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Hawaii Volcanos National Park Trip Planning
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an absolute must-visit attraction on the Big Island. It is the largest volcano national park in the world, and its centerpiece, Kilauea, is an active volcano. In the 20th century alone, Kilauea erupted 45 times, and it continues to exhibit active volcanic activity, with occasional lava flows. Witnessing lava at Hawaii's volcanoes is one of the most popular activities on the Big Island.
The entire Hawaii Volcanoes National Park covers a vast area of 134,795 hectares, which can be divided into three parts according to the roads you drive. Crater Rim Drive, which surrounds Kiluaea Volcano, Chain of Craters Road, which connects to Crater Rim Drive and extends south to the ocean, and the Kahuku Unit on the south side of the Big Island are all volcanic landscapes, with the main difference being the age of the three areas. Crater Rim Drive is currently the most active, while Chain of Craters Road has many traces of the 1974 eruption, and the Kahuku Unit is the oldest, with the terrain formed by the 1808 eruption.
Our Hawaii Volcanoes 2-day itinerary is planned roughly:
- Day 1: From the previous day's accommodation on the west coast of the Big IslandKonaAfter a short stop at the Kilauea visitor center, I walked along the Crater Rim Drive to see all the open attractions north of the visitor center. After a short stop at the Kilauea visitor center, I walked along Crater Rim Drive to see all the open attractions north of the visitor center. In the evening, I wanted to see the lava, but there was no volcanic activity that day.
- Day 2: Headed south from the Visitor Center, walked the 4 mile Kilauea Iki trail in the morning, then continued south to play Crater Rim Drive to the Chain of Crater Roads, and walked most of the important trails. In the evening, we went back to Volcano House for dinner, and then went to see the lava that we didn't see the night before.
Overall, the average tourist will arrange a one-day or two-day tour in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you are in a hurry and just want to cover the sights on Crater Rime Drive, a half or one day trip is feasible. I personally recommend to stay for two days. Besides the fact that you need at least one and a half days to complete all the attractions in the park, the most important reason is that the magma must be viewed at night, and the magma's activity level varies, so it is not a sure thing that you can see it even if you stay for one night. Even if you don't see the magma, crater landscape will be due to weather relations have great changes, reserve two days or even three days time to have a good chance to get a complete experience. In addition, Hawaii Volcano Park is located in a city on the east coast of the Big Island.HiloHilo itself is a pretty interesting city, so if you're lucky enough to see all the sights early, you can go to Hilo for a day.
As for whether or not you need to join a tour, I think if you have a good budget or really have too little time, you can consider a helicopter tour, which is fast and convenient, and you can also see the volcano from different angles. If you come at a time when the magma activity is active enough and there is no suitable place to see it in the park, sometimes there are some privately run magma tours that you can consider joining, but it seems to be quite rare in recent years due to the volcanic activity. In most cases, driving for two days is the most recommended way to go.
Volcanoes National Park Accommodation Search
Crater Rim Drive Viewpoint
Crater Rim Drive is the main attraction area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you have limited time, it is best to focus on this area, and you should be able to arrange a whole day just by walking this part of the trail. In the past, you could drive around Crater Rim Drive, but due to the volcanic eruption a few years ago, only half of the drive is open now. If you are entering the park from the east, you can start from the visitor center, walk or drive through the Sulpher banks, Steam vents, and Kilauea Overlook, and then go back to the south, after the east entrance, there are Kilauea Iki Overlook and Thurston Lava Tube, you can walk around the Kilauea Iki Overlook and Thurston Lava Tube if you have time. If you have time, you can walk the Kilauea Iki Trail, which is also home to the Volcano House, the only restaurant and hotel in the park.
Kilauea visitor center
Entering Crater Rim Drive from the east entrance of the park, the first stop is the visitor center, Kilauea visitor center is the main visitor center of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea visitor center is the main visitor center of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I suggest you to stop by the visitor center to learn about the best way to get around, eruptions, etc. This is an active volcano. Because this is an active volcano, the terrain is constantly changing, and the ranger will remind us of the best places to see the magma eruption on that day. If, like us, you've only read some of the older information on the internet, it's a good idea to make a trip to collect the latest information. We visited Hawaii Volcanoes Park in the spring of 2022, and when we arrived at the visitor center, we learned that due to the 2017 eruption, many of the popular attractions on Crater Rim Drive are no longer open.
