If you’re looking for a volcano national park vacation in the United States, then Hawaii can make for a perfect trip!
On the Big Island of Hawaii, you can go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to 2 volcanoes that are considered to be among the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
What can people do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
As you can imagine, for most people Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is all about the volcanoes!
There are different ways that you can experience the volcanoes including past volcanic activity and current volcanic activity if you’re lucky!
You can see the different aspects of how volcanoes have shaped the landscape in Hawaii by driving the Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park of the Big Island!
Can you see lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
You can definitely see old lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
You will see vast lava fields as you are driving the Chain of Craters Road.
Lava fields are old lava flows.
As you are driving through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will see lava flows that happened at different times in years past.
You have a chance to see active lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Out of all the Hawaiian islands, including the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai, the Big Island is known as THE best island to visit in Hawaii if you want a chance to see active molten lava (aka the red stuff).
And on the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is where to go for a chance to see active lava.
But, this isn’t always guaranteed.
The Kilauea volcano on the Big Island had been erupting continuously for over 30 years, making it a top spot for a chance to see active lava flows.
But then, in 2018, that stopped. And it stopped for over 2 years. That means that during that time there was no chance to see active lava.
According to the National Park Service:
Beginning in May, 2018, the lava lake that existed inside Halemaumau crater disappeared and lava flows from Puu oo crater have ceased. There is no molten lava or lava glow to see anywhere in or out of the park.
Then, in December 2020, lava started visibly flowing again. See the video below that was posted to twitter by the US Geological Survey (USGS).
Video from W rim of the caldera just before midnight. As of December 21 at 1:30 a.m. HST, the growing lava lake has almost reached the level of the lowest down-dropped block that formed during the 2018 collapse events. Over the past 2 hours, the lake has risen by ~10 m (32 ft). pic.twitter.com/Qbx1d6hbq4
— USGS Volcanoes🌋 (@USGSVolcanoes) December 21, 2020
So a lava lake is a “lake” of lava! See what a crater of what used to be a lava lake looks like! You can hike into the location of a former lava lake in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Kilauea Iki Trail
So, will you be able to see active lava during your Hawaii trip in 2023?! There’s no certain way to know!
But for now…
Volcanoes in Hawaii are erupting in December 2022!
As of December 2022, volcanoes are erupting in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
Not only is the Kilauea volcano erupting, but the Mauna Loa volcano is erupting as well!
This is a special occasion because again, even in the past few years, there was a quiet period where there was NO active lava to be seen anywhere in Hawaii!
As the National Park Service says, it’s the first time in nearly 40 years that TWO volcanoes are erupting in Hawaii at the same time!
That said, things can change in an instant, so be sure to check updates often: active molten lava viewing guide from the National Park Service!
See the USGS video of lava flow from the Mauna Loa volcano eruption on December 7:
A lava boat was spotted floating down channel.
Lava boats can form when portions of the cone or lava channel break away and are rafted downstream.
Hot lava cools to its surface to create that smooth exterior.
Spotted yesterday at #MaunaLoa – a lava boat rides the waves! On Dec 7, a lava boat was spotted floating down channel. Lava boats can form when portions of the cone or lava channel break away & are rafted downstream. Hot lava cools to its surface to create that smooth exterior. pic.twitter.com/D9gdoFolfq
— USGS Volcanoes🌋 (@USGSVolcanoes) December 9, 2022
See the USGS video of lava erupting from the Mauna Loa volcano on December 8:
Dec 8, 2022
• Fissure 3 continues to erupt but supply of lava is reduced.
• Lava flows extend no farther than 2.75 mi (4.4 km) from vent & channels below that point appear drained of lava.
• Flow front stalled ~1.7 mi (2.8 km) from Hwy.https://t.co/2rYXDac9Uv pic.twitter.com/8Pb0a45VPx
— USGS Volcanoes🌋 (@USGSVolcanoes) December 9, 2022
You can see the most updated info here on whether or not you can see lava now.
Are you super into geology? More additional reading for you:
Also important to know if you will be going to the Big Island when there are volcano eruptions: harmful VOG can be in the air. Vog is volcanic smog.
Read about it: Why is vog dangerous?
Did you know? Idaho also has lava fields! Read about it: Craters of the Moon National Monument
Is it worth going to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park even if you can’t see active lava?
Yes, it is worth going to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see lava, old and active!
Even if you can’t see active lava, you can still see old lava in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
There is still TONS of old hardened lava to be seen all across the park. (And there are even more old lava flows to be seen around the Big Island!)
As you’re driving through the national park, you see the result of volcanic activity in the way of lava that flowed throughout the area.
There are also many areas that you can very distinctly see the different lava flows that came through based on the different shades of color.
You can see this kind of thing as you’re driving through the national park.
