13 Best Sights in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Vicinity, Big Island

Chain of Craters Road

Fodor's choice

The coastal region of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is accessed via the spectacularly scenic Chain of Craters Road, which descends 18.8 miles to sea level. You could drive it without stopping, but it's well worth spending a few hours or a day exploring the stops and trails. Winding past ancient craters and modern eruption sites, this scenic road was realigned in 1979 after parts of it were buried by the Mauna Ulu eruption. Marked stops along the way include Lua Manu Crater, Hilina Pali Road, Pauahi Crater, the Mauna Ulu eruption site, Kealakomo Lookout, and Puu Loa Petroglyphs. As you approach the coast, panoramic ocean vistas prevail. The last marked stop features views of the stunning natural Holei Sea Arch from an overlook. In recent decades, many former sights along the coast have been covered in lava, including a black-sand beach and the old campground.

Halemaumau Crater

Fodor's choice

For Native Hawaiians, Halemaumau Crater is the sacred home of Pele, the fire goddess; for scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, this mighty pit crater within the massive Kilauea Caldera is an ever-changing force to be reckoned with. Prior to Kilauea's 2018 eruption, Halemaumau’s visible lava lake awed visitors for 10 consecutive years. Then Puu Oo Vent, which had been erupting farther away in the East Rift Zone for 35 years, collapsed in April 2018. As lava from the vent drained, so did the lava lake at Halemaumau Crater. A relentless series of seismic events at the summit followed, doubling the diameter of Halemaumau Crater and deepening it by 1,300 feet, and a lake of water began forming, eventually growing to 160 feet deep. On December 20, 2020, an eruption within the crater instantly vaporized the water lake, sending molten lava cascading into the crater from vents within the walls and commencing the return of an active lava lake to Halemaumau intermittently throughout 2021. There are many places in the park to view the magnificent crater, including at the Steaming Bluff Overlook and at Volcano House hotel. To get a glimpse of the lava lake during an eruption phase, there is a lookout area between the Steam Vents and the former Jaggar Museum area; another lookout point is on the crater's other side near the Devastation Trail parking lot. For the best lava-viewing experience of Halemaumau Crater during an eruption phase, visit the park after 10 pm when crowds are smaller.

Kilauea Iki Trail

Fodor's choice

The stunning 4-mile loop hike descends 400 feet into a massive crater via a forested nature trail. When you hike across the crater floor, you're actually walking on a solidified lava lake. Still steaming in places, the crater is dotted with baby ohia trees emerging from the cracks. Venture across the crater floor to the Puu Puai cinder cone that was formed by spatter from a towering lava fountain during the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. There are three different trailheads for Kilauea Iki; the main one, which takes two or three hours, begins at the Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot off Crater Rim Drive. You can also access the crater from Devastation Trail or Puu Puai on the other side. Easy. Bring water, snacks, a hat, sunscreen, and hooded rain gear, as weather can change at a moment's notice.

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Mauna Ulu Trail

Fodor's choice

The Mauna Ulu lava flow presents an incredible variety of geological attractions within a moderate, 2½-mile round-trip hike. The diverse lava landscape was created during the 1969–74 Mauna Ulu flow, which produced enormous "lava falls" the size of Niagara Falls. Visitors can see everything from lava tree molds and fissure vents to cinder cones and portions of the old highway still exposed under the flow. Hawaiian nene geese roam the area, feeding on ripe ohelo berries. Hike to the top of a small hill that survived the flow for incredible views of the distant geological landmarks. On clear days, you can see Mauna Loa, Maunakea, and the Pacific Ocean from atop this hill, known as Puu Huluhulu. Moderate. Purchase the Mauna Ulu trail booklet at the Kilauea Visitor Center for under $3. This excellent resource includes trailside attractions, trail maps, history, and photographs.

Volcano Winery

Fodor's choice

Not all volcanic soils are ideal for the cultivation of grapes, but this winery grows its own grapes and produces some interesting vintages. The Macadamia Nut Honey Wine is a nutty, very sweet after-dinner drink. The Infusion Tea Wine pairs estate-grown black tea with South Kona's fermented macadamia nut honey for a smooth concoction perfect for brunch through early evening. Though this isn't Napa Valley, the vintners take their wine seriously, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Wine tasting and flights are available; you can also enjoy wine and cheese inside or in a shaded picnic area. A gift store carries a selection of local crafts.

