7 Exciting Things to Do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a unique place that is home to large volcanoes, beautiful oceans, and lava rock formations. In this guide we are going to cover one the top 7 things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In addition to some helpful tips and what to bring on your visit. 

During our time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park we spent a full 2 days and had the opportunity to explore much of the park and the Hilo area. When we took our visit the lava wasn’t flowing but it was still quite a beautiful sight. Currently there is lava flow at the park now! Lava flow comes and goes at Hawaii and in the past decade has caused destruction but also new growth. 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park History 

Hawaii Volcanoes National expands about 323,431 acres across the Big Island. The park is made up of five volcanoes in total Mauna Kea, Kohala, Hualālai, Mauna Loa, and Kīlauea . Out of the Volcanoes in the park there are only two active shield volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

Out of the five volcanoes in the park the one that is mostly heard about is Kīlauea due to its high activity. In the past Kīlauea has been known to have erupted at least 61 separate times since 1823. Most recently  it erupted in September of 2021. 

Kīlauea has been one of the forces that has dramatically changed the landscape of Hawaii. In 2018 Kīlauea erupted in two different places at Halemaʻumaʻu crater and at  Puʻuʻōʻō. This rare occurrence caused large lava flows to cover the southeast portion of the island and destroyed over 700 homes. It also caused multiple earthquakes to occur with a final collapse of the Kilauea Caldera which is how it looks today. 

Kīlauea has been one of the most active volcanoes in the park. Second, to Mauna Loa, a massive volcano that is estimated to make up about 51% of the entire island of Hawaii. In fact Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on the planet and it stands to a height of 3681 feet. Even more interesting is that Mauna Loa rises about 30,000 ft from the bottom of the sea which is a greater height than Mount Everest. 

Map of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

Map provided courtesy of NPS

Park Fees and Permits

The park is $30 dollars per private vehicle and is good for 7 days. If you plan on visiting more than 3 parks a year then get an America The Beautiful- Annual Park Pass to get annual access to all the National Parks, Forests, and more for just $80 per year. 

Park Hours 

Usually are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week including holidays. The Kīlauea Visitor Center is open daily 9 am to 5 pm, which is the first visitor center to the right when you come into the park. The Kahuku Visitor Center is open Wednesday – Sunday, 9 am to 4 pm and this one is located at the Kahuku unit. 

Tips for Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

Best Time To Visit 

Really any time of the year is great to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Temperatures usually stay pretty consistent, mild, and at times may lean towards the warm side. However, it isn’t uncommon for there to be mist or rain so be prepared and bring a hooded rain jacket or an umbrella. One of the best times to go is when there is an eruption going inside Halemaʻumaʻu crater! 

Getting To Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

When getting to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park you will need to arrive on the main island of Hawaii which is commonly known as the Big Island. On the Big Island there are two airports, one being in Kona and the other in Hilo.

If you are primarily going just for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park it isn’t a bad idea to use the Hilo Airport for it is only about 45 minutes away from the park. 

If you are coming from Kona it is about a 2.5 hour drive. However, don’t sweat if you have to use Kona as the drive is rather scenic and either way you are going to want to use a rental car to travel to the park. Car wise it depends on what else you are going to do at the Big Island but, you will not need 4WD to navigate in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

What To Bring

Ultimately, things to bring on your trip are tons of snacks, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Because weather can be a little unpredictable at times make sure to bring a hat, rain jacket, or umbrella. Also, if you’re doing any of the hikes a pair of hiking boots or hiking sandals with a pair of DWR hiking pants or shorts would be a good start.

Furthermore, if you want one of the most helpful guide books out there, get Hawaii the Big Island Revealed, this book is something we used for our 2 weeks while we were at the Big Island of Hawaii and it features many popular food stops, attractions, hikes, and more.

How Much Time Do You Need? 

Overall, you don’t really need a ton of time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We spent two full days and were able to do everything we wanted to at the time. I believe if you have one to two days you should be able to do most of everything out there. 

Top 7 Things to Do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Check out the Kīlauea Visitor Center 

This is the first and most important thing you should do. At the visitor center rangers are often available to help answer questions. This is where you can get a map of the park, useful tips on where to park, overflow parking, and the best spots to observe lava flow. 

Furthermore, there is a gift shop available that sells local artwork, books, and much more. Also, look at the park site for any updates on lava flow, parking, and itineraries.

Halemaʻumaʻu Crater 

Make sure to stop at the top of the overlook and check out the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater which has been erupting on and off for centuries.

At the moment this is where the latest eruption occured on September, 29, 2021. According to the rangers this is even better to do this at night so you can see the glow from the lava flow. 

Unfortunately, we missed the eruption because we went a couple months prior to the eruption. But, if you get the chance there is no doubt it will be worth it. Halema’uma’u crater is one of many ways to see the lava flow.

Usually there are telescopes set up, sometimes guided tours to the lava flow, helicopter tours. The scenic drive along Chain of Craters Road will usually provide multiple glimpses of lava flow depending on direction. 

At the Kaldera overlook Halema’uma’u crater is towards the left

Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks 

On the way to the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater check out the multiple active steam vents and banks where white steam and vapors are being released. There are many areas releasing these gasses, majority of them are right off the Crater Rim Drive.