Tips for planning your time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
How much does it cost to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
There is an entry fee to visit this national park.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park fee for 2023 is $30 per vehicle, and this pass lasts for 7 days. You can check current prices here.
If you plan to visit the national historical park on the Big Island (which is right next to a top Kona snorkeling spot), then you may also consider getting the Hawaii national park pass.
This will cover you for both national park sites.
While there are many national park sites on the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes and Puuhonua o Honaunau are the only ones with an entry fee.
You may also consider getting the Hawaii national park pass if you will be visiting the national park on Maui within a year as well.
It covers that park too, which is Haleakala National Park, another volcano national park.
And if you will be going to Maui, for all things volcanoes, be sure to see lava fields on Maui too.
The Hawaii national park pass is an annual pass so it will last for one year.
And, if you plan on visiting more U.S. national parks around the country within a year, then there is also the America the Beautiful national park pass.
This is also an annual pass.
You can buy any of the passes when you enter the park as long as the entry station is staffed.
Make your first stop the Kilauea Visitor Center
Once you enter the national park, you can get an updated map that will make navigating the national park feel a lot easier too!
This is also a good way to find out what’s currently open and closed since the 2018 volcano eruption impacted many national park activities. Some sites remain closed even in 2020 (some are permanently closed), and being in the area of active volcanoes, there could also be more disruptions.
And, you can learn a few things about volcanoes in Hawaii at the visitor’s center too.
The 2 roads to know: Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road
There are 2 main roads to know about within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Crater Rim Drive is closest to the visitor center, and there are a few things you can do within walking distance, spending about an hour or so.
Then you can drive a little further to do a few more things on Crater Rim Drive. The amount of time can vary based on what you want to do from 30 minutes to several hours.
Then, once you’ve finished up on Crater Rim Drive, you can keep driving further, making your way onto Chain of Craters Road. This is where you will start driving across lava fields! This is an out-and-back road. Driving straight through from the Kilauea Visitor Center to the end of Chain of Craters Road without stopping would be around 40 minutes.
- Night snorkeling with manta rays
- Mauna Kea summit (highest point in the Hawaiian islands!)
Read more for your Hawaii trip prep:
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Best things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
aka ideas for your Hawaii Volcanoes itinerary!
Stops to make on the drive through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Starting off on Crater Rim Drive…
1. Sulphur Banks Trail
There’s a short trail (0.3 miles) that will take you past sulphur banks.
The National Park Service 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 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity: Sulphur Banks Trail
2. Steam vents
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!
3. 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 towards your car.
4. Volcano House
Well, Volcano House is actually a place to stay that’s located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
There’s also a restaurant here that you can go to even if you’re not staying here. (Food options are limited around the national park, so be sure to pack snacks and water accordingly!)
And aside from that, there’s a paved path that runs behind Volcano House open to the public.
You can get views of the massive Halemaumau Crater from the trail!
It looks more impressive in person! All the things on this page are more impressive in person!
Volcano House is located near the visitor center so you can walk to it from there.
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. You can walk it as a loop from the visitor center, or there is a parking lot closer to the sulphur banks and steam vents.
5. Halemaumau Trail
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. You go DOWN to get to the floor, which means it’s a trail that goes UP too.
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 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
And then you can get back in your car and drive along…
6. Kilauea Iki Trail
There’s a parking lot for the Kilauea iki trail.
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 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
It’s also possible to walk further on this trail, all the way down to the crater floor. You will be hiking across a former lava hike!
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.
You’ll want to give yourself a couple of hours if you want to do the whole trail.
See more about this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity: Kilauea Iki Trail
7. Nahuku Thurston lava tube
This was closed during my visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in September 2019 because of the Kilauea eruption, so I wasn’t able to visit.
But it seems that it has since opened back up! If you have never been in a lava tube, it’s definitely worth a stop!
If you like lava tubes, there’s another worthy lava tube on the Big Island near Hilo, where you can make it a lava tube cave hike! You may also consider doing a cave crawl on the southern part of the Big Island to both learn about the volcano history on the Big Island and to crawl through a cave where lava used to flow through!
8. Devastation Trail
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.
Devastation Trail: See more about this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity.
And those are the top highlights of stops along Crater Rim Drive!
Now moving on to Chain of Craters Road…
This is the road that you’ll start heading to the coast and driving through vast lava fields! Be sure to get out of the car and walk across the lava fields at some point!
The next things on the list are more specifically what you can do on Chain of Craters Road.
9. 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! There are lava flows across the road too.
10. 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.
11. Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu
12. Muliwai a Pele
More lava flows!
13. Kealakomo Overlook
This is a scenic overlook with grand views of the ocean. There’s also a picnic area here.
14. Alanui Kahiko
aka Old Chain of Craters Road
You can see Old Chain of Craters Road.
This is the “old” road because it was covered by lava.
Stop here so you can see these old lava flows across the road!
