Transform any vacation to the Hawaiian Islands into an incredible adventure by adding a volcano tour to your itinerary. Head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on Hawaii’s Big Island, to experience the diverse environments created by 70 million years of volcanic activity. The park’s most popular feature is Mt. Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano. Visitors are often able to get close enough to see live lava flows. Even when this isn’t the case, you’ll witness the effects of creation and destruction caused by this extraordinary natural phenomenon.
How to Get There:
If your first stop (or only stop) on the Big Island is going to be at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you’ll want to fly in to Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the eastern part of Hilo. This airport is only 45 minutes north of the Park. To do this, you’ll most likely have to fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu first and then take another short 30 minute flight to Hawaii’s Big Island. Most visitors to the island arrive in Kona International Airport (KOA) because there are daily direct flights from major international air carriers. The downfall is that Kona is about 2-1/2 to 3 hours from the National Park.
However you arrive, you’ll definitely want to book a rental car in advance. On such an expansive island, you’ll want a car to get around with ease. Even the park itself is huge, and Kilauea is sometimes called “the world’s only drive-in volcano.” The Big Island has all the big rental companies located only a short distance from either airport.
If a rental car is out of the question, there are also guided tours on busses and shuttles. To travel independently without a car, use the Hawaii County mass transit system, the Hele-On Bus. Just keep in mind that the public transit system does not provide transportation from Kona to Hilo on Sundays.
What to Know Before You Go:
Your first stop in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park should be at the Kilauea Visitor Center. Here, you’ll find all the information you need in the way of brochures, maps, and informative park rangers. You can also watch a short film that introduces the park and get updates on volcanic activity.
Your Hawaii volcano tour should be a fun, safe adventure, so you’ll want to be prepared for your visit. Make sure you have a full tank of gas in your car before you start, and take along food and water. Dress in appropriate hiking clothes—closed-toe shoes, long pants, and a jacket. Stay on marked routes only and pay attention to all signs. You can find out all important safety and volcanic activity information at the Visitor Center.
For the best experience possible, bring binoculars, a flashlight, and your camera, of course. If you’re determined to see live lava flows, plan your trip so that you are well into the trail at dawn or dusk when the lava is most visible.
Sights and Hikes:
- Crater Rim Drive
This 10.6-mile drive circles Kilauea Caldera, taking you to all of the park’s main points of interest.
- Thomas A. Jagger Museum
Named after the pioneer scientist who studied volcanology at Kilauea, this museum houses fascinating geologic displays, maps, and videos about the study of volcanoes.
- Halemaumau Crater
This location is known by native Hawaiians as the home of Pele, the volcano goddess. Steam vents rise from the massive crater at this sacred site.
- Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku)
You can walk through this incredible 400-foot tube that was formed by molten lava about 500 years ago. When you get to the other side, you enter into a tropical rain forest.
- Chain of Craters Road
Turn off of Crater Rim Drive to venture down this 3,700-foot road that ends where an old lava flow has taken over the path. From here, you’ll have to hike over lava fields towards ocean cliffs to see live lava flows.
- Puu Oo Vent
This is the ultimate destination for many. Watch live lava pour dramatically into the sea at the Puu Oo Vent in the East Rift Zone.
- The Kalapana Viewing Site
This viewing area was officially opened in 2009 on the entirely new Kalapana coastline formed by lava from Kilauea in 1990. It provides a safe, more relaxed spot to view the current lava flow.
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