Another option, besides coming to the Visitor Center and asking questions on the spot, is to stop by the Visitor Center before entering the National Park. the official websiteResearch the latest status on the website, especially if you want to see the magma, the official website is updated daily on theMagma NewsMake sure you refer to it so you don't make a wasted trip.
Volcano house is the only hotel and restaurant in the Volcano National Park. Don't look at its ordinary appearance, but in fact, it occupies the best location with the best scenery in the park. Although it's not cheap to stay or eat here, it's a great pleasure to lie in the room or sit by the window and eat, while looking at the lava lake, isn't it? That's why the rooms are always fully booked. Outside the hotel, there is also a trail, you can see the crater quite clearly.
Sulpher Banks is a sulfur bank. A short 0.3 mile wooden trail extends from the Visitor Center, and you can reach it after passing through a forest. This trail can be extended all the way to Steam Vents and then back to the visitor center through the Crater Rim Trail on the other side, so if you like hiking, you can try it. Sulphur smoke can be seen everywhere along the trail.
As we approached the Sulpher banks, the smoke got thicker and the sulfur smell started to get heavier. I think the whole landscape is very similar to this one.Lassen Volcanic National ParkDevil's Kitchen, but the sulfur flavor is not as strong.
Steam Vents can be accessed from the Sulpher Banks Trail or by driving to the Steam Vents parking lot. From here we can walk to the edge of the crater cliffs to see the Steaming bluff, the so-called Steam Vents are just next to the parking lot, two big holes in the ground from which a lot of hot air from the volcano comes out. The fog is like smoke from a steamer, hence the name Steam Vents.
Steaming bluff overlook
From Steam Vents, we walked to the trail on the edge of the cliff, the whole road was covered in fog, this is Steaming bluff. The trail is actually quite long and we were actually walking on the edge of the cliff, but most of the time we couldn't see the mountain because of the fog, and only once in a while, when the wind blew, we could see the cliffs underneath our feet. It felt like the whole mountain was smoking, just like a volcano breathing.
This side of the Kilauea overlook is looking at Halema'uma'u crater, which is a pretty huge crater, and if you've seen pictures on the internet, it used to be much less deep than this, and was often seen as a lake full of magma before 2018. After the last big eruption, the magma has spewed out (destroying the Jagger museum further north in the process), so we now see much less magma, and the hole has gotten deeper, but it's still a great place to observe a magma lake. We actually came to this spot several times. At the beginning, we could only see a fog because there was no wind for several days. When we came back again, the weather was better and we could see Halema'uma'u crater very clearly.
This is the current northern terminus of Crater Rim Drive and the highest point on the rim. Slightly north of the Kilauea overlook, it offers a different perspective of Halema'uma'u crater, a point of sacred religious significance to the local Aboriginal people.
Kilauea Iki Trail
If you have enough time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we recommend you to take the Kilauea Iki Trail. There are not many parking lots, and the weather is hot in the volcanic area, so the best time to come here is early in the morning. This trail goes around the Kilauea Iki Crater, half of the trail is on the edge of the crater, and half is inside the crater, adding up to 4 miles a lap, and on the way back, you will pass by the Thurston lava tube, which will take about 2-3 hours.
If you don't want to walk that long, you can walk clockwise from the trailhead to Kilauea Iki Overlook. From the Overlook, you can see the whole Kilauea Iki Crater directly, and the white trace in the middle is the second half of the trail.
We walked counterclockwise from the trailhead at the parking lot. The first part of the walk was on the cliff edge, and when we got to the open area, we could see the Kilauea Iki Crater below quite clearly, and the rest of the first half of the walk was in the middle of the tropical rainforest.
On the trail, you may occasionally encounter Hawaii's native pheasants.
