Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of two national parks within the Hawaiian Islands (the other is Haleakala National Park on Maui). I work as a concierge for Expedia on Oahu, and the most popular question I get from guests is “how do we see the volcano?” Visiting an active volcano and seeing molten lava are two of the main reason visitors come from all over the world to Hilo. So whether you’ll be visiting for one day or one week, I’ll explain in this post how you can maximize your time in Volcanoes National Park, one of the most popular attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Park entry is $25 per vehicle and your pass is valid for four days from the time of entry. The park is open 24 hours and is free of charge after 7:00 PM. I highly recommend visiting the park at night so you can see Halema’uma’u Crater up close and personal as it spews and crashes waves of molten lava inside the caldera, which is visible from the lookout at Jaggar Museum.
FUN FACT: Volcanoes National Park is so large that you can fit the entire island of O’ahu inside!
TIP: Bring a zoom lens for your camera, a tripod, and binoculars for best viewing pleasure. Also, bring a warm jacket as night time winter temperatures can dip below 50 F. (10 C.) (yes, I realize that this is tropical heat to those of you living in colder climates, but to us locals, it’s pretty darn cold!)
Here are some shots from our night visit to Volcanoes National Park at 9:30 PM. The temperature was around 55 F., and I had to wear all 6 of the layers I brought. I am definitely no longer a Seattleite.
We could see the plume of red smoke billowing high above the clouds as we drove into the entrance of the park. It was quite climactic watching it get closer and closer and then being able to drive right up to it and walk over to the lookout.
If you have only one day to spend at Volcanoes National Park, below are my recommendations.
One-Day Itinerary at Volcanoes National Park:
Halema’uma’u Crater Lookout at Jaggar Museum
This is the same view that is pictured above in the night photos, only during day light!
Steaming Bluffs Trail
This easy trail can be accessed from the Visitor’s Center parking lot and is a short one-mile loop through the steam vents.
Sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide react chemically to produce pure sulfur, a yellow mineral known to Hawaiians as the “waste of Pele”, the fire goddess. Sulfur is deposited on the rocks, covering them with feathery yellow crystals.
The Ohi’a Lehua trees are gorgeous and the trails around the rim are mystical and extraordinarily calming, as you hear nothing but the sound of birds.
Holei Sea Arch
Located an additional 40 minutes past the Visitor’s Center, Holei Sea Arch is the furthest tip on the coast line of the park. There are restrooms and a concession stand selling snacks and water if you get hungry. We met some nice park ranger volunteers who spend half their time here and the other half in the Northern end of the Grand Canyon. What a cool life! From here, you can make your way back towards the visitors center working backwards.
Located an additional 35 minutes from the Visitor’s Center and ten minutes from Holei Sea Arch, this easy 1.4-mile round trip walk takes you to a boardwalk where you can view petroglyphs. These carvings into the lava rock depicted familial ties and traced lineage of Hawaiian ancestors.
Thurston Lava Tube
Easily accessible from a parking lot (that can become very congested because it’s right off the main road rather than a pull-in), you can walk through this tall lava tube from one end to the other. This is one of the stops on most tours of Hilo as well as cruise ship day excursions, so it can get quite crowded with tourists.
Drive Around the Rim Trail
To see gorgeous pull outs like this:
TIPS FOR VISITING VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK:
- Especially during winter season, be prepared for rain. Bring a light weight rain jacket as well as a change of clothing if you become too wet
- During summer season, pack lots of water, as many of the trails are in direct sunlight and not near any concession stands. Dehydration at higher altitudes is common
- Volcanoes National Park gets up to 4,000′ elevation, so be sure to wear sunscreen or a hat, even if the sun is not out
- Do not go off trail, as there are many steam vents throughout the park and uneven or loose terrain that could result in burns or injuries
- Pack a lunch if you plan on going on day hikes
- Volcano House is the only restaurant in the entire park, besides smaller concessions at the Military Camp
- Keep your pass, as it is valid for four days of re-entry
- Come back after 7:00 PM when entry is free and you can stay for the red glow from the caldera