalow, free Wi-Fi, and access to a communal hot tub.
  • Highlights: The lodge’s secluded location provides a peaceful escape, while still being just a short drive from the park entrance. The beautifully designed bungalows and lush gardens offer a luxurious and intimate experience.

Volcano Inn

  • Description: This family-run bed-and-breakfast is located in Volcano Village, offering a cozy and affordable lodging option. Volcano Inn provides comfortable rooms with a welcoming atmosphere.
  • Accommodation Options: The inn features a range of rooms and suites, each with its own unique charm. Some rooms offer views of the surrounding rainforest.
  • Amenities: Guests can enjoy a complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and access to a hot tub. The inn also provides a common area with a fireplace and library.
  • Highlights: Volcano Inn’s friendly hosts and convenient location make it a great choice for visitors looking for a homey and affordable stay near the park.

VRBO and Vacation Rentals

  • Description: For those seeking more privacy and flexibility, VRBO and other vacation rental platforms offer a variety of options in Volcano Village and the surrounding areas. Rentals range from cozy cottages and rainforest retreats to spacious homes and unique treehouses.
  • Accommodation Options: Vacation rentals come in various sizes and styles, catering to solo travelers, couples, families, and larger groups. Many rentals include full kitchens, living areas, and outdoor spaces.
  • Amenities: Depending on the rental, amenities can include everything from hot tubs and BBQ grills to laundry facilities and entertainment systems.
  • Highlights: Vacation rentals provide the comfort and convenience of a home-away-from-home, with the added benefit of privacy and space. Staying in a rental allows visitors to experience the local lifestyle and enjoy the park at their own pace.

Whether you prefer the convenience of staying within the park, the charm of a bed-and-breakfast, or the flexibility of a vacation rental, there are plenty of accommodation options to enhance your visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Each option offers a unique experience, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of this extraordinary destination.

Enjoying The Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a treasure trove of natural wonders and thrilling adventures. Spanning over 335,000 acres, the park offers a diverse range of activities that cater to adventure seekers, nature enthusiasts, and those looking to experience the awe-inspiring power of volcanic landscapes. From hiking through lush rainforests and traversing barren lava fields to exploring hidden lava tubes and witnessing active volcanic activity, the park provides countless opportunities for unforgettable adventures. Here are some of the best adventures you can embark on in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hiking Adventures

Kīlauea Iki Trail

  • Description: This popular trail offers a challenging yet rewarding hike through some of the park’s most dramatic landscapes. The trail descends from the lush rainforest into the floor of Kīlauea Iki Crater, a former lava lake that erupted in 1959.
  • Distance and Difficulty: The loop trail is approximately 4 miles long and is rated moderate due to its steep descent and ascent.
  • Highlights: Hikers can walk across the hardened lava lake, observe steam vents, and marvel at the towering walls of the crater. The trail also offers stunning views of the active Halemaʻumaʻu Crater from the crater rim.

Devastation Trail

  • Description: This short, accessible trail provides a fascinating glimpse into the aftermath of the 1959 Kīlauea Iki eruption. The trail passes through a stark landscape of cinder and lava fragments, showcasing the destructive power of volcanic eruptions.
  • Distance and Difficulty: The trail is a 1-mile round trip and is paved, making it accessible to all visitors.
  • Highlights: Interpretive signs along the trail explain the geological and ecological impacts of the eruption. The contrast between the barren landscape and the slowly returning vegetation is striking.

Napau Trail

  • Description: For those seeking a longer and more remote hiking experience, the Napau Trail offers an adventurous trek through the East Rift Zone of Kīlauea. The trail traverses a variety of volcanic terrains, including old lava flows, craters, and rainforest.
  • Distance and Difficulty: The trail is 14 miles round trip and is considered strenuous due to its length and uneven terrain.
  • Highlights: Hikers can explore the Mauna Ulu lava shield, pass by several pit craters, and, if conditions permit, get a distant view of Puʻu ʻŌʻō, an active vent on Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone.
Lava Viewing

Jaggar Museum Overlook

  • Description: One of the best spots for viewing Kīlauea’s active lava lake is from the overlook near Jaggar Museum. This vantage point offers a safe and accessible way to witness the fiery glow of the lava lake, especially spectacular at night.
  • Highlights: The overlook provides panoramic views of the caldera and the lava lake within Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Educational displays at the museum offer insights into the volcanic activity and the history of Kīlauea.

Kalapana Lava Viewing Area

  • Description: Outside the park boundaries, the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area offers another opportunity to see active lava flows. This area is managed by the county and provides access to recent lava flows that have reached the ocean.
  • Highlights: Visitors can witness the dramatic sight of lava flowing into the ocean, creating steam plumes and new land. The hike to the viewing area can vary in length depending on the location of the lava flow, and visitors should be prepared for rugged terrain.
Exploring Lava Tubes

Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku)

  • Description: One of the most accessible and popular lava tubes in the park, Thurston Lava Tube offers a fascinating underground adventure. The tube was formed by flowing lava that cooled and solidified on the surface while the molten lava continued to flow beneath.
  • Highlights: Visitors can walk through the illuminated tube, which is about 600 feet long, and marvel at the geological formations inside. The lush rainforest surrounding the entrance to the tube adds to the experience.

