Big Island - Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park


What? : The Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is designated International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the park you can see two of the most active volcanoes on earth; At its heart are the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes.

The Park incorporates diverse environments including seven ecological zones. From the basaltic ocean coastline and expose lava flow plains, active volcanoes crater, deep lush rainforest and the high summit of the earth's largest in volume volcano, Mauna Loa.


Where? : The park is located at the south east section of the Big Island, 45 minute drive south of Hilo. Plan for 2 hours’ drive if you are coming from the northwest Kona side.

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Due note 1: There are many different things to do, see and places to hike at this park. We went here for one day and we did not manage to cover many things, my advice is to dedicate 2 days to this large park.


Due note 2: There are two drive-in campgrounds within the park, as well as multiple options for backcountry camping. Reservations and permits are required.


Due note 3: The Park is in the rainy side of the island, come with rain gear (and even umbrellas) and with warm cloth.


Due note 4: This Park is manage by the US National Park so there is a fee station at the entrance, the America the Beautiful National Parks permit is valid here.


Due note 5: The Park is open 24 hours, especially popular for watching the glow from the active Halema’uma’u volcano crater.


Due note 6: This is most visited attraction in Hawaiʻi and the most visited volcano in the world, be patient when driving and when waiting for free parking lot.


My thoughts: This large park deserve more time than the only one full day we spend here, but we enjoy it very much. Although it was raining throughout the entire day, and some landscape viewings were completely covered with fog we had fun.

Unlike our low expectations to be able to see a boiling lava we manage to get some clear moments with less steams over the boiling melted rock crater.



The visit:


The Big Island consists in total of five separate volcanoes: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualālai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park cover a large area of 505 square miles (1,308 square km) at southeastern shore of the island of Hawaii, southwest of Hilo.

This is a huge park that most of it is accessible to hikers only and roads are providing limited access to the park large area.

Starting at the sea level with long lava fields flowing into the ocean and ending at the high alpine largest volcano by volume on earth mount Mauna Loa covers (13677 feet).

Kīlauea and its Halemaʻumaʻu caldera were traditionally considered the sacred home of the goddess Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes, and Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess.

As of 2022, most of the park is open to the public, although some road segments, trails, and museum are still close.

Few facts on the park Active Volcanoes:

Mauna Loa

This huge mountain covers half of the island in the south-central area and visible from many points in the Big Island. It is the largest volcano by volume on earth. It’s summit is at 13,677 feet high. Although it is looking like a sleeping giant, Mauna Loa has been active for nearly 700,000 years, and its most recent eruption was in 1984.

Its 13,677 feet high summit caldera is 2 by 3 miles and 600 feet deep. In 1950 a lava flow from the volcano’s southwestern reached the ocean in less than three hours, covering the distance at a speed of 5.8 miles (9.3 km) per hour. Mauna Loa’s most recent eruption was in 1984.


This mountain stands east of Mauna Loa and is considered to be the world's most active volcano. This is also Hawaii's youngest volcano so its summit is not as impressive as other Hawaii volcanoes (4,090 feet high). The Halema'uma'u Crater, located within the shield volcano's caldera, is the volcano's most active vent.

In 2018, one Kilauea erupted for more than a month on it east rift zone. This eruption and the mass of lava flow destroyed hundreds of homes and residential neighborhoods at nearby small towns. At the eruption the top of the mountain walls fall into itself, collapsed 2,000 feet of the crater's summit. This event created huge Caldera crater, 2.5 miles long and 2 miles wide with a deep Halemaumau active crater, where lava is still boiling today.



Park Weather:

Being on the southeastern rainy side of the Big Island the park receive a lot of rain, nearly 100 inches (2,500 mm) of rainfall annually.

Visitors to the park should come prepared for rain any time of the year.

Because this is around 4,000 feet elevation the temperature here are much colder than near the sea level.

Come with rain gear (and even umbrellas) and with warm cloth.



Our visit description:

We spend here only one full day, but we enjoy it very much. Although it was raining throughout the entire day, we had fun.

We started our day late; I took us 2 hours’ drive from our northeast Kona hotel to the park visitor center. We arrive to the visitor center relatively late (almost near noon).

We had a short stop at the visitor center (where we parked our cars), checked with a ranger about recommend trail options and volcano activity.

We went to a short 2-miles easy hike to the nearby Sulphur Banks Trail.

From here we drove to Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot. From this point you can look at the 3-mile-wide Kilauea Iki Crater. From here we hiked along the create rim to the Nahuku Lava Tube.

After the Lava Tube hike, we drove to Keanakako'i Overlook parking lot (on Crater Rim drive), this is a packed parking lot so you may not find where to park here. You can also park at Puʻupuaʻi overlook parking and hike 0.5 mile to this place. From Keanakako'i Overlook parking lot we hiked 1 mile on the old create rim drive road (close to all traffic) to Hale Ma'uma'u Volcano Crater overlook point.

This is the closest point you can see the active crater and red boiling lava pool. It was almost dark when we went back to our car (winter short days).

