Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to some of the most unique things to do and see in all the national park system.
Situated on the big island of Hawaii in the remote south pacific, this is a land shaped by massive fiery volcanoes with rugged volcanic coastline, underground cavernous lava tubes, and lush tropical vegetation.
We’ve ranked and detailed all of the best things to do in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
About Our Travels to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
We visited Hawai’i Volcanoes for the first time back in 2016 before all of the volcanic craziness of 2018 and were totally mesmerized by what we saw.
Massive volcano craters, lush tropical vegetation, sweeping ocean panoramas, incredible lava caverns, and so much more.
We spent several weeks in the park visiting all of the main attractions and filming them to bring you the best things to do and see in the park.
This fiery volcanic wonderland has so much to offer which we will be sharing with you here.
Things to Know Before You Visit Hawai’i Volcanoes
$30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be purchased at any national park) and gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Getting to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Getting to Hawai’i Volcanoes is easy once you land on the big island of Hawaii. Visitors should rent a car from the airport and drive to the park. The drive takes about 2 hours from the Kona Airport (which is usually the cheapest flight option) or 40mins from the Hilo Airport.
There are several restaurants in/around Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. For a list of our favorites check out our “Where to Eat in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park” page.
The Best Time to Visit
Hawai’i Volcanoes is November through March when most of the United States is cold for a warm, tropical getaway.
Due to it’s proximity to the equator, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is warm year-round.
One thing to note is that November-March is known as the rainy season but don’t let that deter you from visiting as rain typically goes as fast as it comes in Hawaii.
Best Things to Do in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
1. See Kilauea Crater
Kilauea Crater is possibly the most famous and well known feature of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
What was once home to an epic, world-renown lava lake has emptied, filled with scalding hot water, emptied, re-filled with lava again, and has now “paused” as of this post.
It is easy to get a vantage of the crater from the area around the Kilauea Visitor Center.
Because of this, everyone visiting the park should stop by to check out this otherworldly site.
2. Explore Thurston Lava Tube
This lava tube was carved out by a 2000F lava flow creating the subterranean cavern that exists today.
This hike through Thurston Lava Tube takes visitors through a lush tropical forest into the illuminated cavern below.
Distance: 1 mile roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
The total hike is about 1.5miles roundtrip from the Kilauea Iki Overlook and takes hikers around an hour to complete.
3. Hike Kilauea Iki Crater
The Kilauea Iki Crater is a great spot for hikers to explore a crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park via the Kilauea Iki & Crater Rim Trails.
What was once a boiling lava lake is now a hardened surface for hikers to enjoy an afternoon in the park.
Distance: 3 miles roundtrip
Time: 2-3 hours
Hikers can opt for the loop route that combines the Kilauea Iki with the Crater Rim Trail (which we recommend) or just do an out and back with the Kilauea Iki Trail.
4. Drive Chain of Craters Road
The Chain of Craters Road is a 19 mile scenic drive that is one of the top things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park complete with spectacular overlooks and otherworldly vistas.
Many rank this among the most scenic drives in all of Hawaii.
Since it’s initial construction segments of the Chain of Craters Road has been repeatedly buried by lava flows.
The road starts at Crater Rim Drive and winds it way down past the Holei Sea Arch on the coast.
Note: There is no food, drink, or fuel available on the Chain of Craters Road and the only toilets available are of the pit variety.
5. See Mauna Loa Lookout
Mauna Loa Lookout is a beautiful viewpoint located at the end of an unpaved 11 mile road that overlooks the Kilauea Crater below.
The lookout serves as the trailhead for hikers looking to summit the largest subaerial volcano in the world.
The drive up to the viewpoint is something in and of itself. Lush tropical foliage complete with the songs of vibrant tropical birds surround you as you ascend the volcano.
Lucky visitors may even spot the endemic ‘i‘iwi in all its stunning red feathers. At the top, visitors will find a newly-paved parking lot, pit toilet, picnic tables, and ADA accessibility.
There is also a shelter constructed by the CCC in 1937 still fully intact.
6. Discover the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs
The Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs archeological site is a vast collection of over 23,000 petroglyphs located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I’d say visiting the petroglyphs here falls into the underrated category of things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Given the amount of petroglyphs here, this site gives visitors an incredible opportunity to observe up close (without touching) an unbelievable array of petroglyphs dating back hundreds of years.
Distance: .7 miles roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
A .7mile path partially consisting of boardwalk takes visitors from the parking area to the site of the petroglyphs.
7. Sunset from Hilina Pali Overlook
Hilina Pali Overlook is a scenic vista overlooking the pacific ocean located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the end of Hilina Pali Rd.
In fact, the road itself is nine miles long and was originally built and completed by the CCC in 1942.
