Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Big Island

hawaii-volcano-touch-lava_123755986The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the largest and most popular site to visit out of the entire Hawaiian Island Chain. The park is located approximately 45 minutes outside of The Big Island’s major city, Hilo. It is a beautiful drive beginning on a two lane highway that slowly turns into a single lane highway as you pass the small town of Keaau. You will pass through many small towns with stops available for gas, food, and restroom use.

As you continue to drive to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will slowly be climbing in elevation and may experience low clouds and misty rain in some areas before entering the park. The vegetation is lush and perfectly green. You will notice that the types of plants and trees also change as you near the Volcano Town that sits right outside of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This town has restaurants, a small shopping mart, gas station, and restrooms where you can pick up snacks and water for your trip.

The entire Hawaii Volcanoes National Park crosses The Big Island’s two regions of Puna and Kau. It stretches approximately 333,000 acres measuring from the top of Maunaloa Mountain to the sea. In Hawaii, this area is called an ahupuaa. What makes this park the most popular, is that it is home to the world’s most active volcano – Kilauea Volcano. This volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983.

The Hawaii National Parks area is a very sacred place to the Hawaiian people. Before the land became a park, it was home to many ancient Hawaiians where they worked and lived. Respect is still given to this area of land that is home to some of the most beautiful Native Hawaiian plants, trees, flowers, and wildlife. It is still a reverend place where traditional Hawaiian practices still occur. When visiting the park, embrace this place by respecting the land and its animals that reside in the park’s forests as great care has been given to keep this area flourishing.

Park Access

Access to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is granted daily to all visitors, including Sundays and holidays. The park never closes and is open 24 hours a day. The entrance fees are $10 per vehicle, which is valid for seven days. If you are entering the park by foot or bicycle, the entry fee is $5, which is valid for seven days as well. Those under the age of 15 entering by foot or bicycle may enter the park at no extra charge. These rates have remained consistent over the years. On special holidays or specific park events, the entrance fee is waived for all visitors. Upon entering the park, you will then be given the latest updates on the volcanic activity and what roads have closed or have been opened to the public.

Park Visitor Center

The main visitor center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Kilauea Visitor Center. This will be your first stop before planning your day of activity at the park. The center is open daily, including weekends and holidays, from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It offers all visitors a little history about the park, the wildlife, the native plants, eruption updates, samples of old lava flows, hiking trail information, park maps, and Hawaiian souvenirs and books. Every hour, on the hour, an informational movie is played in its small theatre to introduce visitors to the park and the history of volcanic activity on the island. You can even have a chance to speak personally with a park ranger if you have any questions about your visit. Water and restrooms are also available.

Health Advisory

Due to the continuous lava flow from Kilauea Volcano into the Pacific Ocean, there is an advisory posted at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for those with heart or breathing conditions. At times, gases and sulfur dioxide from the volcano is emitted and can be intense. When these particles come in contact with oxygen, moisture, and sunlight, it turns into volcanic smoke, or what the local Hawaiian people refer to as “vog”. Vog is known to cause seasonal allergy symptoms, as well as difficulty breathing, especially for those that suffer from respiratory health conditions or asthma.

Park Lodging

There is lodging available within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the Volcano House Hotel. The Volcano house has recently reopened in the Fall of 2012, where it now offers visitors sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for your day’s journey if you didn’t already come prepared. There are also two camping sites available – Namakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki. The Namakanipaio camp site has cabins, which are owned by the Volcano Lodge Company that also owns the Volcano House Hotel. Camping at both sites are available free of charge with no permits or reservations required. The camp sites are based on a first come, first serve basis only and are monitored by park rangers.

Eruption/Lava Flow Viewing

The lava flow from Kilauea Volcano can be viewed from designated areas in the park. If you want a spectacular view of Kilauea Volcano’s Halemaumau Crater, you can take a drive to the Jagger Museum in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The viewing area gives you an up close and personal view of the majestic and powerful crater. At night, the view is even more spectacular with the glow of orange in the night’s sky. Haleamaumau Crater has been active since March of 2008. Famous viewings of the park’s current and old lava flows also are available on the Crater Rim Drive and the Chain of Craters Road. The popular scenic stops on the Crater Rim Drive include the Puu Puai Overlook, Sulpher Bank, Devastation Trail, Steam Bluffs, Kilauea Iki, and Thurston Lava Tubes. The Chain of Craters road is 20 miles long a decent of 3,700 feet. It ends where the lava crossed the road in 2003 near the Pacific Ocean. There is no gas, food, or water, so be prepared. There is a stop that includes a lookout, restrooms, and a picnic area about 10 miles into the drive.

Park Hiking Trails

There are a variety of designated hiking trails within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near the Kilauea summit and along the Chain of Craters road. It is highly advised that you obtain a hiking map and stay on the hiking trails. The terrain is rough with rocks, old lava, and old lava tubes that can be very dangerous and even life-threatening. It is also advised that you wear shoes with a gripping sole, long pants such as jeans, a light long sleeve shirt as temperatures can change from the high 90s to the 50s, a hat, jacket, water, food, first aid kit, and a whistle or small compact mirror. Remember to keep hydrated to enjoy the beauty of the native trees, plants, and birds. You may even come across Hawaii’s endangered Nene bird.