Kilauea Volcano has been spewing lava rather dramatically since its current eruption began in 1984, and it shows no signs of abating. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses two of the volcanoes (Kilauea and Mauna Loa) that helped form the Big Island nearly half a million years ago. If you do nothing else on the Big Island, make an effort to see the volcanoes. Many people stay overnight on the Big Island just to see the lava flow glowing against the night sky.
Begin your visit at the Visitor Center, where you’ll find maps, books, and DVDs; information on trails, ranger-led walks, and special events; and current weather, road, and lava-viewing conditions. Free volcano-related film showings, lectures, and other presentations are regularly scheduled. Rangers lead daily walks at 10:30 and 1:30 into different areas; check with the Visitor Center for details as times and destinations depend on weather conditions and eruptions. Over 60 companies hold permits to lead hikes at HVNP.
with limited time may want to just drive the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, which has both scenic viewpoints and short trails into the lava fields. If you have a bit more time, you can see the eastern side of the park on the 20-mile Chain of Craters Road.
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.)
Weather conditions fluctuate daily, sometimes hourly. It can be rainy and chilly even during the summer; the temperature usually is 14º cooler at the 4,000-foot-high summit of Kilauea than at sea level. Expect hot, dry, and windy coastal conditions at the end of Chain of Craters Road. Bring rain gear, and wear layered clothing, sturdy shoes, sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen. Also bring snacks and water if you plan to hike or stay a while.
“Vog” (volcanic smog) can cause headaches; breathing difficulties; lethargy; irritations of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; and other health problems. Pregnant women, young children, and people with asthma and heart conditions are most susceptible, and should avoid areas such as Halemaumau Crater where fumes are thick. Wear long pants and boots or closed-toe shoes with good tread for hikes on lava. Stay on marked trails and step carefully. Lava is composed of 50% silica (glass) and can cause serious injury if you fall. Remember that these are active volcanoes, and eruptions can cause parts of the park to close at any time. Check the park’s website or call ahead for last-minute updates before your visit.