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Guide to Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
So you’re here looking for a guide to Volcanoes National Park. You’re in the right place! I’m a Hawaii Travel Agent, and I LOVE the Big Island!
One of the most active volcanoes in the world is Kilauea. You will find this volcano inside Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Millions of people visit this volcano each year. And once you read my guide to Volcanoes National Park, you will have all the info you need to visit Volcanoes National Park during your Big Island vacation.
Where is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Located?
First, let me get where Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located out of the way. You already know you can find this amazing national park on the Big Island of Hawaii. So, let me get more specific.
You must travel on Highway 11 to reach Volcanoes National Park. When you reach mile markers 28 and 29 to the south of Hilo, you will be close to the turn-off at Crater Rim Drive.
Volcanoes National Park is about 2 hours from Kona, and the resort area just north of Kona. It’s about 45 minutes from Hilo, a more local city on the Big Island.
I don’t recommend staying in Hilo (there aren’t many good accommodations!) but if you’re in the area, check out 20 things to do in Hilo. While I don’t recommend staying in Hilo, it’s a great place to visit!
Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year long. So, it is easy to avoid the massive crowds by either arriving early or staying late. Keep in mind the visitor center is not open 24 hours. This is important to note if that is on your list of things to do.
When you are inside the park, you must drive your car, walk, or ride a bike. There is no public transportation available. So, be prepared with everything you need for how you plan to see this incredible area of the island.
Do I need a car on the Big Island?
The best way to enjoy the Big Island is by car. There are unique beaches spread out all over Hawaii island, and you’re going to need a car, and preferably a Jeep, to truly enjoy it.
Trust me; you’re going to want a car. I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best prices on rental cars in Hawaii. You don’t have to pay anything to reserve your car (you pay at pickup), and you can cancel any time if you find a better deal.
The Volcanoes on the Big Island
There are five volcanoes on the Big Island. Those volcanoes are Kilauea, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai. Kilauea is the most active volcano.
But did you know that Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world? It stands at 13,796 feet. However, it is not within Volcanoes National Park. It’s still a fun fact to share with your friends!
Kohala is the oldest volcano on this island. Hualalai happens to be the middle child (volcano) on the island. It was formed between the oldest two and the youngest two.
Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on the island and the planet. It is massive!
The only two volcanoes you can see inside the park are Kilauea and Mauna Loa. While Mauna Loa’s size is impressive, you will be more impressed with the glowing lava from Kilauea.
Things to Do Inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
As a Hawaii travel advisor, I am always asked, “How much time do you need at Volcano National Park?”. There is no honest answer to that question because it is dependent on the traveler.
Some people can spend days exploring this area. Others only want to see Kilauea for an hour or two and then venture off to other areas of the island.
If you choose me as your travel advisor, I can help you determine how much time is best for you to spend at Volcanoes National Park. I recommend taking a day and to half-day to explore Volcanos National Park.
Until then, I will share the most amazing things to do inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Stop at the Kilauea Visitor Center
This visitor center is open between the hours of nine and five each day. A short film introducing you to the park is played all day long. I recommend stopping here when you arrive. That way, you can grab a map, learn about the park, and see what other activities are taking place during your visit.
Oh, you can find out when Kilauea last erupted too! Essential information when it comes to flowing lava!
Check Out the Volcano Art Center
The Volcano Art Center is near the Kilauea Visitor Center. Inside, you will discover numerous works of art. Hawaii’s unique landscape inspired each piece.
The different works of art include jewelry, hand-blown glass, photographs, paintings, and clay projects.
If you plan your visit right, you may be able to watch a music performance or attend a workshop or concert during your stay.
Enjoy the Views at the Kilauea Iki Crater
There are two ways to enjoy the views at the Kilauea Iki Crater. You can stand at the top and look down. However, it is more fun if you walk down into the crater and go across the crater floor.
As you can probably tell, hiking the Crater Rim Trail is my recommendation!
