Visit Hawaii's Amazing Active Volcano

Volcano venting in Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is located in the center of the island of Hawaii between Hilo and Kona at about 4200 feet. The temperature is quite cool due to the altitude and yet it is tropical with gorgeous flowers and plants making hiking on the many trails in the park a real treat. The volcano is very active right now and is an incredible sight to see. We like to stay in the town of Volcano so we can spend as much time as possible in the park.


Volcanoes National Park Visitors Center

Visitors Center in Volcanoes National Park

When you arrive at the park, the first place to stop is the visitor center, which is on the right hand side of the road leading from the entrance gate. The center has restrooms, great exhibits, a movie presentation, a gift shop, and park rangers to answer questions.

The Kilauea Visitor Center is located on Crater Rim Drive off of Highway 11 between the 28 and 29 mile marker south of Hilo
Kilauea Visitor Center is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

It is said that Volcanoes National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. That statistic seemed strange to us because it never feels that crowded and it is on a very remote island. We guess that it's popularity is partly due to the tropical climate allowing visitors to come year round instead of just the summer months and the fact that the Volcano is a popular destination for visitors from Asia and Europe as well as from the US mainland.

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Volcano House

Volcano House in Volcanoes National Park

Volcano House is a hotel with 33 guest rooms, some with a spectacular view of Halemaumau Crater. The original structure was built in 1846 from grass and rebuilt in 1866, the year Mark Twain stayed there. In 1877, the first wooden Volcano House was built with the large parlor fireplace that is still there today.

You can walk to Volcano House from the visitors center. It is worth the visit to see the old hotel where Mark Twain and FDR stayed and to get a panoramic view of the volcano's caldera from the back of the hotel.

The hotel has been recently refurbished and upgraded and the hotel also rents cabins and sites at Namakanipaio Campground.

Volcano House entrance in Volcanoes National Park

The fireplace in the lobby is now famous for burning continuously for over 125 years. At the back of the hotel is a viewing area that overlooks the huge caldera where you can see the volcano vent spewing gases from a far.

Viewing area from Volcano House in Volcanoes National Park

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Jaggar Museum and Halema'uma'uma vent

Entrance to Jagger Museum in Volcanoes National park

Jaggar Museum and the Halema'uma'uma overlook is located on Crater Rim Drive. From the Visitors center you need to drive to the museum and overlook. Jaggar Museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.

Half of Crater Rim Drive, which circles the caldera, is closed due to the massive output of gasses and spewing rocks coming from the volcano. Driving down Crater Rim Drive you can see the steam rising from vents all along the side of the road.

Driving Crater Rim Drive in Volcanoes National park

Driving Crater Rim Drive in Volcanoes National park

The Kilauea Military Camp is located on Crater Rim Drive on the way to Jaggar Museum.

Kilauea Military Camp off  Crater Rim Drive in Volcanoes National park

The Jaggar Museum has some interesting exhibits but the best part is the overlook with an awesome view of the very active Halema'uma'u crater.

Jagger Museum lookout in Volcanoes National park

View from Jagger Museum lookout in Volcanoes National park

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Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston tube in Volcano National Park

The Thurston lava tube is a cleared cave created from a lava flow that is very fun to walk through. If you bring a flashlight you can climb down into uncleared tubes and investigate uncharted areas at the end of the main portion of the Thurston lava tube.

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Great Hikes in Volcanoes National Park

If you are staying in the town of Volcano for awhile, there are some great hikes to take in Volcanoes National park. Our favorite hikes are desolation trail and the trail to the Thurston lava tube along the crater.

Devastation trail is a great walk into the caldera of the active volcano. It is called that because an eruption destroyed everything there. You can see steam vents going off as you walk by and feel the heat. Now that a vent has opened up in the caldera, there are parts of the trail that are not accessible.

Devastation Trail in Volcano Nat Park

Devestation Path in Volcano Nat Park

Our favorite hike is from the parking lot of the Kilauea Iki Trail Head to Thurston Lava Tube along the caldera on Crater Rim Trail. The path is .5 miles from the Iki Trail parking lot (the one with a bathroom) to the Thurston Lava Tube parking area. The trail has some great views and lush foliage and is a fairly easy walk. The Iki Trail is more challenging with a steep walk down into the crater and back up.

Path to Thurston tube in Volcano National Park

The Sulfur Banks Trail is off Crater Rim Drive and is a paved pathway that is .7 miles long and winds pass numerous volcanic vents. Beware of the very hot and dangerous fumes coming from the vents.

You used to be able to Hike to the lava flow within the park from a trail off of the Chain of Craters Road. This road descends 3,700 feet in 20 miles and ends where a lava flow crossed the road in 2003. Depending on changing volcanic activity, there may be opportunities for viewing active lava flows from the end of the road. We walked into the lava when it was flowing there in 2003. Oozing lava from the active volcano like the pictures below gives you an idea of what we saw on our walk. It is very exciting to watch fresh hot lava flowing. The tough part was walking into see it. The walk was several miles on jagged lava.

Hot Lava

Molten Lava

We stayed to see the lava at night and were surprised at how hard it was to see on our way out. Bring lots of flashlights, at least one for everyone in your party plus spares. It took us about twice as long getting out at night as walking in at sunset. It was hard to see the big cracks in the lava in the dark even with a flashlight.

There is no food, water, or fuel available along the Chain of Craters Road. Toilets are available at Mauna Ulu parking area (3.5 miles from the Crater Rim Drive junction) and at the end of Chain of Craters Road. A picnic shelter, with a view of the park's coastline is located at Kealakomo (9.7 miles from the Crater Rim Drive junction). Bring lots of water, good shoes, hats, sun screen, and flashlights.

The lava is flowing outside of the park now, in Puna. You can get to the lava flow, which is currently flowing into the ocean, by driving out of Volcano toward Hilo and through Puna to Kalapana where the County of Hawaii has set up a parking lot.

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Directions and Details about Volcanoes National Park

From Hilo, the park is 30 miles southwest on Highway 11 (a 45 minute drive). From Kailua-Kona, the park is 96 miles southeast on Highway 11 (a 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive), or 125 miles through Waimea and Hilo via highways 19 and 11 (2 1/2 to 3 hours).

Useful Links about Volcanoes National Park

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