Hilina Pali Road is nine miles long and features sprawling lava flows on either side. There are no services available off of this road.
8. See the Holei Sea Arch
The arch can be viewed from an overlook located about 1,000ft past the gate at the end of the Chain of Craters Road.
9. Explore Old Lava Flows
One of the coolest experiences in the park is getting up close and personal with the old (relatively), dried up, lava flows.
Seeing these areas in person is really something. All of the different shapes of the lava and imagining when these places were molten hot is a lot of fun.
It’s also really cool to see all of the vegetation returning to the area like massive ferns and more. Be careful when walking across these fields and be sure to look for signage.
These old lava flows are represent difficult walking terrain and a fall here would be nasty. We’re talking volcanic fiberglass sort of nasty.
10. Volcanic Steam Vents
There are a whole bunch of steam vents around the Kilauea Crater and elsewhere in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
They are really cool to see in person knowing that they are coming from deep (relatively) underground magma chambers.
DO NOT get too close to these as the temperatures are insane and they can give you severe burns.
11. Bird-watching at Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park
One of the coolest and least crowded things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is tour the Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park.
This bird park is referred to as a sort of island because it is an area of stunning vegetation surrounded by lava flows.
The most heavily sought after bird sighting here is that of the endemic I‘iwi or Hawaiian Honeycreeper.
Consider yourself lucky if you spot this rare bird in the park.
12. Go Stargazing
One of my favorite things to do in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is soaking in the night sky.
The park is one of the best places on the island of Hawaii to go stargazing due to the distance from other cities.
On a clear night, displays of stars can be downright dazzling.
There’s a reason they put so many observatories on this island!
13. Drive Hilani Pali Road
The Hiliani Pali Road is a roughly 10 mile stretch of unpaved road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This road takes visitors from the Chain of Craters Road across ancient lava flows to Hilani Pali Overlook.
From the Hilani Pali Overlook, backpackers can pick up the Kau Desert Trail & Hilani Pali Trail.
The Kulanaokuaiki Campground campground is also accessed via this road and is one of only two campgrounds in the park.
14. Visit the Kilauea Visitor Center
The Hawaii Volcanoes Visitor Center is a must stop for everyone visiting the park.
Rangers here can help update you on current conditions and the best things to see in the park on any particular day.
There are great exhibits here explaining what exactly you’re looking at in the park as well as the history of this incredible place.
A gift shop is also located in the visitor center with plenty of volcano goodies.
The visitor center is open daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm.
15. Drive Crater Rim Road
The most popular drive in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is Crater Rim Road making a great rainy day (or regular day) activity in the park.
The drive itself was once longer, wrapping around most of the Kilauea Crater but due to the unstable conditions and numerous eruptions it has since been largely truncated.
Today Crater Rim Road is about 6 miles long and features many of Hawaii Volcanoes best things to do including (from west to east:
- Kilauea Overlook
- Steam Vents
- Steaming Bluff
- Sulphur Banks
- Volcano House
- Kilauea Visitor Center
- Thurston Lava Tube
- Kīlauea Iki Trailhead
- Crater Rim Trailhead
- Puʻupuaʻi Overlook
- Devastation Trail
- Chain of Craters Road
16. See the Ocean Lava Flow (safely)
This activity is fairly dangerous and hikers should be fully prepared prior to making this hike. These clouds should only ever be viewed from a (very) safe distance.
By no means should anyone ever attempt to walk down onto the shelf featured here as people have died doing so in the past.
With that being said, and when conditions are right (not windy days & relatively stable lava conditions), this can be a really unique experience.
From the end of the Chain of Craters Road there are signs for this trail which basically just follows the now closed off road all the way to the viewing area.
The hike is about 7 miles long and you should check with park staff before attempting it as the lava is not always flowing.
17. See the Sulphur Banks (Ha’akulamanu)
Who doesn’t love a good boardwalk tour?
The Sulphur Banks (Ha’akulamanu) hike is only 1.2 miles long from the Kilauea Visitor Center and traverses some really cool terrain.
You can smell the strong sulphur odor in the air and see the steam vents rising from the depths.
This is a great hike for families with children as well!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Map of Best Things To Do
Photos of Things to Do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Summary of Top 10 Best Things to Do in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- Kilauea Crater
- Thurston Lava Tube
- Kilauea Iki Crater
- Chain of Craters Road
- Mauna Loa Lookout
- Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs
- Hilani Pali Overlook
- Holei Sea Arch
- Old Lava Flows
- Steam Vents
- Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park
- Hilani Pali Road
- Kilauea Visitor Center
- Crater Rim Road
- Ocean Lava Flow
- Sulphur Banks
Planning a trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park? Learn how to do it right with our comprehensive Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Guide that covers what to see, campgrounds, lodging, dining, seasons & weather, and so much more.
>>Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Guide<<
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