WALKTHROUGH the Thurston Lava Tube
Near the Kilauea Iki Crater is the Thurston Lava Tube. Do you know what a lava tube is? Well, if you don’t, let me tell you!
It is a tunnel that was created naturally within solidified lava flow. The walk through this lava tube is short. You will want to spend extra time there to really look at the details within the lava tube.
Pro tip: The Thurston Lava Tube is lit up during the daytime. However, after 8 pm, the lights are turned off for the night. If you want to experience this lava tube from a different perspective, I recommend seeing it when it is completely dark.
Take the Mauna Loa Road Scenic Drive
The Mauna Loa Road Scenic Drive is a little more than 11 miles one way. As you drive up to the lookout, you will see many volcanic features. I recommend taking your time on this drive to take pictures of the scenery.
Drive Along the Chain of Craters Road
The Chain of Craters Road begins at the entrance of Volcanoes National Park. As you drive, you will pass by numerous scenic points and craters.
This road takes you right to the ocean. When you arrive at the end, it will look like the road has disappeared. It does end, so you must turn around and make the drive back.
Check Out the Lava Flow from Kilauea
In recent years, the lava flow from Kilauea has been seen within the Halema’uma’u Crater and near the Chains of Craters Road. A quick stop at the visitor center will have you learning where to see the best lava flow during your visit.
Pro Tip: Stay in the area until sunset. This will allow you to see the glow under the pitch-black sky.
Take the Crater Rim Drive
You can no longer drive around the entire crater on this drive. But the portion you can drive along will still allow you to see so much. Start with a stop at the Kilauea Overlook for views of the Kilauea Crater.
The Steam Vents are another stop that is a must during this drive.
Many of the hiking trails begin at points along this drive. I will share some of those hikes with you shortly.
Check Out the View of the Holei Sea Arch
You cannot get too close to the Holei Sea Arch anymore. Due to dangerous cracks in the cliffs, the old viewpoint has been closed.
There is a new viewpoint, though. You must walk across a lava field to reach this viewpoint. The walk is worth it. Although, I do recommend bringing a telephoto lens to see the details in the arch.
Give Mauna Loa Some Love
I have seen so many people skip over Mauna Loa because they are only there to see Kilauea.
I wish everyone would give Mauna Loa some love! This massive volcano deserves it!
Make sure you stop at the Mauna Loa Lookout when doing the Mauna Loa Scenic Drive.
The Best Volcanoes National Park Hikes
One of the fabulous ways to see some of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s sights is to hike a few of the trails. There are short, easy trails. And then there are long, strenuous hikes that will take more than a few hours.
Today, I will share a few of the best Volcanoes National Park hikes with you. I’ll let you decide which ones will make it to your must-do list!
Kipukapuaulu Loop Trail
This looped trail is one of the Volcanoes National Park hikes easiest. This hike is just over a mile long. It will take approximately an hour and a half to hike this trail.
Your journey will begin at the Kipukapuauu parking lot. As you hike, you will see lots of volcanic rock. You will also see how local plants and flowers recover after volcanic activity on the island.
If you are searching for a hiking trail that is either stroller or wheelchair accessible, I recommend Devastation Trail. You can start this hike at either the Devastation Trail parking lot or the Pu’upua’i parking lot.
This trail is only one mile in length, round trip. And yet, it will take approximately one hour to do. As you walk along, you will want to keep your eyes open for the nēnē bird. It is a Hawaiian goose that spends a lot of time near this trail.
Don’t get too close to one if you do spot it. They are a threatened species. Plus, it’s a wild animal and quite unpredictable! If you’re interested in learning about the animals you might find in Hawaii, check out this most on fascinating Hawaiian animals.
Crater Rim Trail
One of the more popular Volcanoes National Park hikes is the Crater Rim Trail. This trail will take you from Uēkahuna, which is on the northern side of the Kilauea Caldera, to the Keanakako’i Crater. This crater is on the southern side of the park.
While hiking the Crater Rim Trail, you will pass by steam vents and part of the Kilauea Volcano.
