Volcano National Park - Tips for Visiting Hawaiian Volcanoes
Visiting Volcanoes National Park
A trip to Hawaii means sunny beaches, perfect tropical temperatures with pleasant breezes, and maybe a few fruity cocktails, right?
Well, yes, but a trip to Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii requires some special planning and extra gear. The site is a must-see, but if you visit in your beach clothing you'll be in for a surprise! The rugged, frequently exposed terrain can be dangerous to traverse, it rains (at least a little) virtually every day, and the temperatures can be less than comfortable for the unprepared. Discover what to expect during your trip to Volcanoes and learn how to have an enjoyable experience!
What to Wear/Bring to Volcanoes
The weather changes very rapidly at Volcanoes National Park, but it is generally much cooler and wetter than lower elevations on Big Island. If you're staying on the Kailua-Kona side of the island, you'll be in for a surprise! At low elevations, the Kona coast gets about 10 inches of rainfall a year, but it rains almost every day at Volcanoes. Additionally, the high elevation creates cool temperatures and, sometimes, forceful winds. If you're planning to visit the park, even for a few hours, on your Hawaiian vacation, make sure to bring:
- A raincoat, poncho, or other water-resistant coat.
- Good hiking shoes or boots.
- Layers of clothing for both your upper body and, if possible, lower body.
- Sunscreen - your skin is even more vulnerable at elevation.
- A camera. You really don't want to forget it on this trip!
- A camera tripod. If you want to take nighttime photos of the lava, a tripod is a must!
What to See at Volcanoes National Park
You could literally spend weeks hiking and camping in the park, but most people spend somewhere between a few hours and a few days. Because the park is so huge, you have to prioritize.
- If you only have an hour at the park, drive straight to the Jaggar Museum and Kilauea Overlook to see steam and gas rising from an active volcano.
- If you have time for a short hike in addition to checking out Kilauea, drive the opposite direction on Crater Rim Drive until you reach the Thurston Lava Tube. The stairs are moderately steep, but the hike is short and the accessible portion of the lava tube is lit.
- If you have time for a longer hike, take the Kilauea Iki Crater trail. You can actually start on it from the same parking lot as the Thurston Lava Tube! The 4 mile loop is moderately difficult as you enter and exit the crater, but the rest is pretty easy. Be prepared for sudden weather changes, though - it can go from warm and sunny to chilly, windy, and raining in a matter of seconds!
- In the evening make sure to revisit the Kilauea Lookout to see glowing lava!
If you have more than a day to visit Volcanoes, you can take your pick from a multitude of trails, including short treks to see steam vents or petroglyphs or multi-day hikes that require camping.
No matter which sites you visit, make sure to obey posted signs! Areas of the park are filled with dangerous sulfur gas and closed areas are closed for a reason. Protect yourself and the indigenous plant/wildlife by staying on trails and not blazing your own trail. Perhaps most importantly, do not take anything with you from the park, or the island, for that matter. It's okay to pick up the lava rocks and marvel at how light they are, but make sure to put them back in their place.
Loding at Volcanoes National Park
If you want to spend the night on site, you have several different options. Unfortunately, you may have a difficult time finding last-minute accommodations, so plan well in advance if you want a room indoors! There is an array of places to stay from tent camping all the way to resort-style rooms. These rooms and cabins are managed by Volcano House and reservations can be made through their website. For accommodations right down the road, you can check out Volcano Inn, instead. This hotel is not located inside the park boundaries, but it is nearby.
In my opinion, the best place to stay in the park is the Kilauea Military Camp. It is open to all branches' active service members, reservists, retirees, etc., as well as DOD civilians. It doesn't look like much when you drive past, but the cabins are surprisingly nice inside. I've stayed in two different cabins and both exceeded my expectations. You can even rent a cabin with a fireplace and jet tub! A small store, bowling alley, miniature theater, rec room, coffee shop, restaurant, post office, playgrounds, lounge, and exercise room make this an inclusive place to stay. If you're eligible to stay, their budget-friendly rooms are a great choice.
Visiting Volcanoes National Park
No matter how long you stay, visiting Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park is sure to be the experience of a lifetime. Make sure you enjoy your trip to some of the world's most active volcanoes by going prepared! Oh, and remember not to take the lava.