Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: The Complete Guide

Kilauea caldron at Volcanoes National Park
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Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Address
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718, USA
Phone +1 808-985-6000

If you're staying on Hawaii’s Big Island, make sure to spend a day or overnight in the iconic Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Not only does the park give visitors the chance to experience some of the world’s most incomparable landscapes, but it also contains two of the most active volcanoes on earth, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park was first established in 1916, then later, in 1987, became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a national program developed by Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Great Depression, is credited with laying the foundation for much of the infrastructure, including the Kīlauea Visitor Center, research offices, and many hiking trails still in use today. Traverse on top of dense volcanic rock, take a scenic drive along the summit of Kilauea, explore shady rainforests full of native plants and endangered birds, or spend the night in a cabin or campsite inside the park. There's so much to explore at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, making it a bucket-list Hawaiian adventure.

Things to Do

More than 500 years before it became a protected area, the land making up Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park was inhabited by native Hawaiians. The park continues to respect cultural traditions and preserve essential sites, including the sacred Puʻuloa, one of the largest petroglyph fields in Hawaii with depictions carved into hardened lava flows. This is a must-see attraction on your visit. Also, check out the ancient village of Kealakomo, a specific area once inhabited by early 15th-century Hawaiians who farmed and fished here.

If you prefer to view the park from your car, take the Chain of Craters Road Tour. This route takes you by scenic views of the coast, rainforests, and trails, and parts of the road have been covered by lava (and then repaired) almost every year since 1986. The Crater Rim Drive Tour, a much shorter jaunt, starts at the Kīlauea Visitor Center and goes past Kīlauea Iki Overlook, Puʻu Puaʻi Overlook, and Devastation Trail.

You can also take a day hike or backcountry hike to see cinder cones, sweeping coastal vistas, and pastoral land formerly used for cattle grazing. Or, spend an afternoon in the Kīlauea Visitor Center discovering its exhibits, checking in with rangers, obtaining hiking information, and grabbing a daily schedule of ranger-led activities. The visitor center also sells books, posters, and educational items.

Best Hikes & Trails

There are several different day hikes and multi-day backcountry hikes available to visitors inside the park, all varying in length, scenery, and technicality. You can traverse across lava fields, hike down into craters, and descend from the mountains all the way to the coast. Due to the consistent volcanic activity level in the park, make sure to check trail conditions before venturing out.

  • Devastation Trail: This easy wheelchair-accessible paved path takes you on a mile-long journey through an area previously buried by the falling cinder from the Kīlauea Iki eruption of 1959. On this trail, you can witness plant and animal life returning to the lava fields.
  • Crater Rim Trail: This 2.2-mile trail used to be a paved road that was damaged due to earthquakes from the 2018 eruptions. Now, this footpath gives you a closer look at one of the most active volcanoes in the world, as it traverses the rim of the Kilauea summit caldera.
  • Kīpukapuaulu Loop Trail: This 1.1-mile dirt path will take you through a surprisingly lush ecological area with rare plants and old-growth trees. It's a good jaunt to embark on if you want to get a taste of a completely different ecosystem in the park.
  • Mauna Iki Trail to Kulanaokuaiki Campground: History buffs will definitely want to consider hiking the Mauna Iki Trail through portions of the Kaʻū Desert and past actual Native Hawaiian footprints left in the long-cooled volcanic rock. This long 7.9-mile moderate hike is best tackled as an overnight, ending at the Kulanaokuaiki Campground. It's a great journey for those wanting to seek solitude. Just make sure to pick up your backcountry permit before heading out.

Where to Camp

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has two campgrounds, complete with large, open grassy areas for tents, rustic cabins that sleep four, and primitive sites without water. RV camping is not permitted inside the park, but county and state parks outside of the park may offer appropriate accommodations.

  • Nāmakanipaio Campground: Operated by the Hawai'i Volcanoes Lodge Company, this campground is located 31.5 miles south of Hilo on Highway 11 at 4,000 feet above sea level. Sixteen tent sites are situated in a grassy field among towering eucalyptus trees and native 'ōhi'a trees. Each site has a picnic table, a barbecue pit (campfires are only allowed inside the pits), and on-site bathrooms are available for use. You can also rent one of ten rustic cabins that sleep four (one double bed and two bunk twin beds), giving you access to a newly renovated bathroom and shower facility. Hawai'i Volcanoes Lodge Company also rents tents and camping equipment for those who come empty-handed. Reservations are recommended, especially for the cabins.
  • Kulanaokuaiki Campground: The primitive Kulanaokuaiki Campground is located 5 miles down Hilina Pali Road. There are only nine designated sites at this campground, complete with picnic tables and tent pads, but there is no water on-site. Also, fires and dogs are not permitted here. A vault-type toilet is available at Kulanaokuaiki and all sites are managed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Where to Stay Nearby

For those who prefer to stay at a traditional Hawaiian retreat, as opposed to roughing it, there are plenty of options in and near the town of Volcano. Choose from typical hotel rooms and guest cottages tucked into the rainforest, yet close to the town's amenities.

