Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: A Land of Fire and Beauty

A breathtaking masterpiece of nature, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a testament to the earth’s fiery power and the geological marvels it can create.

Established on August 1, 1916, this awe-inspiring park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Not only do they provide an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to witness the raw energy of the earth, but they also play a crucial role in the park’s rich cultural and mythological tapestry.

Birth of the Hawaiian Islands

The birth of the Hawaiian Islands is a tale of fire and fury. Born from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, these volcanic islands have been sculpted over millions of years by countless eruptions.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Lava
M.J. Scanlon

The park itself, a living laboratory, offers a glimpse into the intricate and mesmerizing process of island formation. As you wander through its diverse landscapes, you’ll witness firsthand the beauty and destruction that these mighty forces of nature can unleash.

Hawaiian Island volcanoes

At the heart of the park, Kilauea and Mauna Loa reign supreme.

  • Kilauea, known as the world’s most active volcano, has been continuously erupting since 1983.
  • Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth, last erupted in 1984 and continues to be closely monitored for future activity.

The presence of these two colossal giants offers an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to feel the pulse of our ever-changing planet.

Hawaiian Island volcanoes in mythology

The park’s geological wonders are deeply intertwined with Hawaiian culture and mythology.

Central to this connection is the goddess Pele, the revered deity of volcanoes and fire. According to legend, Pele resides in the Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea’s summit and is responsible for creating and destroying the land.

Her fiery spirit is said to reside in the ever-flowing lava, a constant reminder of the powerful bond between the Hawaiian people and the elemental forces that shape their world.

Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kīlauea Visitor Center

Nestled within the awe-inspiring landscapes of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the Kīlauea Visitor Center serves as a gateway to this geological wonderland.

Conveniently located on the Big Island of Hawaii, this center is the first building you’ll encounter on your right after entering the park.

As the ideal starting point for your park adventure, the Kīlauea Visitor Center aims to educate and inspire visitors about the natural and cultural history of the area.

Best hiking trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

A journey through the national park is best experienced on foot, with a treasure trove of trails that cater to explorers of all levels. Among the most popular trails are the Kilauea Iki, Mauna Loa Summit Trail, and the path leading to the enchanting Thurston Lava Tube.

Kilauea Iki Trail

A journey along the Kilauea Iki Trail is like stepping into a world where lush rainforests coexist with the remnants of powerful volcanic forces.

This 4-mile loop begins at the Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot, then plunges into the depths of the Kilauea Iki Crater. Meandering across the crater floor, you’ll be captivated by the sight of steam vents, cinder cones, and thriving native vegetation.

Havaii Volcanoes National Park Kilauea Iki Crater
Steven Van Blarcom

As you climb back up to the rim, be prepared for an elevation change of around 400 feet. This moderately challenging hike, which takes roughly 2-3 hours, requires sturdy shoes and ample water to ensure a comfortable experience.

Mauna Loa Summit Trail

The Mauna Loa Summit Trail is a challenging hike that takes you to the summit of the world’s largest volcano. The entire trail is about 13 miles one way, starting at the Mauna Loa Observatory at 11,150 feet and culminating at the summit at 13,678 feet.

It is typically completed as an overnight backpacking trip, with a cabin at the summit available by permit. The trail passes through various ecosystems, from subalpine forests to barren lava fields, offering stunning views along the way.

Due to the high elevation, hikers should be prepared for altitude sickness and extreme weather conditions, including cold temperatures and strong winds.

Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku)

For a family-friendly adventure, the trail to the Thurston Lava Tube, or Nāhuku, offers an enchanting walk through a verdant rainforest before unveiling the secrets of a subterranean world.

The path leads to a colossal, well-lit lava tube that stretches over 600 feet. As you explore this fascinating underground realm, formed by the relentless flow of molten lava, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the forces that shaped this incredible landscape.

Pravin Prakash / Flickr
Pravin Prakash / Flickr
Havaii Volcanoes National Park Thurston Lava Tube Trip
Ricardo de la Torre

The entire hike, including the time spent marveling at the lava tube, takes a leisurely 30-40 minutes to complete.

What are the dangers of visiting the park?

Visiting the national park is an exhilarating experience, but it also comes with potential dangers that visitors should be aware of:

  • Volcanic Eruptions: The most obvious hazard in the park is the possibility of volcanic eruptions. Although the park takes precautions to keep visitors safe, it’s essential to stay informed about current volcanic activity and follow all park guidelines, closures, and warnings.
  • Lava Flows: Keep a safe distance from active lava flows, as they can emit toxic gases, create intense heat, and cause rapid changes in the terrain. Never attempt to approach or touch flowing lava.
  • Air Quality: Volcanic emissions, such as sulfur dioxide, can cause respiratory issues and irritation, especially for people with pre-existing conditions like asthma. Check the air quality forecast before your visit and follow park recommendations.
  • Uneven Terrain: The park’s trails often traverse rough, uneven terrain, including sharp lava rocks. Always wear sturdy shoes and be cautious of your footing to avoid falls or injuries.
  • Weather: The park experiences a wide range of weather conditions, from intense sun and heat to torrential rain and chilly temperatures. Be prepared for sudden changes and always carry proper clothing, sunscreen, and water.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance fee

Up-to-date information on entrance fees can be found on the NPS official web pages.

Where to stay at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

As for accommodations, there are several options for visitors to national park:

  • Volcano House: This historic hotel, the only one within the park, offers rooms with breathtaking views of the Kilauea caldera. With its unique ambiance, Volcano House immerses guests in the park’s captivating surroundings. Volcano Hotel is a place where you can stay to experience how beautiful the lava looks at night and take night walks.
Volcano Hotel
Volcano Hotel
  • Campgrounds: Nāmakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki are the two drive-in campgrounds in the park. Nāmakanipaio, managed by Volcano House, features tent camping and A-frame cabins, while Kulanaokuaiki is a more primitive campground with no water or restrooms. Both campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Campgrounds
Dustin Frechette
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Cabin
Mary Lamm

  • Vacation Rentals and Bed & Breakfasts: In the nearby town of Volcano, you’ll find an array of vacation rentals and B&Bs catering to different budgets and preferences. These cozy accommodations provide convenient access to the park and its many attractions.
  • Hotels and Resorts: If you prefer more amenities and services, the towns of Hilo and Kona on the Big Island offer various hotels and resorts within driving distance of the national park. Choose from a range of options to suit your needs and make the most of your visit to this extraordinary destination.

How to get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

To get to national park, you’ll first need to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii. There are two main airports on the island: Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the east side and Kona International Airport (KOA) on the west side.

From Hilo International Airport (ITO):

  • The national park is approximately 30 miles southwest of Hilo.
  • The most convenient way to reach the park is by renting a car at the airport.
  • From Hilo, take Highway 11 (Hawaii Belt Road) south for about 45 minutes to the park entrance.
  • Public transportation is limited, but some tour companies offer shuttle services or guided tours from Hilo.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Airport Road

From Kona International Airport (KOA):

  • The park is approximately 96 miles southeast of Kona.
  • Renting a car at the airport is the most convenient option for reaching the park.
  • From Kona, take Highway 11 (Hawaii Belt Road) south for about 2.5 hours to the park entrance.
  • Alternatively, some tour companies offer shuttle services or guided tours from Kona, although the travel time may be longer.


A visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a mesmerizing journey through the ever-changing landscapes sculpted by the earth’s most powerful forces.

The park offers a unique opportunity to witness the raw beauty and fury of active volcanoes, explore diverse ecosystems, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the Hawaiian Islands.