With more than 323,000 acres to explore, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the state’s largest national park – and it’s still growing! The park is also home to Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive subaerial volcano.
While it would take days – or even weeks – to explore all this captivating state park has to offer, there are several highlights, many of which you will find along Crater Rim Drive. Luckily, we’ve rounded up the attractions you cannot miss while in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Your first stop will be at the Kilauea Visitors Center.
Here you can pick up the latest information on trails, road conditions, safety precautions and ranger-led activities. The visitors center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Then, it’s off to the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum.
The museum, which is dedicated to all things volcanology, has got to be one of the busiest locations in the park. Displays are full of equipment used by scientists in the past to study volcanoes, working seismographs, and an exhibit that warns just what can happen when you get a little too close to the lava.
A trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park isn’t complete without a visit to the Kilauea overlook.
The road signs indicate that it is a picnic area, and while the views are similar to those you will find at the Jaggar museum, it is usually much less crowded. The caldera is approximately 2 miles wide and more than 3 miles long.
The steam vents and steaming bluff are next on the drive.
The steam vents are located .8 miles past the visitors center, where ground water seeps to the hot volcanic rocks in the area and returns to the surface as steam. Just a short walk away is the steaming bluff, a grassy meadow with ground cracks and steam concentrated in fractures along the edge of the caldera.
Next, check out the Ha’akulamanu Sulfur Banks.
According to the National Park Service, “volcanic gases seep out of the ground along with groundwater steam. These gases are rich in carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide – the gas that smells like rotten eggs. Some sulfur gases deposit pure crystals at Sulphur Banks. Other sulfur gases form sulfuric acid, which breaks down the lava to clay.” The clay is stained brown and red with iron oxide. Pregnant women, infants, young children and those with heart or respiratory problems should avoid this part of the journey.
After the steam vents and sulfur banks, you should make your way to the Kilauea Iki Overlook, and a wildly popular hiking trail.
This popular 4-mile loop trail through the Kilauea Iki crater - the site of a massive 1959 volcanic eruption, leads hikers through lush rainforests, near active steam and sulfur vents, and across a solidified lava lake - was voted as the Big Island’s favorite scenic hiking trail by Hawaii Magazine.
Don’t miss Thurston Lava Tube.
The 20-minute walk to Thurston Lava Tube is definitely easy as far as hiking is concerned, but the 500-foot cave-like tunnel is one of the most unique experiences you will have in Hawaii.
You’ve also got to drive the Chain of Craters Road.
As the name indicates, this scenic road leads drivers to the coast, past several craters from historic eruptions. Since the road was opened in 1965, several parts of the road have been buried in lava due to volcanic eruptions. The Chain of Craters Road currently measures in at 18.8 miles, and there is no food, water of fuel available along the path.
Other park highlights include Pu’u Pua’I Overlook, Devastation Trail, and a hike to Keanakako’I Crater.
If you’re planning to enjoy all Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has to offer, you should stay close to the action – at Volcano House.
A former historic and private residence, the former owner and his family claimed to see an apparition of an elderly woman. She has also been seen in guest rooms, and wandering the halls. Sightings of a ghostly white dog have also been reported on the entrance road to the hotel.
And lastly, we must remind you that this park is dangerous.
While most of the park is accessible to visitors, you should head warnings and avoid venturing off of the marked trails, or into closed areas within the park. You don’t want to fall into an active steam vent, or through a fragile layer of newly formed lava rock, do you?
If you’ve visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, what’s your favorite attraction? And if you haven’t – what are you waiting for?