How to spend a day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is simply a must when on the Big Island. It is incredible to be in the presence of an active volcano and such diverse awe inspiring nature. Pele the Hawaiian fire goddess lives here, so if you choose you can walk through a lava tube, a steaming crater, and actually view lava in her domain. Walking through lava fields and seeing sprouts of green growing through the cracks is a real testament to the resiliency and beauty of life. Whether you’re a hiker or a sightseer, or a little of both, you will never forget your experience in this extraordinary park. Here is a rundown of one amazing day in the park, and some tips to help you along the way!


Kilauea Iki Trail – the must hike

Kilauea means spilling, and a lot of that happened here when the volcano exploded in 1959. Molten lava rocks spewed 1900 feet into the air creating a lake of lava, solid now, but still steaming. If you are going to pick one hike for the day, this is it, where you will hike across that very lava field. Your moderate four mile roundtrip loop hike begins from the overlook. As recommended, we headed right going counterclockwise. Follow the well marked signage through the lush jungle. This leg of the hike will acquaint you with Hawaiian flora and you will snag peeks of the crater below.

Kilauea_Iki_trail_volcanoes_6Note the chalky line through the center, that is your future path. The swollen area with the reddish hue is the cinder and spatter cone where the eruption occurred. The trail is relatively easy and uneventful for the duration of the jungle jaunt, but lovely nonetheless. When you reach the end of the road and begin your descent down the stairs into the crater, the hike ramps up, now you will see why this is the ‘must hike’ trail. You will descend 400 feet to the base of the crater. Here you are constantly exposed to the sun. Hat, sunscreen, and heading out early would be best to keep cool. Now you are following the cairns, rock piles, or in Hawaiian, ahu, to find your way. You may be shocked to see how lava can take various forms and colors, most exciting for us, blue!

Kilauea_Iki_trail_volcanoes_1 Kilauea_Iki_trail_volcanoes_Make your way across the crater, noting the steaming vents seething along the way.

Kilauea_Iki_trail_volcanoes_7It always impresses me how the life sprouts through the cracks, so even on the crater floor viewing the colorful flora is fantastic.

Kilauea_Iki_trail_volcanoesWhen you finally find yourself on the other side of the crater, it is time to start your ascent. Time time the 400 feet is up back to the lot. Here you will return into that lush jungle, completing the loop, and an unforgettable hike.

Pu’u Huluhulu Trail – the remote hike

Midway down Chain of Craters Road you will find the trailhead in the Mauna Ulu parking area, blissfully away from the crowds of the popular sights and overlooks. I loved this hike for so many reasons. First of all, it was never boring. The landscape of the easy 2.5 mile round trip out and back kept changing. The hike initially started in a colorful field

Puu_Huluhulu_trail_volcanoes_1leading to a barren lava field, then there was a short spur through a forest, after that a walk beside a tall lava field, leading to an notable lava tree mold forest,

Puu_Huluhulu_trail_volcanoes_5and lastly up switchbacks over 200 feet through a lush jungle to get to the summit of Pu’u Huluhulu cone with 360 degree views.

Puu_Huluhulu_trail_volcanoes_3Another reason we loved this trail was for the spectacular vibrant flora,

Puu_Huluhulu_trail_volcanoesand the lovable nene birds.

volcanoes_national_park_neneThe nene is an endangered goose and the state bird of Hawaii. The gorgeous bird has a striped zebra-like neck, similar in coloration to a Canadian goose, but much more majestic. They were so plentiful on this trail we encountered multiple pairs. They love to eat the red berries that are abundant in this area of the park.

Puu_Huluhulu_trail_volcanoes_2If you’re into peaceful hiking filled with unique nature, this is the spot for you.

Devastation Trail the light hike

A remarkable tale of true destruction, this easy paved one mile roundtrip out and back hike shows the aftermath of the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. One side is covered with falling cinders and a single scorched tree remains. The other side of the path is a flourishing forest. Nature is random and does not discriminate, it is unbelievable to see what is left in its wake.

devastation_trail_volcanoesIt is very possible to see some wildlife intermingled with the flora here. If you look up you may spot a crab-looking spider like we did. This is a great relaxing trail with a lot to see, and since it is paved anyone can enjoy it!


Steam Vents

A short walk will take you through a field of cracks in the ground and a bluff pouring out hot steam! Stay back and enjoy the view.

volcanoes_steam_ventsThurston Lava Tube

For most, a chance to walk through a gigantic lava tube is at the top of the list! A short walk to the fern fringed entrance and into the dark depths of the cave like tube is well worth the detour.

Thurston_Lava_Tube_volcanoesDon’t forget to listen for the honeycreeper birds who inhabit the area.

Holei Sea Arch

Just the month before we visited the breathtaking Arches National Park, but a Hawaiian arch will of course have its own exotic appeal and we had to see it. Located at the very end of Chain of Craters Road (the views simply from driving are an experience all their own)

Chain_of_Craters_road_volcanoesyou can take a short walk to see the fantastic black arch.

sea_arch_volcanoesAlthough it is kapu to walk over to it, I had to get a closer look. For my unlawfulness I was rewarded with interesting and colorful lava designs, and a glorious rainbow.

Holei_Sea_Arch_volcanoesLava Viewing

No trip to the National Park is complete without a glimpse of lava itself! Visit the Jagger Museum in the dark reveals the glow of lava in Halemaumau Crater, a completely captivating sight.

volcanoes_national_park_lava_viewingThe museum is open until 8PM so head inside to check out some interesting exhibits,

volcanoes_national_park_jagger_museum volcanoes_national_park_and grab a souvenir to support your park!


-Bring warm clothes for the morning and night, the park is located a high elevation. Rain gear, a hat, and sunscreen are all important items to have when in Hawaii. Be ready for any weather! Another item to have, although we never needed to use, is a bandana that you can wet or a painters mask to cover your face in the event of exposure to noxious gas.

-Carry lots of water and snacks as you should for all hikes.

-Grab a park map so you can locate all trailheads and sights with ease.

Nearby places of interest:

If you are finished hiking and sight seeing and it isn’t dark enough to view the lava yet, a few places to spend some time are Volcano Winery, Akatsuka Orchid Garden, and Punalu’u Beach.

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