The Palm Trail is one of the newer Volcanoes National Park hikes. This trail is located within the Kahuku Unit, which became part of the park in 2003.
The trail is approximately two and a half miles long. Some of the best views on the island can be seen from this hiking trail. So, make sure you take your camera when you decide to wander around this old cattle ranch!
The Halema’uma’u Trail is an excellent option to combine multiple hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This hike is just under two miles in length.
However, it will be much longer when you combine it with the Kilauea Iki, Byron Ledge, or Nāhuku hiking trails.
Puuloa Petroglyphs Trail
The Puuloa Petroglyphs Trail begins at the Pu’uloa parking lot off Chain of Craters Road. The trail is only a mile and a half long.
After crossing over a pahoehoe lava flow, you must stay on the boardwalk. The boardwalk surrounds the 20,000 plus petroglyphs in the area.
The Sulpher Banks Trail, or Kaakilamanu Trail, is just over a mile long. The volcanic gases in the area crystallize and turn into different colors. This looped trail begins at the Kilauea Visitor Center.
It is important to note that these gases can smell terrible, thanks to sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Anyone with respiratory problems may want to avoid this area.
What to Bring While Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
When you decide to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will want to be prepared for the time you will be outdoors. Sturdy walking shoes are a must. The lava fields, and other walking paths, are pretty uneven.
Water bottles are essential, especially if you decide to do one of the Volcanoes National Park hikes. Even just walking through sections of the park can make you thirsty. So, stay hydrated for this adventure!
Applying sunscreen and wearing a hat are two other things that can keep you safe from the hot sun.
Spending time at this park after dark can be a surreal experience. Please take a flashlight with you, though! It can be easy to make a wrong turn in the dark. And you don’t want to be lost in the middle of this park all night long.
It can also get cold inside Volcanoes National Park at night. So, bringing a jacket will help you stay warm. Just make sure you carry it with you if you leave your car.
Tips for Visiting Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
This wouldn’t be an excellent guide to Volcanoes National Park if I didn’t share a few tips. These tips will make your visit better than you could ever imagine.
Always Check the Conditions Inside the Park Before Going
I recommend checking the conditions inside the park before heading over there. Last-minute closures are common, mainly when new eruptions occur.
Experience the Park Before Sunrise or After Sunset
So many people are nervous about entering a park when it is not daylight. However, using a little common sense will have you enjoying the experience of seeing the park in the dark. Plus, if you time your visit just right, you can either enjoy the rising sun or the setting sun at the same time.
Arrive Early to Hike the Popular Trails
Some of the hiking trails are so popular the parking lots fill quickly. To avoid arriving at a full lot and needing to switch plans, I recommend arriving as early as possible.
Always Stay on Marked Roads and Trails
It is tempting to wander off the beaten path to see even more of this beautiful destination. For safety reasons, you should stay on the marked roads and paths. You don’t want to get too close to the edge of a cliff or steam vent and have an accident.
Download the National Park Service App on Your Smartphone
The National Park Service app is free and contains a wealth of information. This is an excellent option for self-guided tours. You can even receive alerts through the app, which is helpful if conditions change during your visit.
More Big Island Travel Tips
This is a guide to Volcanoes National Park, and while the Big Island is famous for Volcanoes National Park, it also has some great beaches! Check out the best beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii to learn more about them. You can also check out the 25 best things to do in Kona, the Best Happy Hours in Kona, and the best restaurants on the Big Island
The 7 Best Things to do on the Big Island was one of the very first posts I wrote on this blog, but of course, it has been updated. I also have a 4-day Big Island Itinerary and a 7-day Big Island Itinerary. Speaking of itineraries, I create custom itineraries for all of my clients. You can contact me if you’re interested in working with a Big Island Travel Agent.
One of my favorite posts is about where to find sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s also important to learn 20 things you should never do in Hawaii.
Guide to Volcanoes National Park
I hope this guide to Volcanoes National Park has given you a glimpse into what you can expect when you take the time to visit. It is a beautiful area filled with incredible things to do and see.
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