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HAWAI'I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK IS A MUST VISIT SPOT ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII. BELOW WE OUTLINE 5 OF THE TOPS THINGS TO DO IN THE NATIONAL PARK, FROM TOP HIKES TO THE BEST PLACES TO VIEW KILAUEA'S FURY.
Protecting some of the most unique geological, biological, and cherished cultural landscapes in the world, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is a surreal place to spend some time.
It is highly likely that many of the photos you have seen of the national park will include - or be totally of - glowing red lava. That is because Hawai'i Volcanoes protects two of the world's most active volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Kilauea. While presently (in late 2022) both volcanoes have been fairly "inactive" this hasn't always been the case.
Kilauea famously went a bit crazy in 2018. Between the months of May and August large lava flows covered most of the land southeast of the national park. During that time, over 700 homes were destroyed - mostly in the nearby Puna District. At the same time, the main area of the park experienced tens of thousands of earthquakes, large, towering ash plumes, and a massive collapse of the Kīlauea (Halemaʻumaʻu) crater (it went from 280 feet deep to about 1,600 feet deep).
Today, you can still clearly see evidence from the historic eruption; including, along the Crater Rim Drive (which is now, unfortunately, mostly closed).
We visited the national park in mid-September, and even though everywhere else on the Big Island was nice and hot (and incredibly sunny), when we entered the park gates we found it cold, wet and foggy. While this was a somewhat welcome respite - we'll admit that we weren't completely prepared for the chillier temperatures. But it turns out, that due to the park's higher location (the visitor center sits at 4,000 feet or 1,232 meters above sea level), more often than not, the main park area is quite misty, foggy and some could even say gloomy. Therefore it is smart to come prepared with the right gear - you can see our recommendations below.
But even with the somewhat sub-par weather, we still tried to take full advantage of the national park's many amazing destinations. Below you will find what we believe are the top 5 things to do within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
So with that - happy adventuring!
THE NITTY GRITTY | HAWAI'I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
| Year Established: in 1916 as Hawaii National Park, but this was eventually split into two different parks: this one (Hawai'i Volcanoes) and Haleakalā National Park (found on the island of Maui). The park is actually one of the oldest national parks in the USA (it is tied for tenth oldest with Lassen Volcanic National Park in California).
| Where is Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: the park is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The closest major towns are Hilo (~45 minutes away), Kona (~2 hours away) and Volcano (less than 5 minutes away).
| Weather in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: while Hawaii is usually seen as a warm and tropical getaway, up in the national park you can instead expect chilly temperatures and a high chance of rain and fog. Make sure to come prepared with waterproof gear, layers and shoes that can handle mud and puddles of water.
| Cost to Enter Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: $30 per private vehicle (valid for 7 days)
| Best For: volcano viewing and hiking
HAWAI'I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK MAP
➳ Explore the full park map here.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN HAWAI'I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
1 | Hike Kilauea Iki
If you only have time to do one hike in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, then make it this one. Measuring around 3.3 miles total, this medium difficulty hike takes you along the rim and then down to the bottom of Kilauea Iki, a volcanic crater that last erupted in the 1950s. Today, the trail takes you through lush green tropical forests and then down to the crater floor where you can still clearly see cracked lava and the point where the volcano began to erupt. If you are curious to learn more about the somewhat recent eruption, you can pay $1 and get a paper guide to the trail.
To start the hike, begin at the park visitor center and then drive out along Crater Rim Drive until you see a sign for the Kilauea Iki parking lot. Do know that this parking lot can get busy and often fills up on the weekends (so try to arrive early and/or on a weekday).
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are looking for a longer hike and/or don't want to worry about parking at the trailhead, you can also start your hike from the visitor center. This will make the hike about 2 miles longer (5.3 miles instead of 3.3).
We also highly suggest adding on the Thurston Lava Tube (also known as Nāhuku) trail at the end. The lava tube trail is roughly 1.5 miles and starts and ends at the same parking lot as the Kilauea Iki trail.
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2 | Explore the Park's Steam Vents & Sulphur Banks
Another interesting place to explore are the Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks - both of which are located only a short distance from the park's visitor center.
The Steam Vents are a conglomeration of small open ravines that emit hot, somewhat wet air (aka steam). You can walk next to the vents and look into the unique interior - most of which is made up of dense ferns and orchids. We suggest hiking out along the Crater Rim Trail to get an up-close view of the vents. Plus, the heat from the steam is a nice reprieve from the chilly air.
Right next to the steam vents is the Sulphur Banks (also known as Ha'akulamanu) - a larger thermal area where you will find very few trees. Just like with the steam vents, the best way to explore the Sulphur Banks is to walk along the well-established Ha'akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) Trail - which is just over 1 mile in length.
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3 | Drive Down to the Coast
Formerly known as Cockett's Trail and now called the Chain of Craters Road, this nearly 19 mile road winds its way down from the park's visitor center to the far southern coast of the island. Along the way you can stop and check out the Keauhou Trail, the Pu'u Huluhulu Cinder Cone, and the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs.
This is also a great option if you want to get a better view of the aftermath from the 2018 Kilauea Eruption and also check out more of the history of this part of Hawaii. We suggest putting aside a couple of hours for this adventure, since there is a lot to see along the way.
➳ Learn more about this scenic drive.