The volcanic origins of the Hawaiian Islands are never more apparent than when visiting the Big Island of Hawai‘i. A trip here is like a journey back in time to the origins of this beautiful land. Here you can witness both the creative power and destructive fury of Mother Nature at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, a window into the very creation of the Hawaiian Islands.
The House of Pele
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is home to the Kilauea volcano, the mythical home of the goddess Pele. Still active, it is the youngest of the three volcanoes on the Big Island (the others being Mauna Loa and Kohala). Located on the Big Island’s southeast coast, the park is approximately a 45-minute drive from Hilo, and 2.5 hours from Kona. Inside the park’s confines, visitors are treated to a fiery display of geology at work, abundant wildlife, and extensive hiking trails. Perfect for a day trip or for multiple visits, the park is open 24 hours a day, year-round, and entrance passes ($25/car) are good for seven days.
The End of the Road
The best way to start your visit to the park is with a scenic trip around Crater Rim Drive. From the park entrance, the road brings you to the visitor center (open 9am-5pm daily) before circling the Kilauea caldera. This spectacular scenic loop is 11 miles of paved two-lane road that takes you past numerous scenic overlooks, active caldera and steam vents, and a lava lake. Be sure to visit the Halema`uma`u Overlook at the Jaggar Museum (open 10am-8pm, daily). Here you can watch a short film about the volcano and the Hawaiian Islands and browse interesting exhibits and a gift ship. Gaze down in awe into the pit crater 250 feet below, where an active vent bubbles with luminous magma, forming a molten lake.
Back in the car, take the turn for the Chain of Craters Road, and brace yourself. This road winds through splintered remnants of eruptions past and skirts lush forests and sink holes while descending 3,700 feet over 18 miles. Your journey ends abruptly at a lava flow that overran the road on its way to the sea in 1986, and any more progress is done on foot. Under the right conditions, you can hike over the razor-sharp lava rock, explore lava tubes, and catch a glimpse of distant lava flows as they slowly pour into the sea. Volcano National Park HI has something for everyone!
Volcano National Park HI
Within the confines of the crater walls are over 150 miles of hiking trails. Explore the young, pristine forests and don’t miss the Thurston Lava Tube, a massive underground former lava highway now engulfed in rainforest that visitors can walk through. Up above, wildlife abounds here. Thanks to its isolation, Hawai‘i has many species found nowhere else, and many call the park home. From the beautiful flowers of the `Ohia blossom to the rare nene goose and alien-like Mauna Loa silversword, the forests are alive native species. Listen for the melodic songs of Hawai‘i’s native songbirds, the honeycreepers, and keep an eye out for Hawai‘i’s native thrush, monarch butterfly, Hawaiian petrel, and Hawaiian hawk.