Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkHawaii Volcanoes National Park is a United States National Park on the Big Island of the island state of Hawaii. The national park is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, year-round.
Kilauea Visitor Center is open daily 7:45AM-5PM. The Jaggar Museum is closed due to damage from the 2018 eruptions. (24-25 Dec, 1 Jan hours vary).
Above all, be respectful. The people of Hawaii are very spiritually inclined, and consider the volcano to be a sacred place, the home of the Goddess Pele. Also, it is a volcano, so it may pay to be cautious.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that ancient Hawaiians settled this area of Puna and Ka`u some time between 1200 and 1450 AD. The coastal area was likely settled first. Evidence of living areas can be found in the remnants of house platforms and habitation caves still scattered throughout the lowland and upland areas. Trail systems later connected the villages along the coast to house sites in the upper regions as well as provided access to the upland resources.
Major historic events also took place in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park including the death of a large portion of a warrior party by an explosive volcanic eruption of Kilauea in 1790. Evidence of their last march can be found in footprints preserved in the hardened ash. The Ka`u Desert has also revealed evidence of intensive use of temporary shelter sites along a major trail system connecting the lower Ka`u District and Kilauea. Living on an active lava landscape can be found literally everywhere in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Over 14,000 prehistoric archaeological features have been recorded.
The first European to travel through here was the Reverend William Ellis in 1823. Numerous eruptions and lava flows drew adventurers and scientists to the crater rim. Remnants of these early visits can be found in the trails and historic roads that cross the park. The historic 1877 Volcano House, which overlooks the Kilauea Caldera, was one of the early guesthouses in the park. Today, it is used by the Kilauea Art Center. The 1941 Volcano House, perched on the caldera rim, continues to provide lodging for park visitors. The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), founded in 1912, preceded the establishment of the park by four years. The Whitney Seismograph Vault, part of the 1912 HVO facility, still remains. Remnants of a former pulu factory remain hidden in the forest. World War II impacted the park as well. Several areas of the park were used for bombing practice and the historic Kilauea Military Camp which preceded the park establishment by only a few months, was developed as a rest and relaxation camp for military personnel and this use continues today. During World War II, it served various roles including housing of POWs.
The park was established in 1916. Work was initiated to provide basic infrastructure for the fledgling park in the 1920s, with more infrastructure development occurring in the 1930s as part of the Emergency Conservation Work program and later the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The landscape is varied from the expected volcanic lavas (there is more than one kind), to dry forest to rainforest to rocky beach. Calderas, pit craters, lava tubes, crevices, geothermal vents and flowing lava are some of the volcanic manifestations. A caldera is a large, basin-shaped volcanic depression, more or less circular, the diameter of which is many times greater than that of the included vents. A pit crater is a crater formed by sinking in of the surface. It is not primarily a vent for lava.
Five volcanoes make up the island of Hawai`i: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. Volcanoes that will never erupt again are considered extinct. Dormant volcanoes have not erupted in historic time (the last 200 years in Hawai`i) but probably will erupt again. Active volcanoes have erupted in historical time (the last 200 years in Hawai`i).
- Kohala, the oldest volcano on this island, last erupted about 60,000 years ago and is considered extinct.
- Mauna Kea last erupted 3,600 years ago and is dormant.
- Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea are active.
- Hualalai erupted seven times in the last 2,100 years. The only historic eruptions were in 1800 and 1801. Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and sent flows towards Hilo. Kilauea erupted from 1983 until 2018. As of August of 2018, no magma is visible in the park.
Flora and fauna
The Hawaiian Archipelago is the most geographically isolated group of islands on Earth. The Park sits on the southeastern edge of the youngest and largest island at a latitude of 19°N. Stretching from the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet to sea level, the Park protects a wide diversity of ecosystems and habitats in seven different ecological life zones. Native Hawaiian species include carnivorous caterpillars, happy face spiders, colorful Hawaiian honeycreepers, the largest dragonfly in the United States, crickets partial to new lava flows, endangered sea turtles, and just one native terrestrial mammal - a bat.