It was already 6pm when we left the park and, on our way, back, we stop for dinner at nearby restaurant. Another 2 hours drive at night, in rain and fog, and we were back at our hotel. Interesting, once we cross the high point of our drive west the weather changed completely, the rain and fog vanished, and we had a clear sky.


As you can see you can do a lot and visit many places in one day trip to Volcanoes National Park.



Trips you can do by Car:

There are several car-drives you can do in the park:

·       Short Crater Rim Drive all the way to the last viewpoint, the drive passes steam vents (you can stop here and have short hikes) and a viewpoint overlooking Halema'uma'u Crater.

·       Drive 22 miles on Chine of Craters Road all the way to the ocean frontline and Hōlei Sea Arch. There are many long hiking options to nearby volcano craters along this road. We did not have the time to drive this road so I will not provide more information.

·       Drive along highway 11 outside the park boundaries, along the way you can visit the famous Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach or even stop in the remote section of the park at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Kahuku Unit. We did not have the time to drive this road so I will not provide more information.

·       Drive to Kalapana on Highway 130, this is outside the park but here at the end of the road you can see how the volcano lava flow cover the small towns in this area. We did not have the time to drive this road so I will not provide more information.



Recommended short Hikes:

1. Sulphur Banks Trail:

This is family friendly easy 1.2 mile hike on a paved trail and boardwalks.

The trail starts right at the park Kilauea Visitor Center. Keep walking west at the same side of the road and you will find the trailhead just after the parking lot.

This hike will take you through a nice section of rainforest and after a short hike you will get into open section where you can see the Sulphur Banks. Hot steam and volcanic Sulphur fumes going out of the ground, giving this place the smell of rotten eggs.

This open section is the most impressive section. The trail getting into another forest section and out into the open again, after walking 0.7 mile you will reach to Rim Drive Road. here you can go back the same way or cross the road and go back on a the parallel to the road Rim hiking trail.

Overall, this is a fun easy hike with interesting geological things to see.


2. Crater Rim Trail:

There are several connectors trail along the rim of the craters, this specific hike starts near the main park Kilauea Visitor Center (across the road and pass the Volcano House). The trail is following the rim, parallel to the road, a 1-mile trail is leading to the direction of Kilauea Iki crater in the south.



Nahuku Lava Tube:

There are two option to hike here, the first one is to park your car just near the cave at Parking at Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube) roadside parking. It is almost impossible to find parking spot here !

The second one, and preferred, is to park your car at Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot.

A 0.5-mile hike along the Kilauea Iki Crater rim will bring you to the cave parking lot.

The lava tube is lit 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Restrooms near the lava tube (when coming from the road they are at your left, or at the end of the hiking loop) are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The short, paved trail start from the road, turn right, and go down into the rainforest jungle and large ferns vegetation. Soon you will get to the cave entrance. This cave is 500-year-old lava tube where a river of melted rocks flowed and left behind the cave space.

Cross the small bridge and enter the cave, the cave has yellow light from lamps on the walls, so you do not need to have flashlight.

he 600-foot-long cave has a flat rock floor and a high ceiling, so it is not challenge at all.

After short hike you will reach the end of the cave, climb up and out into the jungle. Keep hiking the short trail back to the road (you will see the restrooms on your right).



3. Devastation Trail:

The Devastation Trail start from the parking lot to Puʻupuaʻi Overlook, via a one-mile out and back walk on a paved path.

The area was covered by the 1,900-foot-tall lava fountains during the 1959 eruption. The trail provides views of the new cinder cone, Puʻupuaʻi, that developed during the five-week eruption.



4. Hale Ma'uma'u Volcano Crater overlook point:

Park at Devastation small parking lot, where Crater Rim Road turn left into Chine of Craters Road. The old Rim Road that in the past kept going straight is close to all traffic.

From here you will walk 1 mile on the close road. In some places you can see hoe the road was crack as of result of the 2018 eruption. After a mile you will clearly see a side marked trail to your right. Here you will leave the road and walk to the cliff edge viewing point.

Due to safety restrictions, you are not able to view Halema’uma’u crater and lava lake up close, it can be viewed from afar.

We visit here at a rainy day, the rain, low clouds, and steams cover the lake for most of the time. After 20 minute the view cleared, and we manage to get a good glimpse of the impressive, melted lava lake.

This was my first time seeing boiling hot lava and the sight was impressive.

We spend here almost 40 min and after we had enough, we start to walk back to our cars.

Nighttime is the best time to visit the crater, when you can see its red glow much better.


5. Kilauea Iki Crater Trail:

This is a 4-miles hike with 400 feet of descending and climbing, at the loop trail the recommended route is counterclockwise.

We did not have the time to hike here.

In the past, in 1959, this was a boiling lava lake created from 5 weeks eruption. After time the melted lava get colder. The trail descending into the crater and cross it from one side to the other.



We had a lot of fun at this one-day visit in this amazing park.

There are many more places and things to do in the park, one day is just to taste what this park can offer. We will probably do them at our next visit to this amazing park...






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