Although I shouldn’t have to convince you, there are so many reasons to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. One of the top reasons why tourists flock to the island is for a trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Located 45 minutes south of Hilo, the national park is home to approximately 333,308 acres of historic land to explore. On this preserved property, you’ll encounter 150 miles of hiking trails, two volcanoes, natural wonders, a quaint hotel, campgrounds, and so much more.
If Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park wasn’t originally on your Big Island vacation itinerary, perhaps these six reasons to visit will change your mind.
1. Active Volcanoes
Where else in the United States can you find and see an active volcano?
Oh, that’s right. Only in Hawaii!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to Maunaloa and Kilauea. Maunaloa last erupted in 1984 while Kilauea is known for its continuous eruption from January 3, 1983 to early September 2018.
You can’t visit the Big Island without making the trip to see the iconic volcanoes. Bring your camera to capture your experiences and memories of these natural phenomenons.
Note: In May 2018, Kilauea experienced violent, ongoing eruptions causing this section of the park to shut down. While the volcano is no longer spewing lava, gas, and other natural elements, the National Park staff continue to monitor its activity. Do know that this area of the national park may be closed to visitors, depending on the eruption status and activity of the volcano. Double check the volcano’s conditions and park alerts prior to visiting.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park boasts a rich history full of ancient Hawaiian lore, archaeological artifacts, and captivating stories. If you’re a history buff with a love of the great outdoors, a visit to the park is a must!
At the park, you’ll find the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs. In this sacred area, visitors have the opportunity to view thousands of historic images known as petroglyphs. These ancient designs include everything from geometric inscriptions to canoe sails. Later on, these designs were interpreted to have specific meanings related to travel around the island by early communities.
Although, Pu’u Loa isn’t the only place to discover petroglyphs. Keep an eye out for these famous markings as you explore other areas of the national park.
3. Hiking Trails
There’s no excuse not to go hiking when you visit the Big Island’s national park. From moderate hikes up to the craters to paved trails, there’s a trail option for every level of activity and mobility.
Hiking trails available at the park include routes to the summit of Kilauea and trails along the Chain of Craters Road such as:
- Ha’akulamanu (Sulphur Banks)
- Devastation Trail
- Crater Rim Trail
- Mauna Ulu / Pu’u Huluhulu
- Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs
Plus, if you’re an experienced hiker, the park also offers backcountry trails and campgrounds.
Should you choose to go hiking in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, wear appropriate attire, bring plenty of water, and wear ample sunscreen. Also bring layers, as it can be chilly in certain parts of the park.
4. Crater Rim Drive
For those not interested in hiking, you can still explore the natural beauty of the park from the comfort of your car. And, you won’t need to use a 4-wheel drive vehicle, either.
Crater Rim Drive is a 10.6-mile driving adventure beginning at the Kīlauea Visitor Center, located to the right as you enter the park. Be sure to stop into the Visitor Center for road conditions, information, and details on ranger-led activities before you begin your drive.
Along your drive, you’ll have the opportunity to stop and explore notable sites including:
- Steam Vents, Steaming Bluff and Ha’akulamanu – Sulphur Banks
- Kīlauea Iki Overlook
- Puʻu Puaʻi Overlook
- Devastation Trail
- Hike to Keanakākoʻi Crater
Always adhere to any road signs or warnings you may see throughout your drive. These rules and warnings are in place for the safety of all guests exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
5. Thurston Lava Tubes
After Kilauea, the Thurston Lava Tubes hike is one of the most popular things to do at the national park. This 500-year-old lava cave is an adventure unlike any other you’ve been on before!
Traditionally known as Nāhuku, the cave is the result of a lava eruption from Kilauea more than 550 years ago. Guests can enter the cave when the installed lights are on from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm or enter the cave in its dark natural state (using your own light source) from 8:00 pm to 10:00 am.
The entire experience takes no more than 30 minutes and includes handrails for those who may need it. Inside, you’ll find awe-inspiring natural formations, shimmering colors from light bouncing off of minerals, and a tropical rainforest waiting for you at the far end.
For those ready for an adventure, visit when the cave is pitch dark. The colors and atmosphere are far more intense (and less crowded) than during the day.
6. Volcano House
Did you know Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has its own hotel? You can stay right inside the park by booking a room at the Volcano House.
This quaint hotel features cozy accommodations which celebrate the natural landscape. From the decor to the amenities and on-site dining options, everything about Volcano House honors Hawaiian traditions, cultures, and history with regards to the national park.
In fact, you won’t find a single TV in the hotel rooms. Instead, the hotel encourages you to step outside and enjoy the park’s many activities, wonders, and sights.
If you’re interested in capturing a sunrise over the volcanic acres, there’s no better place to stay on the Big Island. Imagine waking up and seeing Halema’uma’u crater in the distance from your window. Now that’s a vacation!
If you’re more of the outdoorsy type, you can also reserve a cabin or campsite at Volcano House.
Quick Tips for Visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Whether you plan on visiting for a day or booking a room at Volcano House and spending the weekend, these tips will come in handy during your visit.
Follow All Signs and Rules
Due to Kilauea’s recent eruption activity as well as the natural occurrences within the park, certain roads or trails may be shut down or require a detour. Always follow road signs or any warnings put up around the park. Do not attempt to drive or trek on an unmarked or restricted road or trail.
While the park is 45 minutes from Hilo, it is also about 2.5-3 hours from Kona. If you are staying in these areas, keep your travel times in mind when planning your activities for the day.
Be Mindful of Your Step
Park Rangers advise all guests to stay away from sinkholes, cracks, and dangerous areas throughout the park. If you notice one during your activities, stay far away as these areas are naturally unstable and can cause injuries. After the recent volcanic activity in the area, visitors are advised to use caution at all times.
Do Not Hike After Dark
Even if you have a backcountry camping permit, do not hike after dark. The national park is prone to natural weather patterns and volcanic activity and is also home to wildlife which makes hiking conditions unsafe at night.
Get Ready for Your Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Trip
See? Did I really need to convince you to visit the park?