So there are 2 main roads in the main part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
- Crater Rim Drive
- Chain of Craters Road
Crater Rim Drive is a relatively short road, and this is located near the park entrance. There are some “volcano” sights along Crater Rim Drive, and the main stops can be done within an hour, although it can take longer depending on how much walking/hiking you do.
Chain of Craters Road is the longer road that will take you down to the coast as you drive past vast lava rock fields. 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!
If you’ll be staying in the Volcanoes National Park area for a night, it can be perfect to do 1 or 2 things that are on the road from Kona to the national park in the morning and early afternoon. Then, if you arrive around 3 or 4pm, you can spend an hour doing the main quick things that are on Crater Rim Drive. The next day, you can explore Chain of Craters Road, and maybe also add in time to do a hike off of Crater Rim Drive too.
Otherwise, 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 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 the lava fields!!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
The best of the Big Island:
- Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Where to see lava fields on the Big Island
- The big list of things to do on the Big Island
Be sure to also see stops to make on the drive from Kona to the national park. Also see things to do on the Puna coast that can be perfect after a trip to Volcanoes National Park!
What are some things to do on Crater Rim Drive?!
Kilauea Visitor Center
Once you enter the national park, make your first stop the visitor center!
You can get an updated map that will make navigating the national park feel a lot easier too!
The Thurston lava tube is often on the list of top things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and this is one of the activities that was closed when I went to the park in September 2019. As an alternative lava tube on the Big Island, check out the Kaumana Caves near Hilo!
And, you can learn a few things about volcanoes in Hawaii at the visitor’s center too.
Then, after you’ve finished up at the visitor’s center…
For these next activities, you can walk to them straight from the visitor center parking lot. You’ll see signs.
Or there’s a parking lot that can get you a bit closer.
There’s a short trail (0.3 miles) that will take you past sulphur banks.
The national parks says this is where you’ll see:
Volcanic gases deposited colorful sulphur crystals and other minerals along this paved trail and boardwalk.
See more about this stop on Crater Rim Drive.
There’s another short trail (0.4 miles) that will take you past steam vents.
These aren’t the only places you can see steam vents though!
Crater Rim Trail
Then you can continue on to part of the crater rim trail where you can find overlooks to see the Kilauea Caldera and Halemaumau Crater.
There are a number of overlooks.
Once you feel like you’ve gotten a good glimpse of the caldera and crater, you can head back to your car to continue the drive on Crater Rim Drive.
So those are the quick stops on Crater Rim Drive.
If you have an hour, you can comfortably walk the sulfur banks trail, steam vent trail, and the part of the crater rim trail that allows you to see the caldera and crater. It’s possible to do it quicker too.
So you saw the Halemaumau Crater and Kilauea Caldera from above at the overlooks.
Now you can head down and see the caldera from ground level!
As soon as you reach the caldera floor, you’ll turn back around.
To do the Halemaumau Trail, you’ll want to give yourself 1-1.5 hours.
Skip this if you are short on time.
If you want to do this trail, you can add it onto the loop with the quick stops before you head back to the visitor’s center parking lot. The start of the trail is near the visitor’s center, as well as near the Volcano House hotel and restaurant.
So basically, you can walk: visitor center > sulfur banks > steam banks > crater rim trail overlooks > halemaumau trail > visitor center
After you do those stops, then you can drive to the Kilauea iki parking lot.
Within 5 minutes or so of being on this trail, you will come across a couple of overlooks to be able to see the Kilauea iki crater from above.
If you just come here for the overlook, this can be a quick stop. After you see the crater, you can head back to the parking lot to continue your drive through Volcanoes National Park.
It’s also possible to walk further on this trail, all the way down to the crater floor. (Recommended – possibly the best hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!)
The hike from the parking lot to the crater floor one way might take around 15-20 minutes. (It’ll probably take longer on the way back since you’ll now be going uphill.)
You can head back once you reach the crater floor.
Or, you can walk all the way across the Kilauea iki crater!
You can see more of the power of the volcano up close with the ground broken up with a walk across the crater floor too.
To hike across the entire crater floor, consider giving yourself around 2 hours.
If you do this trail, it means that you’re hiking into a former lava lake!
See more about this stop on Crater Rim Drive.
Moving along on Crater Rim Drive, you can then next drive to Devastation Trail.
The national parks says this the Devastation Trail shows:
A landscape buried in cinders from the 1959 Kilauea Iki lava found eruption.
This is about a one mile out-and-back trail.
See more about this stop on Crater Rim Drive.
And those are the top highlights of stops along Crater Rim Drive!
After Crater Rim Drive, you can continue driving through the national park, this time going on Chain of Craters Road!
Place to stay in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There is one more notable highlight on Crater Rim Drive, that’s Volcano House.
This is a hotel and restaurant located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
This means that stay at Volcano House means staying within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
And, you can get views of the massive Halemaumau Crater from the backside of the property too.
You can check hotel prices here. (partner website)
Even if you’re not staying here, you can go to Volcano House for lunch or dinner.
This is located near the park entrance, right across the street from the visitor’s center.
More places to stay near Volcanoes National Park
Outside of the national park, there are also a few places to stay that are around a 10 minute drive of the park:
- 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, 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 the summary aka quick list!
Bucket list of things to do on Crater Rim Drive
The quick spots
- Sulphur banks
- Steam vents
- Crater Rim Trail for Kilauea caldera and Halemaumau Crater overlooks
- Halemaumau trail to crater floor
- Kilauea iki trail to hike across crater floor
And continue the drive through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with a drive to the coast past lava fields on Chain of Craters Road!
HAPPY DRIVING ON CRATER RIM DRIVE!
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!
Possibly among the best Big Island maps for tourists!The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip to Kona!
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!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
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 these amazing tours on the Big Island:
- Sailing the ocean with a sail + snorkel trip
- Kona's most popular tour: Swimming in the ocean at night with manta rays (likely to sell out)
- Star gazing at Mauna Kea volcano
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight: Circle the Big Island to see Hawaii's volcanoes from above
- Sail the ocean in the evening on the Captain Cook historical sunset dinner cruise (likely to sell out)