Hawaiian plants and animals began to evolve over 70 million years ago in nearly complete isolation and over 90% of the native terrestrial flora and fauna in Hawai'i are found only in the Hawaiian islands. This level of endemism surpasses all other places on Earth - even the Galapagos Islands. Consequently, the Park is a fantastic laboratory for the study of biogeography and evolution within the Pacific Islands. Today, the Park harbors the descendants of those first colonizers - numerous evolutionary marvels such as mintless mints and nettleless nettles - plants adapted to life without plant-eating mammals.
Despite their protected status, the Park's treasure trove of species faces decimating threats from declining habitat outside Park boundaries, invasive plants, bird malaria, wildfires, feral cats and pigs, and introduced goats, sheep, rats, mongoose, ants, and wasps are all taking a toll. Three endangered species, the nene, Hawaiian petrel and the hawksbill turtle are targeted for full recovery by the National Park Service and its partners who are actively engaged in restoring habitat, guarding nest sites, monitoring threats and population impacts and removing alien wildlife.
Weather at Kilauea's summit (4000 ft elevation) varies daily and may be rainy and chilly any time of the year. Temperature varies by elevation. At the summit of the volcano, temperatures may be 12 to 15 degrees cooler than at sea level. The coastal plain at the end of Chain of Craters Road, where lava is entering the ocean, is often hot, dry, and windy with the possibility of passing showers.
Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park is on the Big Island of Hawai`i.
- From Hilo: 30 miles southwest on Highway 11 (a 45 minute drive).
- From Kailua-Kona: 96 miles southeast on Highway 11 (2-2½ hour drive), or 125 miles through Waimea and Hilo via highways 19 and 11 (2½-3 hours).
Hele On Bus systemThere is only one limited county bus that comes to the park, operating M-Sa, no holidays. Like most buses on the island it is designed for commuters. The bus route connects Hilo to Ka'u and runs a couple times early in the morning and a couple times in the afternoon.
International and mainland carriers service Hilo and Kona International Airports. Hilo and Kona Airports are also served by inter-island carriers.
Fees and permits
- Vehicle $25 (good for 7 days) Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all of its passengers. Organized non-profit groups, (service organizations, scouts, church groups, college/school clubs) are not eligible for the vehicle permit.
- Individual $12 (good for 7 days) Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Ages 15 years old and younger are admitted free.
- Hawai`i Tri-park Annual Pass $50 Allows access for 1 full year from date of first use at Hawai`i Volcanoes, Haleakala, and Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Parks.
There is no public transportation within the park.
Maps and brochures showing all roads, trails and attractions are available at the Visitor Center.
Many people can spend several days exploring all that the park has to offer. There are a number of excellent hikes, showcasing most of the flavors of Hawaiian geological activity.
Kilauea Visitor CenterStaff have maps and latest information on conditions and lava flows. Exhibits on island formation; the arrival of life by wing, wind, and wave; ecosystems from sea to summit; the sights and sounds of the rain forest; invasive species; and those who make a difference in resource protection. Interwoven throughout are the mana`o (wisdom) and mo`olelo (stories) of Hawai`i's indigenous people. A film, Born of Fire, Born of the Sea, is shown on-the-hour in the auditorium 9AM-4PM. Be sure to inquire about the excellent ranger-led programs available.
Volcano Art Center Gallery
Crater Rim DriveAn 11-mile road that encircles the summit caldera, passes through desert, lush tropical rain forest, traverses the caldera floor, and provides access to well-marked scenic overlooks and short walks. (see map) This is the basic tour and should be driven by all visitors. (The section between Kilauea Military Camp and Jaggar Museum is closed due to the 2018 eruption.)
Jaggar Museumaddress: Crater Rim DrA museum on volcanology with seismographs and other equipment used by scientists to monitor volcanoes. Spectacular views into the summit caldera from here. (Closed indefinitely due to the 2018 eruption.)