Walked to the other end of the crater, from here the trail started to sink down gradually, and started to approach the bottom of the crater. As we got closer, we could see that there was hardened magma underneath our feet, and when we stepped on it, it felt like soft mud. The white trail we see in front of us is the trail that crosses the crater. After walking down, we started to have some geological explanation.
In the past, there was a volcanic eruption that erupted from the location where you can still see the red soil. How high did the magma erupt at that time? Taipei 101 was 509 meters high, and the eruption at that time was 579 meters high, even higher than Taipei 101.
The lava beds in this area started to harden in the 90s and became this spectacular shape, which should have been a magma lake before. It's amazing to see that there are still plants struggling to grow out of the crevices.
Walk through the entire crater and then look back at this spectacular piece of lava.
Thurstan Lava Tube
The Thurstan lava tube can be accessed by the Kilauea Iki trail, which is a one-way rainforest trail before entering the lava tube. This is a fairly large lava tube, or tunnel formed by magma, discovered in 1913 by a businessman named Thurstan, so it is named after him. Lava tubes are formed when liquid magma flows and cools quickly, forming a solid crust. This hard surface crust creates an insulating effect that maintains the temperature inside the channel so that the magma can flow through it. If the supply of magma ceases, the magma inside will continue to flow downward, and eventually only empty tunnels remain. This tunnel is so large that even a group of people walking in it don't feel crowded. Imagine the magma flowing in it before, it is quite amazing.
Pu'u pua'i Overlook
Pu'u Pua'i is a plateau above the Kilauea Iki Crater, which is above the red earth eruption crater that you saw when you were walking along the Kilauea Iki trail. From here, you can see Kilauea iki crater from another angle, and it also leads to several other trails, including the entrance to the devastation trail. After passing this point, you will enter the Chain of craters road.
Nighttime Magma Watching
When we came here, the place where we could observe the magma at night was from the Pu'upua'i parking lot here, and we walked along the old crater rim road for 1.5 miles to get there. The observation point may change as the magma activity changes, and the level of activity may also vary. Although it is a short walk, it is a rare and interesting experience to see the eruption of a volcano.
We arrived at our destination just before sunset, where the park had arranged a temporary viewing area. In fact, the activity level of the volcano can be seen from a distance, if you see a lot of smoke, it means that there is a lot of magma on that day. As we watched the sunset here, the magma activity became more and more obvious, and from time to time, we could see a little bit of magma spraying upwards.
Chain of Craters Road Viewpoints
Chain of Craters Road is a scenic roadway that extends 19 miles south and was first established in 1928. It is called Chain of Craters because the road is literally full of craters, which are pit craters, usually occurring in bunches as the earth becomes hollow and sinks downward. The old Chain of Craters road was destroyed by the Maunaulu eruption in 1969, and the magma was active here until 1974, creating the series of magma ruins we see today, which you can see on the National Parks website if you are interested.Photographs of the eruption at that timeThe Chain of Craters Road we are now traveling on was reconstructed and opened in 1979. The Chain of Craters Road, which we are now traveling on, was reconstructed and opened in 1979. Driving down the road, you can get a very clear picture of how this large area of magma flowed at that time and how extensive it was. Most of the sightseeing spots are at the roadside viewpoints, and it takes almost half a day to drive through.
This is the first crater we encountered after entering the Chain of craters road. In 1974, due to volcanic activity, this crater was also filled with magma and turned into a magma lake. The magma has since drained away, but we can still see the high points of the lake here.
We also saw several Hawaiian Geese, known locally as Nene, while we were here.
Puhimau means forever smoking, because there is actually a not-so-large vapor hole in the crater, where the greenery on the far side of the rock wall in the photo is, and it is still smoking.
Pauahi crater is a triple pit crater, meaning that there were three eruptions, in May 1973, November 1973 and 1979 respectively. It is also said that in 1973 aMagma VortexIt is also a sacred place for the local Aboriginal people, so you can see some religious decorations along the trail. It is also a sacred site for the local Aboriginal people, so you will occasionally see some religious decorations along the trail.
