Things to See in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Part national park, part tropical oasis and part geological masterpiece — any way you look at it, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a literal hotbed of activity.
Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority, Tor Johnson
Photo By: Big Island Visitors Bureau, Paul Zizka
Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority, Tor Johnson
Photo By: theartist312; iStock
Photo By: bennymarty; iStock
Photo By: National Park Service
Photo By: James Rubio
Photo By: The Hawaiian Islands
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
It’s the most-visited tourist attraction in the state of Hawaii, welcoming more than a million visitors each year, according to the National Park Service. The 333,000-acre park includes two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Your best shot at seeing active lava and other volcanic activity is driving or biking along the park’s two main roads or hiking on one of the many side trails. Some lucky visitors can get a glimpse of Kilauea’s glowing crater at night.
It's not every day national park visitors get to sidestep steaming lava beds mid-hike, but at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, molten lava and belching volcanoes are the norm. When they're not gasping in wonder at Hawaii's delightfully lush and colorful landscape, visitors to the park have made it their business to hike at least one of 150 miles of trails like the Mauna Loa Summit Trail or Kilauea Iki Trail, which take hikers through rainforests and into a volcano crater. Exploring Crater Rim Drive by car or bicycle is another must-do activity, featuring up-close views of Sulphur Banks, Steam Vents, Jaggar Museum, Halema'uma'u Crater (home of Pele, goddess of volcanoes), Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater and Thurston Lava Tube. Pictured:Halemaumau Crater, Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Speaking of lava tubes, the 20-minute walk at Nahuku (Thurston) Lava Tube takes hikers through a 350,000-year-old tunnel of lava.
The islands of Hawaii were formed when magma from below the Earth's crust repeatedly erupted out of fissures on the ocean floor. As the layers of lava hardened, mountains formed and eventually rose above the surface of the ocean, and evolved into islands. The Big Island of Hawaii is the newest in the chain, and the volcanoes Kilauea and Mauna Loa are still active, continually adding land to the island with their eruptions.
Pictured: Lava from Kilauea volcano, Big Island, HI
Kilauea Lava Eruption
Part national park, part tropical oasis and part geological masterpiece: any way you look at it, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a literal hotbed of activity. Few national parks can boast having two of the world's most active volcanoes spewing molten lava, and for that fiery sight alone, Hawaii Volcanoes is worth the trip! Standing in view of the fountains of flame pouring from the mouth of Mauna Loa, it is quite easy to realize that visitors are watching live-action footage of geological history in the making. With each hardened layer of lava, the Hawaiian landscape is slightly changed in a process that began so many millions of years ago and will continue millions of years from now, and visitors to this Hawaiian treasure are privy to the action.
Boardwalk at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
You can take a boardwalk through a field spewing steam and volcanic gases. The Ha’akulamanu trail, also known as the Sulphur Banks Trail, is about 1.2 miles roundtrip. There's a small area that's not accessible, so if you’re using a wheelchair you should approach it from the Steam Vents parking lot so you can access the largest portion of the trail.
Plan a small ceremony away from popular visitor areas if you want to get married in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Overlooks with a view into Kīlauea Caldera or Kīlauea Iki Crater are popular choices. The recently restored Volcano House Hotel is the only hotel within the park itself and it overlooks Halema‘uma‘u Crater at the summit of Kilauea, which is shown in this photo by James Rubio Photography.
Punalu'u Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
The black sand beach at Punalu'u, one of nature's rarest wonders and the largest black sand beach on the Big Island, strikes visitors with its serene beauty. A rarity even in Hawaii's bountiful land of beaches, this black sand beach formed when the lava from Mauna Loa and Kilauea oozed into the ocean and quickly cooled, breaking into minuscule pieces that now comprise the jet black sands. The stretch of black sand at the southern tip of the island is offset by a grove of coconut palms, and as cresting blue waves crash gently on the sand, the effect is truly breathtaking. The open stretch of shore is perfect for picnicking or simply gazing at the beach vista. Note: this beach isn't in park proper, but is a 45-minute drive outside the park. Worth it!
Chain of Craters Road
A local favorite, Chain of Craters Road takes you from the park entrance past many scenic points and volcanic craters all the way down to the ocean where the road abruptly stops due to a fresh flow of lava.