Thurston Lava Tubeaddress: Crater Rim DrA tube formed when lava drained from it some 350–500 years ago. A 25 minute walk down into a small pit crater and then through the 400 ft (120 m) long (lighted) tube and back through a rainforest is well worthwhile. The tube extends into darkness beyond the lighted trail area, but permission to enter that portion must be obtained first at park Headquarters.(It is closed due to the 2018 eruption.)
Chain of Craters RoadThis road descends 3,700 feet in 20 miles and ends where a 2003 lava flow crossed the road. Depending on changing volcanic activity, there may be opportunities for viewing active lava flows from the end of the road. Food, water, or fuel is not available along the Chain of Craters Road.
Lava flowsOf course, the thing that many people are most interested in seeing is the active flow zone of Kilauea. Here you can witness new earth being created, and the stunning beauty of the active lava flows. Kilauea Volcano has erupted lava continuously from its east rift zone since 1983. These lava flows have created over 568 acres (230 hectares) of new land and covered 8.7 mi (14 km) of highway with lava as deep as 115 ft (35 m). When planning a visit to the volcano, it pays to check the Hawaii Volcano Observatory to get an idea of the amount of current activity, as well as the distance to the viewing area from the road. Nature is dynamic, and fickle; sometimes there are gorgeous rivers of lava, and at other times nothing. You can also hear a recording of the latest lava viewing opportunities by calling +1 808 985-6000, then pressing "1" and "1". Lava used to enter the ocean in an area called "steam plume", but it stopped in 2017. This area can be reached by a 1/2-mile walk on the roadway from the ranger station at end of Chain of Craters Road and an additional 5-minute (200-yard) walk on a trail.
Inland lava flows can be reached by approaching the area from the East, a combination of hiking & biking to view the magma. To arrive at the start location, head west towards Kalapana from state highway 130, which ends and gives way to an area with make-shift bike rental shops. Parking next to the bike rental area is completely free, and plentiful. The short drive from the end of the road to the rentals is full of potholes, but any car can drive through it, despite what the "public parking" people (see note below) will tell you. Once in the bike rental area, there are about a dozen companies that offer various rides from electric bikes to winter tires to standard mountain bikes. Shop around for prices, as they will vary. As a reference, See Hawaii Adventures offers standard mountain bikes for $20, which includes a headlight, two bottles of water and a first-aid kit.
Once on a bike or on foot (4 km on gravel road each way), you'll pass a residential area where only shuttles and residents' vehicles are allowed. Go until you see on the right hand side a sign for the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and park/lock your bikes here. Then you have hike out north to where the lava actually is. This is a difficult/extremely difficult hike over rugged, steep, cracked and sharp solidified lava, resembling shards of glass under your feet. The area is remote and in the case of an emergency, access to assistance may be compromised, although families and children hike here. Hikers need to be sure-footed, physically fit, wearing long sturdy pants and hiking shoes.
The hike may take about 45 min-1½ hour each way. The whole experience including biking and hiking can take 4-5 hours. The best time to reach the lava is before or around sunset, to see the lava glow as the area darkens. This would entail that the bike portion should be started at least 2 hours before sunset. It also means that it will be dark on the way back, hence the headlights. Helping to guide you back, there are two orange blinking lights where the Park sign is. However, they are not always visible. Follow others, use a GPS, take a screenshot of your dropped pin, a compass, the stars or a combination of these. Cell coverage is patchy and may be non-existent, depending on the carrier. Since January 2018, roughly one mile before where all of the bike shops are, a private company has labeled their lot as "public parking". They claim to keep your car safer, shuttle you for free a mile down the road and drop you in front of their operation - which is not mandatory that you rent with them, but strongly suggested. If you're hiking when they close you will not have a shuttle ride back to your car/belongings. Despite what some of their employees may say, they are not working for the county.
