If you are into volcanoes, then the places on this list you must HIGHLY consider visiting (or seeing) during your trip to the Big Island!
Below, the first part will be where you can see vast and expansive lava fields that you can see as a result of volcanic activity in Hawaii.
Then will be a couple more spots on the Big Island where you can also specifically see where the lava stopped flowing on a road.
And then a bonus lava tube cave hike to do for a unique Big Island of Hawaii experience, since this is related to volcanoes too.
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Where can you see active lava flowing in Hawaii?
aka the red stuff
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.
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.
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 updates for the current status of the volcanoes and chance of lava viewing!
Whether or not you can see active lava during your trip though…
You can see OLD lava flows, and very distinctly the path these old lava flows took on the Big Island
Now, if it turns out that you can’t see active lava when you’re in Hawaii, initially this may seem disappointing when you see online all the pictures of the red lava. But if you have never seen lava, active or old, then it CAN still be exciting! (I think so anyway!)
Stargazing on the Big Island
The Big Island is known as one of the best places in the world to see the night sky and look for stars!
A very unique Big Island experience can be to go stargazing on the tallest mountain in the world!
Yes that’s right!
As they say, the tallest mountain in the world, when measured from the ocean floor to the top of the mountain, is located on the Big Island!
That mountain (volcano) is Mauna Kea!
You can go on a Mauna Kea stargazing tour!
Although, keep in mind, you can only see stars if the sky is clear, so there is a chance that clouds can obscure your stargazing experience.
See below for the list of Big Island 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
Where to see old lava flows in Hawaii on the Big Island
Places to visit on the Big Island
1. Flying into Kona airport
Well, this isn’t a place to visit ON the Big Island, but a place to see as you are flying OVER the Big Island!
Your first volcano experience can be before you even step foot onto the Big Island!
Based on your route, try to sit on the side that will allow you to see the lava fields on the Kona coast that are located just north of the airport.
For reference, I was sitting on the LEFT side on my flight from Oahu (Honolulu) to Kona. Of course, flight routes can change so you can’t always guarantee you’ll be on the side with the views you want to see.
This is a bonus of flying Southwest with open seating. Check in as soon as it’s possible and you can nearly guarantee a window seat!
2. Driving Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Well of course it makes sense that if you want to see volcanic activity, you want to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
This is also one of the best spots to see vast lava fields. You will want to be sure to drive Chain of Craters Road. This will be a drive that will take you to the coast. Along the way you’ll past vast stretches of old lava flows. You can get out and walk across them too.
See more about these Hawaii lava fields: Drive the Chain of Craters Road
To explore more volcanic activity in the national park, you’ll also want to drive Crater Rim Drive, so you can make stops to see sulfur banks, steam vents, the trail of devastation, and the Thurston lava tube. Off of this road is also where you’ll find the start of Kilauea Iki Trail, a hike into a crater that used to be a lava lake. And be sure to stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center to look around at the educational resources there! (aka learn more about Big Island volcanoes!)
3. Driving Mauna Loa Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This is in a separate area from the main area of the national park.
Right near the main entrance of the national park (the Kilauea Visitor Center entrance), you will find Mauna Loa Road (google maps). This is a part of the national park that far less people visit. (Not to be confused with Mauna Loa Observatory Road, which also few people visit, but is located in another area of the Big Island, off of Saddle Road that cuts through the middle of the island.)
Mauna Loa Road will take you up the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, and you’ll pass by some old lava flows.
This is a one lane road in parts, and you’ll drive to a dead end, the Mauna Loa lookout.
From here, you can also hike on a trail as little or as much as you want, and you’ll see a unique landscape. (You can go far on the trail to make this a multi-day backpacking trip.)
4. Driving by Kekaha Kai State Park
Driving along the main highway will have you driving through vast stretches of lava fields on both sides of you, and for reference on a map, at one point you’ll be driving by the state park too.
And, there are many things that can make a visit to Kekaha Kai State Park a worthy volcano activity!
And, you can get closer to the old lava flows in the state park too. (Next on the list!)
5. Driving to Mahaiula Beach
Getting to Mahaiula Beach means that you will be driving through lava fields and you will see the lava all around you – left, right, front, back!
See more about these Hawaii lava fields: Drive to Mahaiula Beach
6. Hiking to Makalawena Beach
Getting to Makalawena Beach can mean hiking across lava fields to see the lava all around you!
See more these Hawaii lava fields: Hike to Makalawena Beach
7. Hiking to Kaimu black sand beach
You will hike on a short trail to the coast to see lava all around you! You can see where lava meets the ocean… and a black sand beach!
In Hawaii, the sand gets its black color due to the volcanic activity from the lava.
So black sand beaches are more great things to see as part of your volcano vacation!
There are many black sand beaches on the Big Island, and the very best black sand beaches (aka very black colored black sand) can be found along the Puna coast – you can see 3 of them within a 30 minute drive!
See more about these Hawaii lava fields: Hike to Kaimu black sand beach.
8. Hiking to Pohue Bay
First, to get to the start of this trail you will drive past the Ocean View neighborhood and vast lava fields. You are also driving towards the coastline and it can feel like you’re driving to the end of the world! (And you will actually be in the southernmost area of the United States.)
Then the entire hike to your destination (the beach) you will be surrounded by lava fields all around.
See more these Hawaii lava fields: Hike to Pohue Bay
More hikes across lava rocks
2 more specific spots to see quite distinctly where lava flows stopped on the road
1. Alanui Kahiko (aka Old Chain of Craters Road) in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Also make a quick stop at Alanui Kahiko aka Old Chain of Craters Road so you can quite literally see where the old lava flows stopped right on the road.
2. Leilani Avenue in Pahoa/Puna
This can be another quick stop. Leilani Estates was the neighborhood that was in the news a lot during the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption. Not every home and road in the area was covered in lava, and with a drive to what’s now the end of Leilani Avenue, you can see where this lava stopped on the road.
Not all residents like tourists swarming their neighborhood so just be aware of this too.
Hike through a cave (lava tube) where lava flowed through
There are 2 cave entrances of the Kaumana Caves. It is worth going in a least a little bit on both sides. You can see clearly where lava flowed through.
But if you will be venturing to a point where you can no longer see the light from where you came, then it’s important that you’re prepared for a cave hike!
See more about hiking the Kaumana Caves.
More lava tubes to see on the Big Island
- Thurston lava tube: See this when you’re visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Kula Kai caves: This is on private property and requires a tour. If you are interested in learning about Big Island volcanoes, you’ll learn a lot! You also have the option to do a “cave crawl“
Where to stay for your Hawaii volcano vacation
If lava fields excite you, then you can find a place to stay that overlooks vast lava fields!
Be sure to check out this lava lookout cabin.
And that’s a bit about where to see lava on the Big Island!
HAPPY VOLCANO VACATION IN HAWAII!
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)