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A Local's Guide to Hawaii Volcanoes

Updated on March 24, 2012

Kilauea Lava Flow

Hawaii is made up of six shield volcanoes. They are Kilauea (active), Mauna Kea (dormant), Mauna Loa (active), Hu’alalai (dormant), Kohala (extinct), and Haleakala (extinct). Five of these volcanoes make up the Big Island (Hawai’i), while Haleakala makes up Maui. Tourists come from all over the world to see Hawaii’s beaches and most of them discover that the volcanoes are just as interesting.

On Hawaii’s volcanoes, you can star gaze, zip line, watch a breath-taking sunrise, and even walk right up to the lava! This Hawaiian volcano guide is useful for visitors that want to have an exciting trip and to those who just want to learn more about Hawaii’s volcanoes.

Ancient Hawaiians believed that the volcanoes were sacred places that the gods had built for themselves. Pele, the god of war and fire, is known to reside in Kilauea, the most active volcano in Hawaii. Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world (if measured from below sea level) and was known as the most sacred mountain.



Kilauea is pronounced, “kill-a-way-ah”. In Hawaiian, “Kilauea” means spewing because it is constantly spewing lava.

One of the most active volcanoes in the world can be found on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea is located on the South Eastern side of the island. Kilauea is unique in that although it is actively pouring lava down the coast, visitors are allowed to walk right up to the flow.

Visitors enter through the Volcanoes National Park to see the lava flow. Within the park, you can walk to the edge of smoking craters or take a 5-mile hike through one. You can also visit two visitor centers that will educate you on the geology, seismology and wildlife on the island.


Pu'u O'o Cone

The lava flows from Pu’u O’o cone, which could be considered as a subsidiary volcano on the peak of Kilauea. This cone has been continually erupting since 1983, but the volcano itself has been erupting since Polynesians came to the island in 300 CE. They believed that Pele, the goddess of war and fire made her home in the Pu’u O’o cone, where she continually pours her sadness and anger down the coast.

Fun Fact About Kilauea

In 2010, a man who lived in Kalapana, an area on the southeastern slope of Kilauea, began to worry about others moving into the area. These foreigners built telephone lines and roads to support their large homes. Unlike the man, these people did not have respect for Hawaiian mythology. The man who was there originally lived in a small shack with no electricity. Every morning, he would take an offering up the mountain and serve it to Pele.

The day after the foreigners moved into their new subdivision, the mountain erupted and began to flow toward them (a path the lava had never flowed before). All of their homes were destroyed—covered in a basalt blanket. The flow had covered all of the homes in its way except it split at one point and reunited after passing by the respectful man’s shack. His home was the only thing standing in the path of the lava. From this day on, people have become more aware of Pele and are not as quick to dismiss the legend.

Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is pronounced, “mow-nah kay-uh”. In Hawaiian, Mauna Kea means “White Mountain” because there is usually snow on the summit.

Mauna Kea is the tallest volcano in the world (when measured from the ocean floor). It is 13,796 feet tall and has telescopes from all over the world for astronomical research. There are a total of twelve telescopes on Mauna Kea’s summit.

This is the Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea.
This is the Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea. | Source

List of Telescopes at Mauna Kea

(click column header to sort results)
Short Name  
Caltech Submillimeter Obervatory
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
Canada, France, University of Hawaii
Gemini North Telescope
USA, UK, Canada, Chile, Australia, Argentina, Brazil
Infrared Telescope Facility
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope
UK, Canada, Netherlands
Subaru Telescope
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
Sub-Millimeter Array
Taiwan, USA
United Kingdom Telescope
University of Hawaii 88-inch Telescope
University of Hawaii
University of Hawaii 36-inch
Hoku Kea
University of Hawaii
Very Long Baseline Array
W. M. Keck Observatory
California Association for Research in Astronomy
Snow-capped Mauna Kea from Hilo
Snow-capped Mauna Kea from Hilo | Source

Fun Fact About Mauna Kea

Many people do not think of snow when they picture Hawaii, but it snows on Mauna Kea. Locals visit Mauna Kea and pack snow into their cars to bring down the mountain.

Mauna Kea's Unique Climates

Mauna Kea was the most sacred of all of the island’s volcanoes to Native Hawaiians. Only the ali’i (chiefs) were allowed to go up Mauna Kea’s slopes. These ali’i would have meetings on the summit to discuss important matters. When foreigners came to Hawaii, they did not obey the Hawaiian law of Kapu (the forbidden and sacred); they used the slopes of Mauna Kea to raise cattle and other livestock.

Because of the animals, the mountain that was once covered in forests now has three different climates: an alpine climate at its summit, a Sophora chrysophyllaMyoporum sandwicense (or māmane–naio) forest on the upper slopes, and an Acacia koaMetrosideros polymorpha (or koa–ʻōhiʻa) forest at the base of the mountain.

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa is pronounced, “mow-na low-uh”. In Hawaiian, Mauna Loa means long mountain because it is the longest mountain in the world.

Mauna Loa spans 120 km from the Kona-side to the Hilo-side. Mauna Loa is so long, that it covers over a third of the Big Island.

In 1843, the first recorded eruption occurred. Since then, it has erupted 33 times and is expected to soon. The last eruption was in 1984, when it covered some of the damage done by Hualalai in the early 1800s.

Researchers have been analyzing the mountain as it appears to be swelling, meaning that sometime in the near future, it may erupt again.