Pu`uloa Petroglyph FieldsChain of Craters Road at milepost 16.5. "Pu`uloa" translated as the "long hill" or "hill of long life" from Hawaiian, is a place considered sacred to the people of Hawai`i, and those of Kalapana in particular. Located in the ahupua`a (an ancient Hawaiian land division) of Panau Nui on the southern flank of Kilauea volcano, Pu`uloa is the name of the site which contains a vast area covered with incredible numbers of pecked images in the hardened lava, images known as petroglyphs. The archaeological site of Pu`uloa contains over 23,000 petroglyph images; motifs containing cupules or holes (84% of the total), motifs of circles, other geometric as well as cryptic designs, human representations, canoe sails, and even feathered cape motifs. The area is accessed from a parking area pullout and an emergency call box along Chain of Craters Road at Milepost 16.5. From the pullout parking area it is a 0.7-mile walk over a gently undulating pahoehoe lava bedrock trail to reach the boardwalk at Pu`uloa.
The FootprintsVia the Kau Desert Trailhead adjacent to Highway 11 or via the Kau Desert Trail from Crater Rim Drive. Footprints of warriors from 1792 preserved in volcanic ash. Once in the area visitors are asked to remain on the established trail. Ash deposits in this area are fragile and can be easily broken. Respect the cultural and natural resources of the area. Do not move rocks or remove plants.
- Hiking Park trails range in difficulty from easy walks (Bird Park/Kipuka Puaulu or Thurston Lava Tube/Nahuku) to longer hikes such as Kilauea Iki or Mauna Iki. Other trails provide access through wilderness areas and are suitable only for those who are in top physical condition and properly outfitted with winter gear. Most trails are well maintained and easy to follow. Wilderness trails are roughly marked by ahu (cairns - piles of rock). Devastation and Waldron Ledge trails are paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.(Some trails are closed due to the 2018 eruption.)
Rangers on duty in the Kilauea Visitor Center (7:45AM-5PM daily), will assist hikers with trail information, maps, and permits. National Park Service information links: day hikes, overnight hikes.
Hawai`i Pacific Parks Association bookstoreOffers an extensive array of books and other educational materials related to Hawai`i's natural and cultural history. The non-profit cooperating association supports the park's mission and programs. They also maintain a sales location in the park's Jaggar Museum.
There are a few other tasty restaurants nearby in the town of Volcano Village 1–2 minutes north of the park.
phone: +1 808 967-7321On the rim of Kilauea Caldera in the historic hotel.
- Kilauea Military Camp - Crater Rim Cafe (99-252 Crater Rim Drive, Volcano) For cheap and pentiful food away from tourist hoardes.
There are more options nearby in the quaint town of Volcano Village 1–2 minutes north of the park.
phone: +1 808 967-8333For active or retired Military or DoD civilians (GS), this camp offers 90 one-, two- or three-bedroom cabins or apartments for nightly rental.
Namakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki are two drive-in campgrounds and there are many backcountry hiking/camping areas located within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. These campgrounds are free, however, proof of payment of park entrance fee is required.
Drive-In camping is available on a first-come basis. no reservations or permits, and no check-in are necessary. Stays are limited to 7 days in a month and cannot exceed 30 days per year.
Namakanipaio Campground31½ miles south of Hilo on Highway-11 at 4,000 ft elevation. It is a large, open grassy area with tall eucalyptus and ohi'a trees. This campground has restrooms, water, picnic tables, and barbecue pits. These are shared facilities with just a few individual sites.
Kulanaokuaiki CampgroundAbout 5 miles down the Hilina Pali Road at 2,700 ft elevation. There is no water at this location. This campground has 8 campsites, 2 of which are wheelchair accessible. There is a vault-type toilet (no running water), and picnic tables.
The Volcano House HotelOperates rustic camper cabins at the Namakanipaio Campground. The cabins sleep 4 (1 double bed and 2 bunk-style twin beds). Each cabin has a picnic table and an outdoor barbecue grill. Showers are available. Reservations are required; contact info is the same as the Volcano House above.
All day hikers and overnight backcountry users must register and obtain a free permit at the Kilauea Visitor Center (7:45AM–4:45PM daily). Permits are issued on a first-come basis no earlier than the day before your hike. Overnight stays at campgrounds are limited. Check with rangers at the Kilauea Visitor Center for specific campground locations and allowable numbers.