Kīpukapuaulu (Bird Park) Trail

  • Description: While primarily known for its birdwatching opportunities, the Kīpukapuaulu Trail also offers access to smaller, lesser-known lava tubes. The trail winds through a kīpuka, an area of older vegetation surrounded by more recent lava flows.
  • Highlights: The trail provides a unique opportunity to explore smaller lava tubes and observe native plants and birds. The area is a haven for the Hawaiian honeycreeper and other endemic species.
Crater Rim Drive

Chain of Craters Road

  • Description: This scenic drive takes visitors from the summit of Kīlauea to the coast, passing through diverse volcanic landscapes and offering numerous stops along the way. The road descends 3,700 feet over 19 miles and ends where a lava flow has covered the road.
  • Highlights: Key stops along the drive include the Lua Manu Crater, Pauahi Crater, and the Mauna Ulu lava shield. The road also provides access to the Puʻu Loa Petroglyphs, an ancient Hawaiian site with over 23,000 petroglyphs.

Kīpukapuaulu (Bird Park) Trail

  • Description: This trail is a hotspot for birdwatching, offering the chance to see a variety of native Hawaiian bird species. The trail loops through a kīpuka, providing a mix of forest and open areas that attract different bird species.
  • Highlights: Visitors can spot the ʻiʻiwi, ʻapapane, and the endangered Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi. The trail also offers interpretive signs that provide information about the park’s birdlife and conservation efforts.

Mauna Loa Road

  • Description: Birdwatchers can also explore the Mauna Loa Road, which climbs from the park entrance up the slopes of Mauna Loa. The road provides access to different elevations and habitats, increasing the chances of spotting various bird species.
  • Highlights: Higher elevations offer the opportunity to see birds like the nēnē (Hawaiian goose) and the ʻelepaio. The diverse habitats along the road support a range of birdlife.
Backcountry Adventures

Wilderness Camping

  • Description: For those seeking a more immersive adventure, the park offers backcountry camping permits for designated wilderness areas. These areas provide a remote and rugged experience, far from the park’s more developed regions.
  • Highlights: Campers can choose from several backcountry sites, including those along the Mauna Loa Trail and in the coastal region of the park. The experience offers solitude and a deep connection with the park’s wild landscapes.

Mauna Loa Summit Trail

  • Description: One of the most challenging and rewarding backcountry hikes is the Mauna Loa Summit Trail. This trail takes hikers to the summit of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano, offering unparalleled views and a true sense of accomplishment.
  • Distance and Difficulty: The trail is approximately 18 miles one way from the Mauna Loa Observatory Road trailhead to the summit and is rated strenuous due to its length, elevation gain, and rugged terrain.
  • Highlights: Hikers will traverse a range of volcanic landscapes, from lava flows to cinder cones. The summit offers breathtaking panoramic views and the chance to explore the Mokuʻāweoweo Caldera.
Cultural and Educational Experiences

Puʻu Loa Petroglyphs

  • Description: The Puʻu Loa Petroglyphs site is one of the largest and most significant petroglyph fields in Hawaii. The site features over 23,000 petroglyphs, including carvings of human figures, animals, and geometric shapes.
  • Highlights: A short hike from the Chain of Craters Road takes visitors to the petroglyphs, where interpretive signs provide insights into the cultural and historical significance of the carvings.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

  • Description: Located near the Kīlauea Visitor Center, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory offers educational exhibits and real-time monitoring of the park’s volcanic activity. The observatory provides valuable information about the science of volcanology and the park’s ongoing eruptions.
  • Highlights: Visitors can learn about the history of volcanic research in Hawaii, view live feeds from monitoring equipment, and gain a deeper understanding of the dynamic processes shaping the park.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stands as a testament to the raw and ever-changing power of nature. From its active volcanic landscapes and diverse ecosystems to its rich cultural history and myriad of adventurous activities, the park offers a unique and immersive experience for all who visit. Whether you are exploring the depths of Thurston Lava Tube, hiking the trails around Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, or witnessing the awe-inspiring sight of lava flowing into the ocean, the park provides countless opportunities to connect with the natural world.

As you embark on your journey through this remarkable park, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the dynamic forces that have shaped and continue to shape the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not just a destination, but an adventure that leaves a lasting impression, inspiring awe and respect for the powerful geological processes at work.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a playground for adventure seekers, offering a diverse range of activities that highlight the park’s unique geological and ecological features. Whether you’re hiking through volcanic craters, exploring hidden lava tubes, witnessing active lava flows, or immersing yourself in the rich cultural history of the area, the park provides endless opportunities for discovery and excitement. With its stunning landscapes and ever-changing volcanic activity, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park promises an unforgettable adventure for every visitor.

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Terms of Use: As with each guide published on, should you choose to this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While taking a trail, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. SKYBLUE OVERLAND LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following this route.