Visitor's Guide to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kīlauea Iki Crater

Kīlauea Iki Crater

Located on the largest island of the most remote archipelago on the planet, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park offers a fascinating glimpse into the geologic processes that make Hawai’i special. The park has much to offer for travelers seeking a rugged, “real” view of Hawai’i along with fascinating history, intriguing geology, and unique biology. One of our favorite ways to experience this magical place is to head out on one of the park’s stunning day-hikes. Read on for a guide to the most interesting attractions and hikes, plus tips on getting there and what to bring.

Park Hours & Fees

The park itself is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week even on holidays. The park may close during unsafe volcanic events.

$25 per non-commercial vehicle, valid for 1 week

$12 per pedestrian or bicycle valid for 1 week

15 years or younger no fee

$20 per motorcycle valid for 1 week

$50 Tri-park Annual Pass (Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and Haleakalā National Park) valid for 1 year

Main Attractions

Crater Rim Drive Tour: The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spans around 505 square miles (1,309 square km) encompassing Kīlauea Volcano and most of Mauna Loa Volcano, with many different attractions. Touring through the park by car is a crowd favorite; because the park is so large walking through it is not an ideal way to experience it. This driving tour takes you through many of the main attractions of the park. Parking lots are available and marked on maps at notable overlooks and historical areas. This popular tour also highlights some short day hikes.

The most popular attraction at the park is Kīlauea Visitor Center; located just past the park entrance with regular daily business hours 9am-5pm. Guides and rangers are present during business hours and can provide tons of information about the park. The visitor center offers engaging exhibits on the formation of the islands, Polynesian explorers, endemic wildlife, and the cultural significance of the park. This is the first stop of the Crater Rim Drive Tour.

Steam Vents and Sulfur Banks…Mmmm! While sniffing rotten eggs doesn’t sound very appealing, stopping to see these vents and cracks along the crater rim road is actually a fascinating educational opportunity (think the Hawaiian version of Yellowstone). Please be sure to stay on the trails as the steam and surrounding ground is extremely hot and dangerous.

The Kīlauea Iki Crater was once a boiling, molten lava lake that shot lava thousands of feet high during intense eruptions in the 1950s. As you stop along the Crater Rim Drive Tour you can stand here at the rim of the Kīlauea Iki Crater and see all the way across its one mile (1.6 km) diameter. For the more adventurous, a moderate/challenging 2.4-mile oneway hike along the rim and down into the crater gives a different perspective, but be careful on the steep hike back out. This is a ranger favorite hike for viewing native bird species, such as the bright red ‘Apapane (Hawaiian Honeycreeper) as you walk through forests of ō’hi‘a blooms.

A short distance away is the Pu’u Pua’i Overlook which shows the cinder cone resulting from the fountain of lava spewed from Kīlauea Iki in the late 1950s. With some active imagination and information from park rangers, it is easy to see how the spewing lava was scattered in the trade winds to fall and create an impressive landscape here. Keep your eyes peeled for the ‘io, or Hawaiian Hawk, as they are commonly seen circling high above the lookout points.

The next stop of the driving tour is the menacing sounding but family-friendly Devastation Trail. It is an easily accessible, mild walk along the trail to see the complete destruction of the vegetation from the ash fallout from the 1959 eruption of Kīlauea Iki. From this parking lot, you can walk the 1-mile trek to Keanakako Crater. Please note: beyond this, some parts of the crater rim drive are closed due to the 2018 eruptions.

Lehua blossoms on an ō’hi‘a tree.

Lehua blossoms on an ō’hi‘a tree.

Chain of Craters Road: Noted as an “exceptionally scenic and spectacular drive,” this 18.8 mile (30.3 km) drive takes you from the crater rim drive to the coast with 10 marked stops along the way. Be aware there are no rest-stops with fuel or food services. Rudimentary bathroom facilities are available at the end of the drive. Many recent (and ancient) lava flows in this area covered and destroyed the historical sites, but the mana (power, spirit) can still be felt. Particularly at the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs toward the end of the road. This is the largest grouping of petroglyphs known of in the entire state. There is a mellow 1.5 mile (2.4km) walk along a boardwalk to get a closer view. Towards the end of the Chain of Craters Road is one of the most scenic spots: the 90ft (27.5m) tall Hōlei Sea Arch.