Devastation Trail

A paved pathway takes visitors across a barren lavascape strewn with chunky cinders that descended from towering lava fountains during the 1959 eruption of nearby Kilauea Iki Crater. The easy 1-mile (round-trip) hike ends at the edge of the Kilauea Iki Crater. This must-see view of the crater could yield such memorable sights as white-tailed tropic birds gliding in the breeze or a rainbow stretching above the crater's rim after a sunlit rain shower. Easy.

Kilauea Military Camp

Located inside the park, Kilauea Military Camp, established in 1916, offers visitor accommodations to members of the military and their families but also has places open to the public, including an arcade, bowling alley, diner, buffet, general store, and gas station. The Lava Lounge cocktail bar features live music on weekends.

Kilauea Visitor Center

Rangers and volunteers greet people and answer all questions at this visitor center, located just beyond the park entrance. There are lots of educational murals and displays, maps, and guidebooks. Also check out the daily itinerary of ranger-led activities and sign up for some. The gift shop operated by the Hawaii Pacific Park Association stocks excellent art, books, apparel, and more. A small theater plays documentaries about the park.

Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks

A short walk from the Kilauea Visitor Center leads to the pungent yet fascinating Sulphur Banks, where gases composed of hydrogen sulfide produce a smell akin to rotten eggs. Most of the rocks surrounding the vents have been dyed yellow due to constant gas exposure. Throughout the surrounding landscape, dozens of active steam vents emit white, billowing vapors that originate from groundwater heated by volcanic rocks. Located on the caldera's edge, Steaming Bluff is a short walk from a nearby parking area. The best steam vents are across the road from the main steam vent parking area; they vary in size and are scattered alongside the dirt trails.

Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku)

One of the park's star attractions, the Thurston Lava Tube (named "Nahuku" in Hawaiian) spans 600 feet underground. The massive cavelike tube, discovered in 1913, was formed by hot molten lava traveling through the channel. To reach the entrance of the tube, visitors descend a series of stairs surrounded by lush foliage and the sounds of native birds. The Kilauea eruption of 2018 resulted in an almost two-year closure of the tube. During the closure, the drainage system was improved to reduce standing water on the cave’s floor, and electrical lines were replaced. Visitors should not touch the walls or delicate tree root systems that grow down through the ceiling. Parking is limited near the tube. If the lot is full, you can park at the Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot, ½ mile away.

Volcano Art Center Gallery

Occupying a portion of the original Volcano House hotel built in 1877, this mesmerizing art gallery, within walking distance of the hotel, has showcased works by local artists since 1974. From stained and handblown glass to wood crafts, paintings, sculptures, block prints, jewelry, photographs, and more, the gallery features fine art (for sale) that depicts indigenous and cultural themes of Hawaii Island. In addition, live hula shows in the ancient style are often featured on the lawn that fronts the gallery.

Volcano Farmers' Market

Local produce, flowers, crafts, and food products, including fresh-baked breads, pastries, coffee, pancakes, fresh coconuts with straws, and homemade Thai specialties, are available every Sunday morning from 6 to 10 at this decidedly down-home farmers' market in Volcano Village. It's best to get there early, before 7, as vendors tend to sell out of the best stuff quickly. There's also a small bookstore (paperbacks 50¢, hardcovers $1, and magazines 10¢) and a thrift store with clothes and knickknacks. The market is held in the covered Cooper Center, so it's safe from the rain.

Volcano Garden Arts

Located on beautifully landscaped grounds dotted with intriguing sculptures, this delightful gallery and garden lend credence to Volcano Village's reputation as an artists' haven. The complex includes an eclectic gallery representing more than 100 artists, an excellent organic café in redwood buildings built in 1908, and a cute, one-bedroom vacation cottage, available for rent. If you're lucky, you'll get to meet the award-winning owner/“caretaker" of this enclave, the multitalented Ira Ono, known for his mixed-media art, recycled trash creations, and friendly personality.