The Big Island’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Like No Other Place In the World.
I still remember the feeling right after booking my tickets to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, thinking “wow, I’m about to see a real, live volcano”.
Few things excite like the prospect of seeing red hot lava up close and in person. If you’re visiting Hawaii, let alone the big island, you just have to add this national park to your list.
Most people visiting Hawaii overlook the big island booking trips to resort-laden Maui or bustling Oahu. Those islands are great, but for an adventure hound like me there was only one island, and one park for my first visit.
Here’s what I loved (and didn’t) about visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
About My Travels to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
I first visited Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park back in 2016, prior to the most recent eruptions which significantly shaped the landscape of the park.
The primary goal of my visit was to experience the park to its fullest and capture the essence of the place for a film my brother Jim and I produced on the park.
I was totally blown away by the dynamic contrasts of this park.
To do this, we traveled every road in the park, visited every overlook, and went on most of the hikes.
It was an unforgettable adventure. So much so that I’ve been back several times since.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Guide
- About the Park
- Directions & Location
- Weather & Seasons
- Things to Do
- Camping & Lodging
About Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Situated on the big island of Hawaii in the heart of the remote north pacific, Hawai’i Volcanoes boasts an awe-inspiring array of massive mountains, exotic wildlife, and fiery volcanoes.
Journey with More Than Just Parks as we discover an ever-growing land shaped by fire. This is Hawai’i Volcanoes.
Hawai’i Volcanoes is one of only a handful of tropical National Parks in the system and one of two Hawaii National Parks. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The proper spelling of Hawaii for the purposes of the park’s title is actually Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
*For the purposes of this post I’ll be using the spellings interchangeably so folks searching for this info will be able to find it as the former is the more searched term.
Things to Know Before You Visit Hawaii Volcanoes
Entrance Fees: The entrance fee for Hawaii Volcanoes is $30 per vehicle. If you plan on visiting more than 1 national park this year I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks or online here). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Reef Safe Sunscreen: Most sunscreens are illegal on Hawaii due to the effects of the chemicals in them on the coral reefs. Please, if you visit the park be sure to check if your sunscreen is “reef safe”. We recommend this one because it checks all the right boxes and is approved by Hawaii.
Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
Sea Turtles: Green Sea Turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Believe it or not it is a felony to touch one. As tempting as it might be, resist the urge and admire from a distance. We’ve all gotten pretty good at social distancing – best to apply these practices to our sea turtle friends as well.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check the rules before bringing along your furry friend.
Things to Pack
Map: I use this one.
Guide: I recommend this one which has been updated since the major eruption.
Sandals: There’s nothing like the feeling of warm sand between the toes. There’s also nothing quite like the feeling of something sharp and pokey in the toes. We recommend these sandals that we love. and these sandals which have straps.
Insect Repellent: You hope not to need it, but you want to have it. We typically bring an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us just in case.
Shoes/Boots: Some of the hikes on the island are best attempted with a sturdy pair of boots or hiking shoes.
Details About Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Location: The Big Island of Hawaii
Established: August 1, 1916
Size: 323,431 acres
Native Land: Aliʻi
Visitors: 1,116,891 (2018)
Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle (or $80 for America the Beautiful Pass)
History of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
According to the National Park Service Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands were the first to settle on Hawai’i over 1000 years ago.
To reach the islands the Polynesians traveled more than 2000 miles across the ocean in hand-hulled canoes using little more than the sun & stars to navigate.
Eventually the Ali’i people were formed and ruled over the island installing a strict caste system. The natives built monuments, farmed, fished, and lived on the islands.
The Arrival of Westerners
After James Cook happened upon the islands in the late 1700s Westerners began traveling to the previously unknown (to them) area.
In the 1800s western travelers began exploring the volcanic works and spreading the word of their wonders.
Mark Twain made his way to the lava lake and was astonished by what he saw writing “Here was room for the imagination to work!“
Establishment of the National Park
In the early 1900s a local publisher, Lorrin Thurston, along with an astrologist, Dr. Thomas Jaggar, began pushing for the area to be conserved as a public park.
President Wilson eventually answered their call creating the country’s 13th national park with the stroke of his pen on August 1, 1916.
At the time the park encompassed volcanic areas on the islands of Hawaii and Maui.
Fifty years later the areas were separated into Haleakala National Park on Maui & Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii.
RELATED: If you’re interested in learning more about island history, check out our Cumberland Island post.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Map
Where is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the big island of Hawaii in the state of Hawaii. The park is situated on the island’s southeastern corner.
Getting to the Park – Directions & Location
Closest Airport: ITO – Hilo International Airport. Distance: 30 miles from the natinoal park (roughly 45 minutes driving)
Cheapest Airport: KOA – Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport. Distance: 102 miles from the national park (roughly 2 hours driving).
The fastest way to get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is by plane, flying into Hilo International Airport. From there, the drive to the park is only 45mins. However, flights into Hilo are fewer and typically significantly more expensive than those into Kona.
I recommend flying into Kona, renting a car from the airport, and driving to the park.
Rental Car: KOA (Kona) Airport – (Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, Dollar, more)
Watch the Award-Winning Video
About the Video
HAWAI’I VOLCANOES 8K is the culmination of several weeks spent filming in the rugged volcanic landscapes of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Situated on the island of Hawaii in the heart of the remote north pacific, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park boasts an awe-inspiring array of massive mountains, rare wildlife, and fiery volcanoes.
Journey with More Than Just Parks as we discover an ever-growing land shaped by fire. This is Hawai’i Volcanoes. Filmed primarily in stunning UHD 8K.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is an incredible place featuring the most active volcano in the world. Kiluea is constantly in a state of eruption.