Mauna Loa from Kilauea
Mauna Loa from Kilauea | Source


Haleakala is pronounced "hah-lay-ah-kah-lah". In Hawaiian, Halekala means house of the sun because from the summit, you can see both the sunrise and sunset.

Haleakala is located on Maui, the island closest to the Big Island (Hawai'i). The volcano is now extinct and many tourists like to hike up the sides to watch the sun rise and fall.

Haleakala once connected the Big Island to Maui, but with uplift comes erosion and now, a powerful wind channel (the Alanui Channel) has submerged the two island's connection below sea level.

Haleakala | Source

Fun Fact About Haleakala

An Ancient Hawaiian legend takes place on the summit of Haleakala. The story goes like this:

Maui lived with his mother, Hina, who made kapa (a cloth made out of bark). During the day, she would lay the kapa out to dry, but it would never dry by the time that the sun would set in the west. One day, she showed Maui her frustration and wished that the sun would stay out long enough to dry her kapa.

Maui tore the husk off of some coconuts and wrapped them so that they made a lasso. He hiked up the slopes of Haleakala and threw his lasso into the sky just as the sun rose over the horizon. The lasso wrapped around the sun and the sun yelled, "Why are you doing this? Let me go!"

Maui stood tall and held onto the lasso with all of his might. "Please, sun, stay out long enough for my mother's kapa to dry," he begged.

After much discussion, the sun and Maui came to a compromise. The sun would move more slowly for six months, then race across the sky as usual for the next six months.

Kohala cliffs
Kohala cliffs | Source


Kohala is pronounced "ko-hah-lah".

Kohala is the only extinct volcano on the Big Island because it is the oldest volcano in Hawaii. Kohala is known for its beautiful ranch country and also for the gorgeous cliffs that surround it. The volcano makes up the north-side of the Big Island and is home to King Kamehameha's birth place.

Kohala was used by Ancient Hawaiians as a place to grow crops. Later, foreigners made great sugar cane plantations that still exist on the volcanoes slopes.

Coral rocks on the lava rock that was left after Hualalai's eruption
Coral rocks on the lava rock that was left after Hualalai's eruption | Source

Hu'alalai is pronounced "who-ah-lah-lie".

Hu'alalai is a dormant volcano that rests on the west-side of the Big Island in between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. As the third most-active volcano, Hualalai has erupted numerous times during history. It's damage can be seen on the sides of the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway spanning from Kailua-Kona to Kawaihae. The sides of the road are covered in basalt that erupted from Hualalai between 1790 and 1801. People now use dead coral (white) to write in the rocks.

In 1929, a large earthquake occurred below Hualalai that made scientists assume that the volcano would erupt again within the next 100 years.

Map of Hawaii's Volcanoes

Kīlauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96778, USA

get directions

Mauna Kea:
Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

get directions

Mauna Loa:
Mauna Loa, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96785, USA

get directions

Haleakalā, Hawaii 96790, USA

get directions

Kohala, Hawaii 96743, USA

get directions

Hualālai, Hawaii 96725, USA

get directions

Lōʻihi Seamount, United States

get directions

Lo'ihi is a new volcano forming on the south-side of the Big Island.


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    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! This is really neat. I have never been to Hawaii, but I would like to visit some day and see some of these amazing sites. Keep up the great hubbing!

    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Vinaya, thank you so much! The volcanoes are the most underrated parts of Hawaii. Thanks for reading/commenting.

      Sunshine, thank you so much for commenting! I lived near the volcano throughout my childhood and it will surprise you to know I was never put in danger. Thanks again for reading/commenting.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Way cool! Of course not if you live or are near the volcano, but they are very interesting. Awesome photos and details!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Wonderful hub with interesting video and awesome pictures.

      Thanks for providing the information to Hawaii volcanoes.


    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Brittany, lovely hub. I learned so much about Hawaii's volcanoes. I hope one day to visit and see for myself!

    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you, everyone for your encouraging comments! It's so nice to see that my hard work is appreciated. Have an excellent week! Mahalo nui loa

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      OMG! So neat. This makes me wish I was there and got to see lava too. Maybe someday.

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Interesting history about each volcano. I'd like to see them for myself and enjoy the scenery. Thanks for the pictures.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Excellent video brittanytodd. You took my breath away.

      Voted up


    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      7 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


      Thanks for publishing this article. It brought back so many memories for me. I've traveled to more than 25 countries. Of all the places I've visited, one of the ones at the top of my list is in the United States ...the Big Island. I especially like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      This is so awesome! My favorite Video today too, by far. I'll never forget the first time I got to stand near flowing lava... it's such a powerful experience! Thanks for sharing all the fun facts :D

    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, K9! I am so happy you loved the video. It took a lot of work, but I think it was worth it. You definitely should visit my island (the Big Island) to see all of our breath-taking volcanoes, but Maui is beautiful also. Thanks again!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      My favorite hub today! Packed full of fantastic information and visual candy. VERY impressed with your video work. I am a big fan of Maui (Napili Bay to be specific), however after reading your hub I am going to make it a point to see the volcanoes and the other islands. Thank you for virtual tour of the beautiful state of Hawaii and her explosive nature!


    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, ChaplinSpeaks! I hope you get a chance to visit too. It's my home and I still love it! Thanks for commenting/reading.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image

      Sarah Johnson 

      7 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Awesome hub filled with lots of interesting information. Great use of videos, charts, and maps. I hope to visit Hawaii sometime in my lifetime!

    • hush4444 profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Fantastic hub - I learned a lot of things I didn't know about our island. Loved the graphics, too. Voted up, awesome, etc.


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