Hawai'i Volcanoes 101

The park's history, getting there, when to go, and what to see

A fiery tongue of lava licks the Pacific, sending glowing steam into the tropical air. Four thousand feet above, hot clouds rise from a rip in a volcanic valley.

Welcome to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Hawai‘i Volcanoes N.P. offers dramatic proof that the Hawaiian Islands—and planet Earth—are still under construction. The park’s centerpiece, 4,000-foot high Kilauea, is among the most active volcanoes anywhere in the world—the reason, perhaps, that Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, is said to have chosen it for her home. The park also encompasses 13,680-foot Mauna Loa—the largest volcano in the world—and also an active one, last erupting in 1984.

The 520-square-mile park lies about a 45-minute drive southwest from Hilo, and about two hours southeast from Kona. You can sample it in a half-day, or linger for far longer. No matter where you go, or how long you stay, you’ll leave astonished and impressed: Hawai‘i Volcanoes N.P. has a way of doing that to people. Just look at what one traveler—Mark Twain—wrote when he visited Kilauea in 1866:

"Here and there were gleaming holes a hundred feet in diameter, broken in the dark crust, and in them the melted lava—the color a dazzling white just tinged with yellow—was boiling and surging furiously; and from these holes branched numberless bright torrents in many directions, like the spokes of a wheel, and kept a tolerably straight course for a while and then swept round in huge rainbow curves, or made a long succession of sharp worm-fence angles, which looked precisely like the fiercest jagged lightning."

Hawai‘i Volcanoes N.P. isn’t a place you’ll ever forget.

PLAN YOUR VISIT

Hawai’i Volcanoes N.P. is on the Big Island of Hawaii, about 30 miles southwest of Hilo and 90 miles southeast of Kona. 

Climate. Park elevations range from 4,000 feet at the top of Kilauea to sea level, and weather and temperatures range too. Rainy and slightly cool weather (in the 60s) is not uncommon at the summit, especially in winter; the park coastline is hotter and drier.

How long to stay. You can see the heart of the park—Kilauea Caldera—in a half day. Allow a full day if you want to drive Chain of Craters Road and hike any of the trails along it. Active lava flows, like those seen from the Kapalana Lava Viewing Area, are best experienced after dark.

INFO: $10/vehicle per week; nps.gov/havo or 808/985-6000