So there are 2 main roads in the main part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
- Crater Rim Drive
- Chain of Craters Road
Chain of Craters Road is the longer road in the national park that will take you down to the coast.
You can drive by lava fields…
You can walk across lava fields…
And you can see where old lava flows meet the ocean!
There are also spots where you can distinctly see the different paths of lava flows, along with the different types of lava flows.
To drive this road out and back without stopping might take around 45 minutes, but it’s better to allow for at least 1.5-2 hours for stops!
The BEST part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?!
The drive along Chain of Craters Road may just be the best of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
As great as Crater Rim Drive is with sulfur banks, “devastation,” and hiking into a former lava lake (very great), Chain of Craters Road is where to go to see the vast lava fields aka the aftermath of all the lava flows from a volcano.
The Big Island is known as THE island to visit in Hawaii if you want a chance to see active molten lava (aka the red stuff).
But, it’s not always guaranteed or possible to see it.
If you can’t see the active lava flows, the old lava fields will be the next best thing to see!
At one point, the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island HAD been erupting continuously for over 30 years (!). This is what made the Big Island the Hawaiian island to visit to see active lava flows.
But in May 2018, that stopped for over 2 years. This meant that there was no chance to see active lava flowing anywhere in Hawaii.
Check the current lava update.
Then, in May 2021, that stopped.
Then later in 2021, it started again. And there were places you could go at night in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the bright red glow of the lava.
There may or may not be a chance to see active lava when it’s time for you to go to Hawaii.
As your travel date gets closer, check the lava updates for the current status of the volcanoes and chance of lava viewing!
History of Chain of Craters Road
According to the National Park Service:
Chain of Craters Road to the coast (to Kalapana) from Makaopuhi was opened in 1965, and then partly buried in 1969 at the start of the Mauna Ulu eruption.
Since 1986, lava has flowed repeatedly over Chain of Craters Road/Highway 130.
The park’s acreage has been increased by hundreds of acres and nearly 9 miles of road have been inundated by the flows.
In June 1989, Waha‘ula Visitor Center and associated buildings were burnt and covered by lava.
Read more about the history of the area and lava flows that covered Chain of Craters Road!
More below about what to see driving through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park along Chain of Craters Road!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
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The best of the Big Island:
- Big Island hikes with amazing views
- Where to see lava fields on the Big Island
- The big list of (mostly free) things to do on the Big Island
- Tours and activities to see the best of the Big Island
What are some things to do on Chain of Craters Road?!
If you’re only giving yourself one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, then you might consider doing the quick stops on Crater Rim Drive first.
Then after that, drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road, and then on the way back make some stops when you have a better judge of time!
If you are not so concerned about time, make tons of stops along the way and get out and walk across tons of lava fields!
What to see as you drive Chain of Craters Road on the Big Island!
1. Lua Manu Crater
There will actually be a number of stops you can make along the way, with pit craters and signs indicating the different lava flows of that specific area.
Lua Manu will be among the first you’ll see so you may be excited to get out and check it out!
2. Mauna Ulu Trail
According to the National Park Service:
Experience a lava landscape from the 1969-1974 Mauna Ulu flow.
Walk by lava tree molds and climb 210 feet (64m) to the top of a forested cinder cone.
You’ll want to give yourself 2-3 hours to do the full trail.
3. Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu
Lava flows! You can get out and walk across the lava fields around here. Although if you’re short on time, there’s better to come!
4. Muliwai a Pele
More lava flows!
5. Kealakomo Overlook
This is a scenic overlook with grand views of the ocean. There’s also a picnic area here.
aka Old Chain of Craters Road
This is the “old” Chain of Craters Road because it was covered by lava.
You can see these old lava flows across the road.
Another thing that makes this a worthy stop is that you walk across the lava flows around here, and you can see quite distinctly different lava flows based on the different shades of color. You can see the different lava flows coming down the hill too!
Alanui Kahiko: See more about this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity.
7. Holei Pali
This is pretty near Alanui Kahiko, and another great spot to get out and walk across old lava flows!
There is a trail towards the end of Chain of Craters Road that will take you across what’s said to be the largest field of petroglyphs in Hawaii.
According to the National Park Service:
This coastal trail traverses a 500-550 year old lava field to one of Hawaii’s most extensive petroglyph fields.
A site that has approximately 23,000 petroglyphs, many viewable at a boardwalk constructed for this purpose.
The petroglyphs have been carved into the thin, fragile crust of lava flow.
Puu Loa petroglyphs: See more about this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity.
9. Holei Sea Arch
This lava rock formation is at the end of Chain of Craters Road.
See it before it gets destroyed by nature! (aka from the waves crashing against it!)
On Maui, there was a famous rock creation that got destroyed by nature in early 2020, and it could be only a matter of time before the same happens to the Holei Sea Arch!
The observation area for the sea arch has even been moved recently, and this is another indication of how vulnerable of an area this is.
And that marks the end of the road as far as you can drive in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
From here, you’ll turn back around and drive back the way you came.
If you don’t have as much time, you might consider driving to nearly the end of the road, and then making stops on the way back so you can be a better judge of time.
Places to stay near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
If there’s a lot that interests you in and around the park, then there are places to stay around the national park.
There’s Volcano House inside the park.
Outside of the national park, there are also a few places to stay that are around a 10 minute drive of the park in Volcano village:
- Alii Kane Cottage with Loft
- Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant
- Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast
- Hale Ohia Cottages
- Volcano Inn
- At the Crater’s Edge
Links lead to partner website, and you can check for prices, photos, and reviews.
If you’re traveling alone in Hawaii, then also see Holoholo-in dorm beds on airbnb, also within a 10 minute drive. If you haven’t used airbnb before, sign up through my referral link and you can get a discount, I’ve seen up to $55.
And if you don’t mind about an hour’s drive from the national park, you can stay in a place that’s surrounded by lava fields – see this airbnb on the Puna coast!
And that’s a bit about spending your time along Chain of Craters Road!
Looking for more volcano related activities for your time on the Big Island?!
- Hike into a former lava lake
- Lava tube cave hike
- Hike across lava fields to a great beach
- Black sand beaches (beaches in Hawaii are black because of the lava)
- Things to do in Puna (kind of near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)
HAPPY DRIVING CHAIN OF CRATERS ROAD TO SEE LAVA FIELDS ON THE BIG ISLAND!
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
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Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of this amazing tour on the Big Island:
- Kona's most popular tour: Swimming in the ocean at night with manta rays (likely to sell out)