A Guide to Hawaii’s Volcanoes
The Big Island of Hawaii is known for its iconic landscape of waterfalls, pristine beaches, and natural wonders from volcanic eruptions. While it may be hard to leave the beaches, its top attractions are the volcanoes. Here are some tips to see the island’s volcanoes and volcanic-related attractions.
Volcanoes National Park is the best place to see new land formations and geologic wonders as it’s home to two active volcanoes. We’ve visited twice and loved it. Kilauea is dubbed as the “world’s only drive-in volcano” and makes for a great DIY tour. There are 150 miles of hiking trails volcanic craters, dried up lava beds, rainforest, coastal scenes, and lava tubes.
Start at Kilauea Visitor Center to speak to the park rangers for hike suggestions, plan itineraries, get volcanic updates, and join ranger-guided talks and tours. The Crater Rim Drive is a 10.6-mile trip around the Kilauea Caldera with several overlooks, trails, sulfur banks, and steam vents. We also enjoyed walking through the Thurston Lava Tube, which was an awe-inspiring experience.
The 38-mile round-trip drive along the Chain of Craters Road is worth it if you have time. This scenic drive started at lush rainforest through dried lava fields and descended to the coastline. Stop at Kealakomo Overlook to see beautiful panoramic ocean views. Visitors can stop and see the surreal landscape of the lava fields and explore petroglyph sites.
This scenic road ends at the coastline, where dried lava flowed into the ocean and has some incredible rock formations. Stay and hike only in marked trails. The park is open 24 hours a day. Visiting at night offers opportunities for seeing glowing lava flow and stargazing. Stay in Hilo, which is 40 minutes away, to maximize your trip. Kona, about 2.5 hours away, made for a long day trip.
If you want to visit a dormant volcano, Mauna Kea’s summit, at 13,796 feet above sea level, has an observatory and sometimes snow. The Visitor Information Station (VIS) offers guided summit tours. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures and Adventure in Hawaii have sunrise/sunset viewing and stargazing tours.
We made it as far as the VIS at 9,200 feet since we didn’t have warm clothing for the cold temperature. Children under 16, pregnant women, and visitors in poor health are recommended not to go up the summit due to the high altitude and less oxygen, but it was a beautiful drive that took us above the clouds.
Where to See Lava Flow
Many visitors expect to see lava flows as part of visiting volcanoes. Unfortunately, lava flow is dependent on current volcanic activity and eruption. If you’re visiting during active lava flow, there are various ways to see this natural wonder.
Several companies, like Lava Ocean Tours and Kalapana Cultural Tours, offer ocean tours. Most are three-hour guided tours along 30+ miles of the coastline that also include seeing black sand beaches, sea cliffs, and arches. It provides a different perspective on seeing molten lava enter the ocean and seeing new land formations.
There are also guided lava hikes or hike/bike options with trained experts who know the best places to see lava flow while educating visitors about volcanoes. It’s highly recommended not to do a DIY version of these trips. If there is an active lava flow, there will be some designated lookout areas.
For those with a bigger budget, various helicopter tours like Blue Hawaiian Helicopters or Hawaii Volcano Expeditions offer a unique viewpoint of the volcanic activity from above. Tours range from 50 minutes to several hours. This also includes a bird’s eye view of forests, waterfalls, and impressive coastline. Tours departing from Hilo airport are closer and cheaper.
Hawaii offers plenty of volcanic-related attractions to enjoy with the active and dormant on the island. Volcanoes National Park is the best place to start any visit. Whether you see active lava flow or not on your visit, the stunning and unique landscape is unforgettable.