Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes (Kilauea and Muaona Loa). If you are fortunate enough to see a volcano actively erupting while at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will never forget it. Further, there are a lot of other interesting sites at this park. You can hike through lava tubes, across volcano craters and along sulfur banks. You can also visit the impressive coastline made up of unique volcanic rock structures.  Driving the Chain of Craters road out to the coastline affords you some really great views of the black lava rocks too.  We recommend spending a full day at this park. Read on for our concise quick guide on visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early November. This adventure was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old daughter. We loved exploring the park with her! For tips on traveling with a baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby, 5 Top Baby & Toddler Flying Tips and Flying with a Baby posts.

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What to Do in Hawaii Volcanos National Park

If there is a volcano actively erupting , go see it!

This was hands-down the coolest experience we had at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and on the Big Island. It really made for an unforgettable adventure.  Make sure to get to the park early in the morning, at least two hours before sunrise, so you have ample time to hike out to the volcano and view it in the dark. Viewing it in the dark creates a surreal experience witnessing the red/orange glow before the sunrises. 

Kilauea Actively Erupting, pictures do not do it justice

To find out the best viewing spot for the current eruption, call the park between 9 AM and 5 PM Hawaii time and speak with a staff member. Had we not called the park the day before to find out where to go to see the eruption, we would’ve had no idea where to park our car or where to hike in the park.  Also, a volcano can stop or start to erupt at any time so if the volcano is actively eruptIng, try to go as soon as possible to see it. The Kilauea volcano was actively erupting in the Halemaumau crater during our visit. 

Note: Double Check Your Location 

Since we arrived at the park so early in the morning, and were a bit sleep deprived, we weren’t the most oriented.  We accidentally went down the wrong trail for over a mile before realizing that we were not on the right path to view the eruption. We could see the smoke and glow from where we were on the wrong path but realized we couldn’t see it up close from the trail we were on. Thankfully, we hiked quite quickly and were still able to get back to the best viewing spot about an hour before sunrise.  Just be mindful that navigating the park at night is difficult. 

As you will be arriving at the park very early in the morning, in the pitch darkness, be sure to bring your headlamp. These are the headlamps we use and recommend. 

Also, for hiking on Lava Rock, you need a solid pair of hiking boots. Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots

Thurston Lava Tubes

These lava tubes are super neat to see. There is a lot of cool flora growing around where you enter them. We visited several lava tubes while in Hawaii (one on the road to Hana and another one in Hilo) and this one was the most accessible. It was the easiest/largest to walk through and required no crouching/crawling. The hike into and through these tubes is quite short. You will need less than 30 minutes to complete it. 

Thurston Lava Tubes

To access, park at the Thurston Lava Tubes Parking Lot. If the Thurston Lot is full, park in the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking Lot (0.5 miles away, can walk on Kilauea Iki Rim Trail to access), On Crater Rim Drive

Hike Part of the Kilauea Iki Trail

This trail goes through the rainforest, around part of the rim Kilauea Iki Crater, before descending down into the crater floor itself.  This trail is 4 miles round trip and you can hike as much or as little of it as you please.  We hiked part of the trail along the rim of the crater.  The rainforest and crater views were pretty from here.  After hiking 4 miles to see the erupting volcano that morning and waking up so early, we weren’t feeling overly ambitious to hike down into a crater to see a dormant volcano.  Had the volcano not been erupting, we would have hiked this whole trail as it is rated as one of the best. 

Kilauea Iki Trail

To access, park at the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking Lot, On Crater Rim Drive 

Drive Chain of Craters Road and Visit the Holei Arch

This road takes you from the higher elevations of the park down to the coastline. The temperature varied by 15°F between the two locations when we visited. The coastline here is very pretty. It is very impressive to see the large waves crashing against the lava rocks that descend into the ocean. When you see the rocky coast, it is even more impressive to imagine the orignal polynesian explorers landing in the area with their canoes. The Holei Arch is an interesting formation of the lava rocks to see at the coastline as well. Eventually, this rock formation will erode and be washed away.  

Holei Arch

Driving the Chain of Craters road will take you about 35 minutes one-way and it is definitely worth your time. There are several other craters you can stop and look at but none are as impressive as the Kilauea Iki Crater. Also, not much could compare after seeing an actively erupting volcano so keep that in mind if you are lucky enough to see that. 

Chain of Craters Road

Hike the Sulfur Banks

0.7 Miles loop trail, minimal elevation

Here you hike on a paved path through the rainforest before coming to a boardwalk that takes you through a volcanic thermal area and mineral deposits.  You can literally feel the heat and smell the sulfur from these thermal areas.

Sulfur Banks Trail

To access, park at the main visitors center 

Tip: Bring Food to the Park

There is really nowhere to eat in the park so it is very important that you bring food. We packed picnic lunches.

Where to Stay to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you plan to spend more than a day or go to the park multiple days, stay in Volcano Village or in Hilo. We chose to stay in Kona, which is about a 2 hour drive from the park. This made most sense for us as it was more centrally located by other things we wanted to do on the Big Island.  See our Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide for all our Big Island tips.  If you are looking for an Airbnb in Kona, we highly recommend the one we stayed at. 

Our Kailua-Kona Airbnb was perfect for us.  We had sunset views every night from the kitchen window and it had everything we needed (including lots of baby items which was a HUGE plus with a three month old). It was very spacious, updated and clean. Also, the host was super kind and helpful! If you looking to stay in Kona, definitely stay here!

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide on visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

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