Volcano Art Center 

This is located within walking distance from the Volcano hotel, it showcases artwork from local artists. Features, many varieties of artwork from glass, wood crafts, sculptures, paintings, jewelry, photographs, and much more. 

If you have extra time you should check out the Volcano Art Center classes and workshops. Children and adults can get involved in creating artwork and writing. These classes are led by various artists from papermaking, drawing, and painting.

Thurston Lava Tube

This is one of the biggest attractions within the park. It is a long and huge cave-like structure that was formed by lava flowing through the tunnel. At one point this tunnel served as a conduit for the lava flow allowing flow through. 

The Thurston Lava tube is about 600ft and reaches close to 20ft high. Overall it is a fairly flat and easier walk to get to, it is a slight steep decline to get down to the tunnel. Also, this can be done right off the Kīlauea Iki Trail. 

Downside is parking is a little tough for this. The closest parking lot is at the trailhead of the Kīlauea Iki. We did both the hike and added the stop to Thurston afterwards so we didn’t have to mess with parking again.

Thurston Lava Tube

Chain Of Craters Road 

This is a nice scenic road that travels about 18.8 miles to the sea. It hosts many marked stops along the way and these highlighted areas are also found on the national park site. One thing to note is to be watchful of the endangered Hawaiian Nene goose which is an endangered species known to roam the area. 

The road takes you past ancient crates and recent eruption sites. Some of the best places to stop at are the Mauna Ulu eruption site, Kealakomo lookout, and Puu Loa Petroglyphs. As you go further on the Chain of Craters you get a magnificent view of the ocean. One neat feature here is the Holei Sea Arch. You can visit this from an overlook off the road. 

Hiking Trails 

Kīlauea Iki Trail

This hike is one of the best hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii. During this hike you get to follow cairns across the floor of a solidified crater. Also, be sure to stop at the overlook as well. It was stunning. 

The hike took us about 2 hours including photo time. This by far was one of our favorite hikes we did while we were on the Big Island. Overall, it’s about a 3 mile loop that descends into the Kīlauea Iki crater. The area is covered in jungle and the coolest part is when you hike on the crater floor you are hiking on old lava rock. 

Along the path there are stacked cairns or Ahu as the locals call it, to help show you where to go. Ohia trees sprout throughout the cracks all along the trail which makes this a uniquely beautiful experience. On our hike it did rain towards the end but thankfully we brought rain jackets. 

Mauna Ulu Trail 

This train takes you out on about a 2.5 mile round trip hike. The hike features interesting landscapes that were created by the 1969-74 Mauna Ulu flow which had lava flows the size of Niagara Falls. At the highest point of the hike you get to take in views of the Puu Oo Vent and sometimes on clear days you can see Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and the ocean.

Where To Stay 

Camping at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

If you are looking to sleep under the stars then you are in luck. Although camping is somewhat limited in this national park. There are two drive-in campgrounds that are available to camp in at the park.

Namakanipaio Campground

  • The campground is located about 3 miles from the park and operated by the Volcano house company
  • This campsite has restrooms, picnic tables, bathrooms, water, and barbecue pits. 
  • There are 10 rustic cabins that can sleep four people each and there are tent sites available as well. 
  • Daily camping is $15 per night, and they also do tent rentals for two just for an additional $40 that they set up and take down for you. 

Kulanaokuaiki Campground 

  • Campground is smaller and more remote, works on a first come first serve basis
  • Offers 9 campsites and picnic tables, no running water, but has a ADA accessible vaulted toilet 
  • Campsite is about 5 miles down Hilina Pali road about 10 miles from the park entrance.
  • It is $10 a night per site, fees paid can be paid at the campground payment station 
  • Campfires are not permitted. Only fueled camping stove use is permitted 
  • Bring potable water 
  • Pets are not allowed 

Additional Lodging Options

Volcano House Lodge 

This is Hawaii’s oldest hotel and the only one in the Volcano National Park. The hotel has 33 guest rooms. Also, the location of the hotel is spectacular as it is placed where you can see views of the craters. Downside, is this really needs to be booked in advance as it fills up quickly.


My wife and I stayed in 3 different locations, one being in Hilo and a second place around the Ocean View area. The first being very close to the park and second about an hour give or take. There are many options for places to stay near or close to the park on Airbnd

Where to Eat Near Volcanoes National Park

There really aren’t a lot of eating options in or around the park. Inside the park there is The Rim which is a restaurant located inside the Volcano House it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner while also overlooking the Kīlauea Caldera. The Kīlauea Military Camp offers many casual options for dining and drinks. 

Eating fresh poke Suisan Fish Market

There are a little more options if you leave the park, Hilo has quite a bit more options one of our favorite places for Poke was the Suisan Fish Market. You have to get there a little before lunch because they sell out of the fresh catch fast.

If you head south about 45 minutes you’ll hit a town called Punalu’u. Here lies the Punalu’u bake shop, also known as the southernmost bakery in the U.S. This is a great popular pit stop for delicious sandwiches, coffee, and malasadas. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you found this guide for the 7 best things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park helpful. If you have any recommendations or any questions feel free to leave them in the comments down below. If you believe someone else may find this guide helpful, give it a share. Stay safe and hike more, worry less!

Editor note: This post was originally published October 05, 2021 and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness

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