Travel info for visiting Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

A hotbed of super-powered craters


Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718, United States

GPS: 19.420027036586, -155.28757318709

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Visiting Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, which was founded in 1916 and is located south of Big Island, in the U.S. state of Hawaii, is unforgettable. This land forms the main island of this tropical Pacific archipelago some 4,000 kilometres from the Californian coast. Prior to its discovery by the navigator James Cook in 1778, Hawaii was inhabited by Polynesian peoples who probably originated from the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti. This territory was ruled by local chiefs called aliʻi until the unification of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810 under the reign of Kamehameha I.

With unique ecosystems and many endemic plant and animal habitats, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has a total of five volcanoes in an area of 1,300 km². They are located in a high-risk area because of their position in the centre of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Two volcanoes stand out from the others because of their preponderant activity: Mauna Loa, the most massive in the world in terms of volume (exceeding Mount Everest if one takes into account its underground depth from the ocean floor which is 9,150 metres) and Kīlauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth (in continuous eruption since 1983). The Mauna Loa volcano is undoubtedly the one that worries specialists the most. Research confirms that its unstable flanks could collapse into the Pacific Ocean at any time and cause a shock wave leading to a huge tsunami. Several similar events are thought to have occurred in the eruptive history of the Hawaiian archipelago between 100 000 and 250 000 years ago as a result of earthquakes or landslides. But despite the threat and potential dangers they pose to Hawaii, the cone-shaped shield volcanoes of the archipelago remain easily accessible to the public.

These geological wonders formed the archipelago’s mountain range and volcanoes some 70 million years ago and continue to sculpt the Big Island’s coastline due to their intense volcanic activity. Since ancient times, probably the 8th century, these bubbling lands have been a sacred place for the native inhabitants of Hawaii Island. Today, the wilderness of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a biosphere reserve and a living laboratory for volcanologists, who monitor seismic activity in the Pacific Ocean. Its volcanic landscapes of rainforests, lava fields and craters remain in constant flux, driven by the creative and destructive forces of some of the world’s most fearsome volcanoes.

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  • The fascinating spectacle of lava flows pouring into the ocean; the exorbitant accumulation of solidified lava, pumice and basalt rock for kilometres; the ever-changing geology of the archipelago
  • The variety of landscapes: black sand beaches, lava fields, lunar deserts, lush tropical forests, volcanic craters, steam chimneys, fumaroles (gas escaping from a crack in the rock)
  • Caves and lava tunnels (including the Thurston Lava Tube or Nāhuku) that can be explored on foot or by bike; the spectacle of huge waves crashing against the cliffs; the Niaulani rainforest
  • The spectacular Crater Rim Drive (a 15 kilometres drive along the caldera of Kīlauea volcano and Kīlauea Iki Crater) and the scenic Chain of Craters Road (leading to the Mauna Ulu cinder cone); boat trips up close to the steam clouds created by the lava flowing into the ocean
  • The 150 kilometres of hiking trails including Kīpukapuaulu (1.9 kilometre loop), Sulphur Banks or Ha’akulamanu (2 kilometres loop), Kīlauea Iki (6.5 kilometres loop), Pu’u Huluhulu (4 kilometres), Nāpau (19 kilometres) and Kau Desert (29 kilometres); the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (a 282 kilometres coastal route through the islands’ heritage sites)
  • The wealth of flora and fauna (90 % of species are endemic) including populations of nēnē (the rarest geese in the world)
  • The cultural and archaeological remains (footprints, petroglyphs, traces of ancient eruptions…) scattered throughout Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park; the sacred site of the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs, which includes a total of 23,000 images carved in stone by the indigenous Hawaiian peoples from the 13th to 15th centuries
  • The Thomas A. Jagger Museum (damaged by the 2018 eruption and closed until further notice, it is named after a pioneering volcanologist); the Volcano Art Center (exhibitions, workshops, cultural and artistic courses); stargazing; astronomical observation at the Onizuka Center on top of Mauna Kea (the archipelago has some of the most powerful telescopes in the world); the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (perched at an altitude of 3,600 metres)
  • The Volcano Village Farmers Market (Cooper Center in Volcano Village) and Akatsuka Orchid Gardens near the park; Pu’u O Umi Natural Area Reserve (north coast of the archipelago) and Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden (north of Hilo)
  • In Hawaiian, Kīlauea means “spewing”, Mauna Loa can be translated as “Long Mountain” and Kīlauea Iki means “Little Kīlauea”.
  • Halemaʻumaʻu is an active crater within the 200-metre diameter Kīlauea volcano. It is believed to be home to Pele. This goddess of fire and volcanoes in Hawaiian mythology is said to come from Tahiti.
  • Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano in the world. It last eruption dates from 1984.
  • Kīlauea is a powerful volcano that can generate several hundred thousand cubic metres of lava per day. Its summit has collapsed dozens of times over the past two centuries. It produced two permanent lava lakes until 2018, similar to the Erta Ale volcano (Ethiopia) at its peak.
  • The Kīlauea eruption, which began in 1983, continues to shape the Big Island landscape. In 2018, it destroyed more than 700 residential homes on Hawaii’s Big Island. This unprecedented eruption forced the longest closure in the park’s history, lasting several months. Tens of thousands of earthquakes were recorded during this time. These caused rock falls and cracks in access roads and paths. The top of the crater collapsed 600 metres below and Kīlauea volcano experienced its first period of inactivity for 35 years, but this respite was brief. A sulphur-filled pool of burning water has built up on the crater basin and new eruptions have occurred in recent months.
  • Volcanoes are among the largest producers of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere (several hundred million tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from all the world’s volcanoes). But during major eruptions, volcanoes can release gases that cool the atmosphere in the months or years following the event.
  • Every six or seven years a tsunami occurs in Hawaii. Fortunately for the island’s inhabitants, most of them only cause material damage.
  • Start by visiting the Kīlauea Visitor Center, located south of Hilo (a town with an airport) and open every day of the year, for the latest information on Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. You’ll find information on the activity level of the volcanoes, accessible roads and trails, weather conditions, the nature of the exhibits, schedules for guided tours provided by park rangers and more.
  • Some trails and sites are closed to visitors following the Kīlauea eruption in 2018. The park ticket remains valid for seven days after your first visit. The park has two drive-in camping areas (Nāmakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki).
  • If time permits, plan an approach to the caldera of Kīlauea volcano at nightfall, the best time to see the glow of magma coming out of the Halema’uma’u crater (conditions of access to the volcano may vary depending on its activity).
  • In partnership with Google Earth, the National Park Service has produced a series of virtual tours of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. This immersive feature includes a short introductory film, testimonials from a native ranger, a look at the park’s dynamic ecosystem, an exploration of lava tubes, and a flyover of coastal cliffs created when lava meets the ocean.

Where to eat

  • Tuk-Tuk Thai Food Truck
    (Thai food on the go)
  • Cafe' Ono
    (charming setting)
  • Uncle Robert's Awa Bar and...
    (festive and greedy place)

Where to go

  • Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National...
    (sacred place of refuge)
  • Kīlauea Caverns of Fire
    (abyssal lava tunnel)
  • Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park
    (black sand beach)

Where to stay

  • At the End of the Road Bed &...
    (cosy guest house)
  • Volcano Teapot Cottage
    (at the foot of the park)
  • Volcano Rainforest Retreat
    (tropical sanctuary)