For more information on day-hiking options and to find links to trail maps, click here. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, eco-friendly sunblock (no sprays, please!), and light rain gear. The volcano rests at a high elevation, so the weather can change suddenly. Be prepared for intense sun and heat but also cool cloud cover with rain. Back-country hiking/camping is allowed with a pre-purchased permit but has limited availability and sites may be closed with short notice due to a low water supply.

Bonus: Kahuku Unit: The Kahuku Unit, south on Highway 11 from the visitor center, highlights ranger-guided tours and is a must-do for anyone interested in learning more about the restoration of endemic plants and animals in Volcano. For many years, efforts have been made here to restore and preserve the native ō’hi‘a lehua forests and help them recover from Rapid ō’hi‘a Death disease. Conservation efforts are also made here to protect the Nene (Hawaiian Goose). Walk through lush trails that highlight more native flora such as the giant Hapu’u, or tree fern. This area has limited operating hours: Wed-Sun 9am-4pm.

Recent Volcanic Activity

Kilauea Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is somewhat unpredictable. At the time of writing this article (June 2019), there is no visible flowing lava anywhere within the park. This does, however, mean that the air quality is better than you would expect during an active flow period. Please check here for a list of the most current closures and safety alerts. Be aware that park closures may occur with little to no warning due to unsafe conditions. Due to the volcanic activity in 2018, there are some areas and attractions within the park that are closed at the time of writing this article.

Current closures include:

Thurston Lava Tube

Jaggar Museum

Crater Rim Drive (between Kilauea Military Camp and Jaggar Museum)

Crater Rim Trail belong Kilauea Military Camp

‘Iliahi Trail

Crater Rim Trail from Volcano House to Kīlauea Iki

Hilina Pali Road past Kulanaokuaiki Campground is closed to vehicles

Getting There/Directions (from Kona)

Most travelers don’t realize just how big the Big Island actually is, especially compared to the other Hawaiian islands. The best way to get from Kona to Volcano Park is by car. Public transportation is very limited on this island, so do not count on taking the Hele-On bus system for regular travel. The current bus schedule does not include a direct route from Kona to Volcano, but rather Kona around the north side of the island to Hilo, and then Hilo to the Volcano/Ka’u. If you must go by bus, it’s best to plan to stay the night in Hilo. Follow this link for our blog covering transportation around the island, including rental cars and public transit.

If you do have access to a car, getting from Kona to Volcano is fairly straightforward. Head south on Highway 11 all the way around the south end of the island to Volcano, 96 miles (154.5 km), approximately a 2.5 hour drive. There are plenty of signs along the way and the park entrance is well marked and easy to find. The park is only 30 miles (48.2 km) southwest of Hilo on Highway 11.

Hōlei Sea Arch.

Hōlei Sea Arch.

Camping & Lodging at the park

There are many options for lodging within the park itself. The most popular is through the famous Volcano House, where camping, cabins, and simple hotel rooms are available (limited occupancy and high demand). While the hotel accommodations are quite expensive ($200+ per night), the lodge also offers a variety of camping options with campsite amenities included. After paying the park entrance fee, you must also pay $15 per night for campsite rental, or $40 per night with a tent included. The lodge will even set up your equipment for you. Camper cabins are available by reservation only.

For other camping accommodations, check out the two different campgrounds at the park:

Nāmakanipaio Campground, located across the road from the park entrance

$15 per night drive-in sites, max stay 7 nights

Restrooms

Water

Picnic tables

BBQ pits (campfires permitted ONLY in BBQ)

Higher elevation; cooler temps at night (30-50 degrees F, 0-10 degrees C)

Kulanaokuaiki Campground, located along the Chain of Craters Road inside the park

$10 per night, max stay 7 nights

NO WATER

Rudimentary toilets (no running water)

NO FIRES ALLOWED

Lower elevation, warmer temps at night (40-60 degrees F, 4.4-15.5 degrees C)

On the Way Home

When you are ready to drive back to Kona, make sure to stop at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach 29 miles (46.7 km) south on Highway 11. Take a break from the car and check out the unique black sand where turtles like to haul out and nap during the day. Please respect the wildlife and stay at least 20 feet away from the turtles. For a quick bite to eat and another chance to stretch your legs, stop at the Punalu’u Bake Shop, a 15-minute drive south of the black sand beach. Sample their world-famous tropical fruit flavored sweetbreads, grab a coffee for the road, and pick-up a dozen malasadas (Portuguese donuts), for your new friends at the hostel (wink, wink).

Phew! That was an adventure. Don’t forget to tag us in your photos on Facebook and Instagram @myhawaiihostel for a chance to be featured on our page!