Mauna Ulu Eruption Trail
There are a few different trails at the Napau trailhead. Originally, we came here to walk to Pu'u huluhulu which is 1.3 miles away, but due to time constraints, we switched to the Mauna Ulu Eruption trail, a small loop trail, to check out the remnants of the 1969 eruption vent. It was a different experience from Kiluea Iki Crater, although we were walking on the same lava, the vegetation here was already very dense.
Mau Loa o Maunaulu
This is the starting point of Keauhou trail, you can see the sea when you drive here, the Keauhou trail junction is worth to stop and have a look. You may wonder why there is no trail at the trailhead, this trail is a backcountry trail, which goes straight through the magma all the way to the beach, ending at the backcountry campsite next to the beach. in fact, there were two small craters here before 1969, but because of the eruption of the volcano changed the topography of the area this side of the start. The super large lava flow is the famous 1969-74 lava flow, the chain of craters road we are driving now crosses this large lava flow, and we will continue to see its remains along the way. Standing here, you can imagine the so-called "lava flow into the sea".
As we drove along the lava towards the sea, the scenery became more and more beautiful, Kealakomo Overlook is a famous scenic spot, and the view of the whole lava flowing into the sea that I mentioned earlier was imagined in a different way here. The volcano creates and destroys at the same time: the lava of 1969 created 210 square meters of new land, but underneath our feet was once an abandoned fishing village, which the lava completely covered over, and now there is no trace of it left.
Alanui Kahiko (Old chain of craters road ruins)
Alanui Kahiko is 100 feet down, and there is still a small section of the old chain of craters road covered with lava. Looking back up, what used to be a cliff is now a gentle slope, transformed by the flowing lava.
From the trailhead here in Puʻuloa, it's a 0.7 mile hike up into the volcanic lava, which is not so easy. There is a wooden walkway near the mural, and here you begin to see the ancient boulders on the ground, covered with Native American murals. The boulders were originally formed by the cooling of the magma. Some people believe that the Aborigines regarded this location as a sacred place, and when something important happened, they would walk to this place and use the murals on the boulders to write down the important events in their families, their lives, their illnesses, and their deaths. It is also said that when people traveled to this place, they used symbols to record the number of people who traveled with them. Although there are different stories, these symbols are all related to people. It is interesting to note that these murals still exist today and have not been affected by subsequent volcanic activity.
Hōlei Sea Arch
Hōlei Sea Arch is the end of the Chain of craters road. Visitors stop and walk across the last section of the road to the observation deck, where they can see the sea arch standing with one foot on the Pacific Ocean. In the past, visitors used to come here to watch the sunset and then enjoy the lava, but now the lava has been diverted.
Compared to Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Crater Roads, Kahuku Unit is very less crowded and the opening hours are short, only open until 4pm on weekends. If it wasn't for the fact that we were driving from the west on a weekend, it would have been easy to miss it. Although Kahuku Unit is also a volcano site, the eruption of magma here was a hundred years ago, and most of the area is now a grassy field with a lot of vitality. Most of the area is now grassy and vibrant. Many of the places are not reminiscent of a volcano, but more like a Windows desktop, which is a good example of the power of nature.
Pu'u o Lukuana trail
We followed ranger's suggestion and came here to take the Pu'u o Lokuana trail to join the 1868 lava flows, forming a figure of eight circle with a distance of about 2 miles. As I said earlier, the terrain here is formed by the 1868 lava flows, so the whole way we walk on the trail is actually the lava flows cooled down more than a hundred years ago. Although the trail looks very much like hiking in the mountains at first sight, with lush greenery, it is actually not flat at the bottom of our feet.
In the middle part of the trail there are still remnants of a former secret military radar station, which shows the age of the area. Deeper in the trail you will also see large areas of cold lava like we have seen elsewhere, except that there are more plants growing here. The trail can be a bit difficult to recognize around here, so follow the stacked rocks.
On the way back through Pu'u o Lukuana cinder cone, the trail goes to the top of the cinder cone and you can see the whole cave, it's quite spectacular.
Finally, descending from the cinder cone, this view also shows the sea view of the south end of the island.
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