See more about this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity: Old Chain of Craters Road
14. Holei Pali
More lava flows!
16. Puu Loa Petroglyphs
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.
See more about this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park activity: Puu Loa Petroglyphs
Also have a look at where to see more petroglyphs in Hawaii: Where to see petroglyphs in Lanai Hawaii
17. 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.
Similarly, if you’re not sure if you want to do the full Kilauea Iki Trail or if you want to just stop at the overlook, you might save this for the way back and decide which to do based on the time you have left.
PLUS… More things to do in other parts of the national park
This is located just across the street from the main part of the national park. (There is no entry fee station here.) You can see the result of lava flowing onto trees by seeing tree molds and lava trees. (You can also find lava trees in Puna.)
And then just down the road, you can drive up another volcano. (Once again, there is no entry fee station.) This landscape (at least on this side) won’t be as dramatic as what you can see on Crater Rim Drive or Chain of Craters Road, but Mauna Loa is considered the “largest active volcano” in the world. You’ll drive up a one lane road which will take you to a trailhead.
This is the start of a multi-day backpacking trail. You can also hike part of this by making it an out-and-back day hike or 1-2 hour hike.
And apparently, you can also access a great (but challenging) Mauna Loa day hike from Saddle Road. This access road is in a completely different area than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And from this side you can see more of the dramatic volcanic landscape.
Watch out for NENE!!
How much time do you need in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?!
Many people do a one day trip to the national park and feel good about it.
So it’s reasonable to spend just one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
But depending on your interests, it can also be reasonable to spend at least an overnight in or near the park to give yourself 2-3 days!
And, the Puna coast is also nearby where there might be a few more things you want to check out! (scenic drive + black sand beaches!)
And be sure to see the things to do along the way from Kona to the national park! (aka reasons to not make it a day trip!)
Are you taking a Hawaii cruise to the Big Island?! See things to do near Hilo cruise port.
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.
Once again, 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, 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 – this cabin on the Puna coast!
And that’s a bit about spending your time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
For more volcano exploration around the Big Island…
Vast lava fields can be seen all around the Big Island! Look out your window as you’re flying into Kona airport to see lava fields from above! Flying Southwest Airlines to the Big Island?! Check the tips to get a window seat!
1. Black sand beaches
Black sand beaches in Hawaii get their black color from volcanic minerals. So to see more impact of volcano activity in Hawaii, you can visit one of the many black sand beaches on the Big Island!
2. Kaumana Caves lava tube hike
Hike through a cave where lava flowed through!
3. Makalawena Beach hike
Hike across lava fields to get to a great white sand beach! You can off-road drive to here too.
See the list of more places to see old lava flows on the Big Island!
Also be sure to see this one week Big Island itinerary for ideas on how to circle the island so you can see it ALL! (Okay, maybe not all, but you can see a bunch of different parts of the Big Island!)
HAPPY VISITING HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK ON THE BIG ISLAND!
Here are some ideas for your time on the Big Island!
Among the most popular things to do on the Big Island are Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls State Park, and Waipio Valley!
For Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the main road to drive is Chain of Craters Road and it will take you to see the best lava fields in Hawaii! Before that though (or after!) you will want to make a stop for the Thurston lava tube. You can also hike into a former lava lake by doing the Kilauea Iki Trail!
Other Big Island activities you may want to make time for are the best black sand beaches in Hawaii (including Punaluu black sand beach to see turtles maybe!) and the Papakolea green sand beach of Hawaii.
Volcanoes in Hawaii
There was a time in December 2022 that 2 volcanoes were erupting in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
This was a special occasion because even in the past few years, there was a quiet period where there was NO active lava to be seen anywhere in Hawaii.
As the National Park Service says, it was the first time in nearly 40 years that TWO volcanoes were erupting in Hawaii at the same time!
But what seems like nearly just like that, they stopped erupting.
As it goes with volcanoes, things can change in an instant!
So be sure to check National Park Service updates when your Big Island trip gets closer: What's going on with the volcanoes?
Spotted yesterday at #MaunaLoa – a lava boat rides the waves! On Dec 7, a lava boat was spotted floating down channel. Lava boats can form when portions of the cone or lava channel break away & are rafted downstream. Hot lava cools to its surface to create that smooth exterior. pic.twitter.com/D9gdoFolfq— USGS Volcanoes🌋 (@USGSVolcanoes) December 9, 2022
👇 Explore the Big Island map on google maps!
See the list:
- Things to do on the Big Island (for VIEWS!)
- Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Things to do in Kona
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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.
More for your Big Island packing list
- How a cheapo waterproof phone case works
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Watch the videos to see the Big Island in action!
Find more amazing things to do on the Big Island: Watch my Big Island videos on youtubeIf you see an activity you like, look in the description below the youtube video for the individual blog post about that specific activity!
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