# Minimum Impact Camping All hikers are required to pack out everything they pack in. Do not bury your trash or discard it in pit toilets - pack it out. Practice leave-no-trace camping.
# Water There are no streams in the park so backpackers may have to bring in all their own water. Some campgrounds have water collection systems. Updates on their current water levels are available at the Kilauea Visitor Center, check before you go, while obtaining your permit!
# Trail Conditions Hiking over rocky terrain is strenuous. Hiking boots provide the best traction and protection when hiking on lava. Long pants afford some protection if you fall on the sharp, glassy lava. Allow 1/2 hour per mile when hiking on mid-elevation trails and more time as you gain elevation. Add additional time for scenic stops, and water breaks.
# The ahu (stone cairn) trail markers can be difficult on first sight to distinguish from the surrounding lava. However, the trails are well marked and hikers soon become accustomed to spotting the cairns in the black lava fields. Sunlight may be intense. Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are preventive measures against sunburn. Start your trek early to avoid being on park trails during the hottest times of the day.
# Health Hazards Many hikes are through exposed lava fields and lush rain forests. Pace yourself, drink plenty of water. Pack extra clothing and your sleeping bag in plastic for waterproofness. Raingear is essential. Stay warm and dry; hypothermia (low body temperature) is a killer. Be prepared for treating injuries caused by falls on sharp, glassy lava.
# Volcanic Hazards Volcanic eruptions are possible at any time. In the unlikely event of a lava outbreak along the trail, move uphill and upwind of eruptive activity. Earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous.
# Fire Hazards Trails in the park traverse areas which contain very flammable grasses and brush. Open fires and smoking is prohibited.
# Cultural and Natural Resources Please respect all archaeological sites and artifacts left by ancient Hawaiians. Do not move any rocks, climb on or alter any rock structures, such as lava trees, walls, heiau (ancient temples), or petroglyphs (rock engravings). Entry into caves is prohibited. All plants, animals, rocks and other natural and archaeological or cultural features are protected by law against removal, injury, or destruction.
# Dogs and firearms are prohibited in the wilderness # Before you go, leave a trip plan with another person. Make sure they understand that should you be lost or injured on the trail, they are your only link to help and should report you overdue if you fail to contact them by a predesignated time. If lost, stay where you are. Use bright colors and reflective materials to attract attention. Rangers will not start a wilderness search until 24 hours after they are notified that a hiker is missing. To report a lost or overdue hiker, call Hawaii County 911.
# Check Out of the Backcountry At the completion of your hike, report out by stopping at the Kilauea Visitor Center and informing the ranger that you have completed your hike. Permits are issued because of the dynamic nature of this volcano. In the event of an eruption, it is important for rangers to know who may be in danger.
- Wear sturdy shoes and long pants. Carry plenty of water and drink frequently. Avoid hiking after dark.
- Stay on marked Trails! Vegetation or cinders may hide deep cracks in the ground. Use caution near cliffs, cracks, and steam vents where edges can be slippery and/or unstable. Watch small children at all times.
- Hiking over cracks and holes, loose rock, and thin lava crust greatly increases your risk of getting hurt. Falling on lava may result in severe wounds.
- Volcanic Fumes (volcanic gasses) are hazardous to your health. Those with heart or breathing problems and infants, young children, and pregnant women are especially at risk and should avoid Halema`uma`u Crater, Sulphur Banks, and other areas where volcanic fumes are present.
- Volcanic eruptions can occur at any time and can be extremely hazardous. Even from a distance, gasses and fallout (Pele's hair, pumice, and cinder) can cause lung and eye irritation.
- Never enter closed areas. Areas of the park have been closed due to the potential for large land collapses. Please see the closed area map (2006 data) for more details on areas that have been closed due to very hazardous conditions.
- The park has no safe beaches or swimming areas. Expect strong winds, steep and unstable sea cliffs, and high waves.
- For latest info see NPS Alerts in Effect.