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Big Island Sights

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

  • Hwy. 11
  • Volcano
  • Park (National/State/Provincial)
  • Fodor's Choice

Updated 01/06/2014

Fodor's Review

Since the latest eruption began in 1983, Kilauea Volcano has been adding new land to the Big Island rather steadily—except when a big shelf of recently cooled lava rock suddenly breaks off and crashes into the sea. Sometimes, molten lava will ooze from outbreaks on the southeast flank of Kilauea, until it meets the ocean, cools, and solidifies into a new ragged, rugged stretch of coastline. It's fire, earth, and water: creation at its most elemental. And if you are lucky

(volcano permitting) you can watch it happen. If you do nothing else on the Big Island, do the volcano.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park sprawls over 520 square miles and encompasses Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the five volcanoes that formed the Big Island nearly half a million years ago.

Kilauea, the youngest and most rambunctious of Hawaii's volcanoes, has erupted intermittently at its summit from the 19th century through the present, sometimes slowing to near inactivity.

Kilauea's eastern side has been percolating since January 3, 1983, often sending lava downslope into the ocean, primarily from the Puu Oo Vent. The lava flows are generally steady and slow, appearing above ground and disappearing into subterranean lava tubes. And the volcano doesn't only create, it destroys. In the late '80s and early '90s, lava flows engulfed and demolished the coastal town of Kalapana, and homes continue to be lost to slow-moving lava flows to this day.

The caldera at the summit of Kilauea is a contrast of lush rainforest surrounding a massive gray and black pit (about 2 miles in diameter) that pushes out plumes of steam and volcanic gas. It is an eerie, awe-inspiring sight.

Within and around the caldera are several smaller craters—at this writing Halemaumau Crater was erupting—and excellent hiking trails. Try the moderate Kilauea Iki Crater Rim hike, which takes you around the edge and then down across the floor of the crater. You won't see lava but there is still plenty of steam emitting from cracks in the earth.

No matter what you decide to do, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a top place to visit in Hawaii. Even if lava-viewing conditions aren't ideal, you can hike and camp amid wide expanses of aa (rough) and pahoehoe (smooth) lava, a fascinating experience. (Be sure to obtain a backcountry pass.)

Begin your visit to the park at the Kilauea Visitor Center, which has maps, books, and DVDs; information on trails, ranger-led walks, and special events; and current weather, road, and lava-viewing conditions, as well as bulletins about that day's activities.

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Sight Information


Hwy. 11, Volcano, Hawaii, 96718, United States




Sight Details:

  • $10 per car for 7 days, $5 for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Daily 24 hrs., Kilauea Visitor Center daily 7:45–5

Updated 01/06/2014


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Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
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Feb 8, 2011

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Review

We went here this past weekend. We enjoyed the museum area. What is not being told to the public is that the lava has now gone onto private property. The owners are charging $50 to go onto their property to access the lava. Be warned!

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Jul 19, 2007

An American Treasure

Wow. That's what you will say over and over agin during your visit. My husband and I could have stayed an entire week easily just in this park. The landscape is so rugged and eerie, just unforgettable. We didn't see flowing lava while we were there but there was so many amazing things to see, we were not disapointed in the least. Some of the hikes were tough but well worth it especially to see the petroglyphs!

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May 8, 2007

Take a helicopter tour to where the action is

If you're interested in endless craters with nothing in them, or have an interest in geology, this place is for you. If you're there to see an actual volcano eruption and active lava flow, you're not going to see it here. So don't waste the limited precious time you have, and take a helicopter tour (I recommend Blue Hawaiian) where they will take you to the mouth of the volcano enabling you to see the actual eruption, lava flow and see it hitting

the water forming a black sand beach right before your eyes (the helicopter actually becomes hot, but no need to worry, they have an excellent safety record). The big saving grace of this park is the reasonable price--$10 for the whole week. I know my review will be sacreligious for a lot of people because this place is a popular destination, but we had people on the helicopter tour who felt the same way (like they wasted their time at the park when they could only see the activity from the helicopter anyway)

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