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  • Alexanna Nathan

10 Things To Do At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park That Are Hotter Than Lava

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

After years of constant eruptions, the lava button for Kilauea Volcano is on pause!

You may have heard about a destructive eruption in the news over the summer of 2018. That catastrophic flow inundated the lower Puna district, destroying 700 homes that stood in it’s path to the ocean.


And up at the Volcanoes National Park, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ to repair damage from the eruption and thousands of accompanying earthquakes. Buildings were damaged. Deep cracks remain on roads and trails. Water and sewer lines were broken. Not all of the most popular sites in the Park are open to the public yet. For safety reasons, they are closed until further notice.


Some of the temporarily closed locations include:

  • Jaggar Museum and Halema‛uma‛u Crater Overlook

  • Kilauea ‘Iki Crater Hike

  • Thurston Lava Tube


And that's not all. In fact, there are more and they can change on short notice. Check out the Park’s website when planning your trip.


But Volcanoes National Park remains a symbol of the resilience of the Big Island, and the miracle of nature.


And there’s still plenty to see!


If you're going to be visiting Volcanoes, grab the Shaka Guide Tour and check out our 10 favorite things to do here.


We’ll bet you have a hard time squeezing them all into just one day! We better get started…


1. KILAUEA VISITOR CENTER


This should be your first stop once you enter the Park. And it’s where you can get all of your questions answered. You can even map out your day with the help of a park ranger!

We love the big maps and videos of Park attractions you’ll find here since they can help you decide what you want to see.


What else is is there to do here?


Well, if you have children under 12 with you, ask about the Junior Park Ranger program. It’s a free program with an activity book that kids can complete while they’re visiting the Park.

And, one last thing while you’re here…


Check out the gift shop with special Hawaii souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else on the island!


2. CHAIN OF CRATERS ROAD

View Driving Down Chain of Craters Road / NPS Photo

At 18.8 miles one way, this is one of the best scenic drives on the Big Island. You’ll definitely want to make time for it! It starts about three miles south of the Visitor Center on Crater Rim Drive.


Is your camera ready?

Elevation changes about 3700 feet while you’re driving, and you’ll get lots of unforgettable pics.


Oh, and don’t wait until it’s too late..


There isn’t any food, water, or gas along the way, so stock up on what you’ll need before you get started. You can stop in at Volcano Village near the entrance to the Park to grab some gas and food.

If you need to use the restroom along the way, well, the Chain of Craters Road has vault-type toilets a few miles after the start, and at the end of the drive, so plan accordingly!

On the Park’s website, you can see the suggested stops along the way or be sure to ask at the Visitors Center.


3. PU‛ULOA PETROGLYPHS


Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Boardwalk / NPS photo - Jay Robinson

Okay, okay, technically this is one of the suggested stops on Chain of Craters Road we talked about just above, but

Hear us out…


We think it’s worthy of it’s own mention on this list and definitely worth the short hike you’ll take to see.


Why is that?


This is the largest petroglyph field in the State of Hawai‛i and scientists have geologically dated these petroglyphs between all the way back to 1200-1450 A.D.!


Pretty cool, isn’t it?


Now, about that hike, as I mentioned, it’s an easy 1.5 mile roundtrip hike over a level lava field. Although, a short hike it may be, if it’s a sunny day, you may still want to put on some sunscreen before heading out!


Why is that?


Because there’s more than 23,000 carved images out there to keep you busy. Of course, there’s no way you’ll be able to see all of them all, but it’s still awesome just to see a few of these rock carvings made so long ago.


4. CRATER RIM TRAIL


Additional sections of Crater Rim Trail are opening regularly.

This exciting trail circles the Kilauea summit caldera and it’s a fairly easy day hike where you’ll pass steam vents, see beautiful wild flowers, and witness land changes from desert to rain forest.


Before you head out…


You should check in with a park ranger to find out the most recent openings of this glorious trail, but at the time of writing this post, here’s what we have to work with:


  • Section 1 is open from Volcano House to Kilauea Military Camp.

  • Section 2 is open from Chain of Craters Road to Escape Road.

  • Section 3 is open for about a mile from the trailhead at Chain of Craters Road to the south rim of Keanakāko‛i Crater.

You can access the trail from several access points along the way. Just be sure to bring water and snacks with you, and be prepared for rain because sudden showers are common.


