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Volcano National Park - Tips for Visiting Hawaiian Volcanoes

Updated on July 21, 2013
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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!

Be prepared...
Be prepared... | Source
...or you'll end up like this!
...or you'll end up like this! | Source

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!

Kilauea Crater
Kilauea Crater | Source

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!

Thurston Laval Tube
Thurston Laval Tube | Source
Kilauea Iki Crater
Kilauea Iki Crater | Source
Source

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.

In some areas, stacked stones mark the path.
In some areas, stacked stones mark the path. | Source
Don't disassemble the stacked rocks and, if you do pick up a lava rock, return it to its proper place.
Don't disassemble the stacked rocks and, if you do pick up a lava rock, return it to its proper place. | Source
KMC cabin
KMC cabin | Source
KMC cabin
KMC cabin | Source
You may be surprised with the number of stained glass lamps inside the simple-looking cabins!
You may be surprised with the number of stained glass lamps inside the simple-looking cabins! | Source

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.

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    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 3 years ago from Hawai'i

      What a wonderful hub on Volcanoes National Park! I haven't been there in a few years, but your hub sure brings back great memories. I especially like the way you broke the sightseeing down into "if you have an hour, etc". I agree with you that KMC lodging doesn't look like much, but they are pretty nice on the inside. And there's nothing like a fireplace on a cold volcano night. Mahalo nui for taking the time to write about a Hawaiian treasure. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      My poor Oahu-living self just wasn't mentally prepared for the temperatures! It is a beautiful park and I hope lucky enough to visit again some day. Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub!

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Good for you, Natasha, for experiencing this adventure of a lifetime! Just think, you actually got to see new earth being created in real time. Awesome! And thank you for mentioning at least twice in the article about not taking the lava rocks. Aloha, and have a nice weekend, Natasha!

      Joe

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Isn't it crazy?! New ground is literally being formed there every day. Incredible. I was talking to a lady who said she'd spoken to a tourist who spent an entire day collecting rocks to bring home to her kids (!) without realizing she wasn't supposed to, so I figured I'd spread the word. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great weekend, too!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 3 years ago from USA

      I'm sharing this hub with some friends who are planning a trip to Hawaii. I wish I could go :(

      Thanks for the great info!! Voted Up!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pretty spectacular place to visit for sure. Thanks for the tour, Natasha!

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great article! It's one of my dreams to one day go to Hawaii.... I will make sure that I visit the Volcanoes National Park!

      Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Purl3agony - Hopefully they at least share some photos with you! Maybe you'll get the chance to visit one day, too. Thanks for stopping by!

      Billbuc - It is really cool! It still feels strange to be in a state that requires air travel to get to other portions of it, but Big Island is pretty spectacular.

      Kidscrafts - I think if you were going to choose one Hawaiian island, you should consider Big Island. They are all really special and each one is unique in its own way, but the volcanoes are just too cool.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I just checked out your blog from the other day, with some of your Hawaii pictures. Now I see this... I want to go there now! My boyfriend's parents went to Hawaii several years ago, and they rave about it often. They went to see a volcano, too.

      I like your tips on what to see there, as well as what to bring. You look really uncomfortable in that one picture! I hate not being dressed warm enough.

      Have a great weekend, and welcome back from your vacation! I hope you settle back into normal life now.

      ~ Kathryn

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Yeah...that was an unfortunate photo/experience! I kept telling my man it would be cold and he didn't believe me. I'm glad you stopped by after seeing my blog! I'm back from vacation, but lucky enough to still be in Hawaii. =)

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Wonderful hub, Natasha! The volcano park should be a unique experience. Thanks for providing useful info for visiting.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      It is amazing time! Thanks for stopping by.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks for the comprehensive overview! My husband and I would love to get back to Hawaii someday, and the volcanoes are definitely on our list. I love all of the detailed information that you've provided, including all of the great tips.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wow- this looks amazing and so much fun. When we went to Hawaii we hiked the rainforests but didn't have time to visit the volcano. Definitely something I'd love to do. Thanks for the information!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Randomcreative - I hope you get to come back! I still have so much more to see here. There is such amazing diversity and a lot of budget friendly activities like snorkeling and hiking.

      Epbooks - There is just too much to do! I really wanted to visit Mauna Kea while on Big Island, but we never had the chance.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I would love to visit this park! It looks like a fascinating place. Thanks for the tips and the photos, Natasha.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      It is really incredible. I hope you get the chance to check it out one day! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      This is something I have always wanted to do, and now you have fueled the fire, pardon the pun! Is there a nice resort nearby from where you can do all of the typical Hawaiian things such as swim and snorkel on the beach, and then take a jaunt out to the Volcanoes? What do you recommend that is reasonably priced? Great hub!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Most of the resorts are in Kailua-Kona, which is actually a couple of hours away. Hilo is an easy drive and a little under an hour and I think it has a couple of big hotels. We stayed at the KMC and also at some random cabins on the coast sort of near by. Honestly, I didn't really look in to the resorts on Big Island because we did the whole resort experience in Guam a couple of months ago and I wanted something smaller! I know a friend of mine used Priceline to get a really great price on the Kamehaha resort in Kailua, and I'm sure you could do something similar with other hotels. Because the Big Island is truly very big, I'd recommend taking a night or two at Volcanoes and a few nights in Kailua-Kona for the best experience.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great photos and such a well informed hub on his topic. Sounds a wonderful experience

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! It was a fantastic experience and I'm thankful to be spending time in this wonderful state!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Thanks for the information on this park. It looks like an experience one would never forget.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      It is an absolutely amazing place! I'm in the same state, so it sounds silly to say, but I hope I get back there some day! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      That lava tube path looks awesome! This is something I have wanted to do and now I know how. Great photos and hub.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it =)

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      This has been a very interesting article, so much so that I was surprised when I got to the end. I learned more than I expected about volcanoes. However, why is it that you shouldn't take stones and why must they be left in the same place? Is it connected to a legend, or is there a scientific reason? Mountain climbers in the Philippines have something about not taking things from the mountain and leaving no trash behind. Primarily, it's about respecting the mountain. Could the same be said of volcanoes?

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Well, there are practical and traditional reasons for not taking lava rocks. First, it's illegal to remove anything from a National Park, no matter where or what the park is. There are a lot of endangered species that live in Hawaiian parks that are specially adapted to live on the lava rock and removing the rocks damages the habitat. There is also a degree of respect to the volcanoes because they literally created the Hawaiian islands. Consequently, it's said to be very bad luck to remove volcanic rock from Hawaii. I'm not saying I'm superstitious, but I feel like it's best not to tempt fate. =)

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      I think you're right, there is a scientific reason behind the superstition, but oftentimes its easier for people to understand and adhere to the superstition and to feel they did something good rather than adhere to the scientific reasoning and feel no sense of participation at all:). Thanks for answering my question.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      It looks like a fascinating day trip. It's surprising to see someone shivering in Hawaii.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Yes, it can get quite cold up there! The other day I heard a winter weather advisory for the peaks on Big Island coming over the radio!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Natasha, I love to go to the different National Parks in this country, and this one you talk about is one I would love to visit. You give great tips. I am glad you shared this with us, and the photos also.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for stopping in! I hope to visiting Volcanoes again before we move away from Hawaii and that you get to make your first visit soon!

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