This film was shot before much of the more recent explosive activity occurred and features some locations that have been significantly altered.
How We Did It
To create this film we spent a few weeks in the park filming it all from nenes to Pele and everything in between.
Lens Rentals by Pro Photo Supply – http://prophotosupply.com/
Seasons & Weather
Like much of Hawaii, the weather at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is incredibly unpredictable.
While warmth can generally be counted on (at least relative to where you might be coming from) even this is variable. Some nights in the park can be quite chilly.
Best Time to Visit Hawaii Volcanoes
The best time of year to visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park 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 is relatively 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.
Who doesn’t dream of Hawaii during the dead of winter? Can’t just be me…
I would recommend visiting anytime between December through March.
Spring in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Spring in Hawai’i Volcanoes is nice with reduced crowds, warm temperatures, but lots of rain with each month seeing an average of 20 days with rainfall!
But don’t let that be a damper on your trip to the park. Rain typically doesn’t last all day and even in the rain there is still plenty to see and do in the park.
High temperatures will range from the mid 60s to the mid 70s while lows will remain above 50F.
Summer in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Summer in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park sees less rain, warmer temperatures (with days in the mid 70s to 80s), larger crowds, and more humidity.
It’s no secret that summer is a great time to visit Hawai’i Volcanoes but with this comes larger crowds. Don’t let the crowds deter you though as the crowds are here for a reason – it’s otherworldly.
Fall in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Fall in Hawai’i Volcanoes is great with reduced crowds, reduced humidity, and less rain than other times of year. If it’s leaf peeping your after, this is not your park.
Fall is a great time to come and visit to escape the crowds that are seen during other times of year like Summer and Winter.
High temperatures will still be in the 70s which makes this park an even more attractive autumn destination.
Winter in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Winter Winter in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is lovely with lesser crowds, reduced humidity, and less rainfall than other times of year.
Plus, who doesn’t want to escape the dreary cold of winter to warm and sunny Hawaii? Winter is probably the second most popular time of year to visit the park for that reason.
High temperatures still range in the high 60s during Winter in the park while lows drop close to the 50F mark.
Best Things to Do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Let’s start this chapter with the “what not to do”.
Don’t do one of the boat tours that drives insanely close to the steam clouds full of such fun things to breathe in as volcanic fiberglass and hydrochloric acid.
With that being said, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to some of the most unique locations in all the national park system being situated on the big island of Hawaii in the remote north pacific.
This is a land shaped by massive fiery volcanoes with rugged volcanic coastline, underground cavernous lava tubes, and lush tropical vegetation.
We’ve detailed some of the best things to do in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park below. For a complete list visit our 8 (JAWDROPPING) Things to Do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 2021 post.
1. Marvel at the Epic 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 the Wondrous Thurston Lava Tube
The Thurston Lava Tube is a 500 year old lava tube located near the incredible Kilauea Crater in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Distance: 1 mile roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
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.
3. Hike the 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
4. Drive the Stunning Chain of Craters Road
The Chain of Craters Road is a 19 mile scenic drive in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with spectacular overlooks and otherworldly vistas.
Many rank this among the most scenic drives in all of Hawaii.
Length: 19 miles (one way)
Drive Time: 2 hours (with stops)
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.
5. Soak in the Panoramas from 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 and serves as the trailhead for hikers looking to summit the largest sub-aerial 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.
6. Discover the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs
Distance: .7 miles roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
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.
Where to Stay – Camping & Lodging
Camping & Campgrounds
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park only has 2 campgrounds with a mere 25 total campsites making it one of the parks with the fewest camping options for visitors.
- 19 sites
- Standard $15
- First-come / Reservation
- Cell Reception
Nāmakanipaio Campground is the most popular campground in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park located near all of the park’s most iconic attractions.
Privacy is limited as this campground is fairly open by design. Of the two campgrounds in the park this is the best and the one we recommend to visitors.
Nāmakanipaio Campground sites feature picnic tables and fire pits. The campground itself features flush toilets and water.
- 9 sites
- First come
- Cell Reception
Kulanaokuaiki Campground is a more remote campground located off of Hilina Pali Road in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
It is by far the less popular of the two campgrounds the park offers visitors being located further from many of the most popular attractions.
This campground is free and available to visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Kulanaokuaiki Campground sites feature picnic tables and do offer more privacy than Nāmakanipaio sites.
The campground itself features pit toilets and no water. Pets are not allowed in this campground to protect the endangered Nene.
Hawaii Volcanoes Hotels, Motels, & Resorts
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has a single flagship lodge inside the park with luxurious onsite dining options.
Lodging options inside the park include:
Lodging options outside the park include:
Where to Eat – Restaurants & Food Options
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has a number of dining options:
- Crater Rim Cafe
- Thai Thai Bistro
- Eagle’s Lighthouse Cafe
- Kilauea Lodge Restaurant
- Cafe Ono
- Tuk-Tuk Thai Food Truck
Driving in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has no park shuttle to get around the park. To get around the park visitors will need to bring their own mode of transportation.
A car is the best mode of transport in the park and can tourists not from the island should find a rental car.
Photos of Hawaii Volcanoes
Photos of Hawaii Volcanoes from the production of our film.
Summary | Leave us a Comment!
That’s a wrap folks! Hopefully you feel like you’ve got a good handle on your next trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Please leave me a comment below and let me know if you have any questions or comments.
So, I hope to see you on the trails sometime soon!
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