And, remember!


Check at the Visitors Center for more info before heading out!


5. DAY HIKES


Okay, looking at things on a more broad plane…Volcanoes National Park is jam packed with incredible trails with options to suit all experience levels. In fact, there’s just too many to list here!


That being said…


The current accessible day hikes are available on the Park’s website.

So, whether you’re an experienced hiker or a hiking newbie, there’s a full range of hikes for everybody. The easier hikes will take you through old lava tubes and rain forests.


Sounds fun, right?


There are also more challenging hikes and even organized hikes led by Park Rangers. Just ask at the Visitors Center and a ranger can help you pick the right hike for your skill level and how much time you have for the hike. Easy peasy.


6. VOLCANO ART CENTER



Since 1974, the Volcano Art Center has been a mecca for local visual artists displaying their artwork that embraces the beauty and power of the natural world. You will only see the highest quality of artwork in their gallery. Local artists consider it an honor to have their work displayed in this historic setting, and once you set your eyes on the artwork you’ll find here, you’ll see why!


The Center also has scheduled hula performances, special exhibitions, and cultural classes. You’ll love stepping into this warm artsy environment, and if you don’t watch the clock you may just be there all day.


(And I’m speaking from experience. 😄 )


7. SULPHUR BANKS


Known to ancient Hawaiians as Ha‛akulamanu, this is an easy 1.2 mile walk through a volcanic thermal area.


You’ll see steam coming up from the ground and colorful mineral deposits. Because of the underground heat, you won’t see many trees around.




What’s that smell?!?!


No, that’s not rotten eggs you’ll smell here. Although it stinks just as bad! It’s actually a mixture of sulfur gases. Gross smelling, sure, but don’t worry, they aren’t harmful on a short walk. However, I should warn you, if you have heart or respiratory problems like asthma, you’re pregnant, or have young children with you, it’s better to skip this walk.


8. HIKE THE KAHUKU UNIT


Ranger Noah Gomes explains the importance of ‘ōhi‘a lehua in native forests / NPS/Sierra McDaniel

The Kahuku Unit of the Park is accessed on Hwy 11 in Ka‛u near mile marker 70.5 about an hour south of the main park entrance.


Yes, the park is that big.


And this part of the Park has a rich history of ranching and Hawaiian traditions.

You can explore on your own, or take a ranger-guided hike to explore Kahuku and learn interesting facts about this special place.


Kahuku has many plant and animal species that are winning the struggle to survive.


Did you pack the binoculars? If you’re lucky, you just might spot endangered birds like the Hawaii ‘akepa or akiapōlā‛au.


9. FOOTPRINTS TRAIL

Here’s your chance to take a peek at ancient human footprints fossilized in the Ka‛u desert ash.


You heard right…


Fossilized human footprints! Now if that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is..



There are different legends about who the footprints belonged to. Some say warriors on the way to a battle with Kamehameha I were suddenly killed by an explosive eruption.

Scientists have also found footprints from other time periods—most likely belonging to unlucky travelers who were killed by poisonous volcanic gas and ash.


You can view the footprints by hiking in from the Ka‛u Desert Trailhead adjacent to Hwy 11, or via the Ka‛u Desert Trail from Crater Rim Drive.


Just do us a favor and stay on the marked trail--this area is fragile. Mahalos!


10. Volcano House Hotel and Restaurant



After a long day at the Park you just might want to spend the night at Volcano House, or enjoy fine dining in their Restaurant.


The original Volcano House was built in 1846 as a place for visitors to rest back when people would ride horses to see the Volcano. It took days just to get to the summit!


Here's a fun fact for you: one of the earliest famous visitors was the author Mark Twain.


From the restaurant, you’ll have awesome views of Halemaumau Crater. The chefs use the freshest seafood, fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed beef from Big Island ranches and farms.


You’ll love it.


Ready To Head To Volcanoes National Park?

You picked a great time! The lava has paused. The Park is a little calmer.


Now’s your chance to REALLY explore the Volcanoes National Park in all its glory.

Many visitors have come to see only the lava, and ended up missing out on the natural beauty surrounding it.


We’d love to hear about your visit. Leave a comment about your favorite place in the park or share your pics on Instagram.


Use #ShakaGuide so we can see ‘em too!


And don’t forget to check out our other Big Island driving tours, so we can come along on your next island drive.

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