  • Volcano House: Guests who want hotel accommodations can stay inside one of 33 rooms at the Volcano House, a historic building originally constructed in 1846 out of grass and 'ōhi'a wood poles. Today, the hotel's modern makeover gives you three lodging styles to choose from. The Standard Room sleeps one to four people, the Volcano Crater View Room gives you close-up views of Halema’uma'u crater, and the slightly larger Deluxe Volcano Crater View Room sleeps one to three people with views of Kilauea caldera. The Rim restaurant and Uncle George's Lounge offer farm-to-table, sea-to-plate, and to-go style dining.
  • Volcano Rainforest Retreat: The enchanting Volcano Rainforest Retreat is a boutique bed and breakfast that offers guest cottages, each with its own bathroom and private Japanese o'furo hot tub. Cottages range from 200 to 650 square feet of living space and can accommodate two to four people. The retreat is located close to Volcano Village's restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and a farmer’s market.
  • Volcano Inn: The Volcano Inn bed and breakfast puts you in the middle of a tropical rainforest, offering double rooms and family-style accommodations on two properties. Each stay comes complete with an island-style breakfast and an on-site hot tub is available for use 24 hours a day. Relax on the property's lanai while you admire the native plants. This inn is only a short 4-minute drive from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

How to Get There

While the rest of Hawaii offers a wide range of exciting activities and sites, there is only one way for visitors to get close to an active volcano, and that’s by driving to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The park is located about 30 miles southwest of Hilo on Highway 11 (a 45-minute drive) and 96 miles southeast of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11 (a 2-hour drive). There is no public transportation within the park (which spans 500 square miles), so be prepared to either walk, bike, or drive around upon arriving. Additionally, expect to pay a vehicle, motorcycle, or bicycle admission fee.

Accessibility

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park does an exceptional job of welcoming those with disabilities and physical limitations. Miles of paved hiking trails, including the Devastation Trail, give up-close volcanic access to those in a wheelchair. The Kīlauea Visitor Center has four handicapped parking spaces, automatic doors, ADA-compliant restrooms, and is completely laid out with accessibility in mind. The Crater Rim Cafe at the Kilauea Military Camp is fully accessible and offers a 25 percent discount for former military personnel. Both of the scenic overlooks on the Chain of Craters Road Tour are wheelchair accessible (although only one is listed as so). And, the Sulfur Banks have paved and boardwalk areas that can be navigated by wheelchairs, as well. Go early to avoid the crowds.

Tips for Your Visit

  • If you’ve visited this park before the 2018 eruptions, there have been quite a few changes. The series of eruptions and resulting lava flow completely shut down Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park for months. While a majority of the attractions have since reopened, some of the park’s major highlights are closed indefinitely, including the Jaggar Museum and the Kilauea Caldera observatory building.
  • Check the conditions website before heading into the park, as some areas affected by the 2018 eruptions have yet to be reopened. Since land here is actively volcanic, there is always the possibility for last-minute closures due to cracks, fumes, or vog (volcanic smog).
  • The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so waking up for a sunrise or staying in the park at sunset is entirely possible (and recommended!).
  • If you’re planning on hiking the Kīlauea Iki Trail get to the park early. The trailhead parking at this popular 4-mile loop hike will be full by 9 a.m., no matter the day of the week. Rangers advise getting there by 7 a.m. to avoid the crowds.
  • Pick up the annual Tri-Park Pass at the entrance station if you plan on also visiting Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the west side of Hawaii Island and Haleakalā National Park on Maui.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes to the park and be aware that most of the lava field areas are not shaded. Therefore, a sun hat and sunscreen are highly recommended, as well.
  • Stay on marked trails and designated roads for safety, and keep away from steam vents, cracks, and cliffs.
  • Park fees are waived on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week in April, the National Park Service Anniversary (August 25), National Public Lands Day (September 23), and Veterans Day.
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The Complete Guide to Volcanoes National Park on Hawai'i Island