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Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park holds two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Located in Volcano, Hawai’i on The Big Island, it is approximately an hour’s drive from Hilo and over two hours from Kona.
While the park might be a drive from where you are staying, it is well worth the trip! Visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was the highlight of my time in Hilo. I spent 6 months in Hilo, working a short-term travel therapy contract, and I visited the park several times during the day and at night.
Here are my top recommendations of things to do at Hawai’i National Park. All of the things on this list can be done in a single, albeit long, day. Although, it would be more comfortable to spend the night by the park and enjoy them over two days.
Check out the Visitor Center
As you enter Volcanoes National Park, you will quickly pass the visitor center on your right. This is a great first stop to make in the park. You can use the restrooms, explore their shop, and talk to the rangers on duty. You can ask the rangers about the conditions in the park and find out if anything is closed for the day.
From the visitor center parking lot, you can access the steam bluffs and sulfur trail, Halema’uma’u Trail, and Crater Rim Trail
Walk through a lava tube
The Thurston Lava Tube is a once-active lava tube that you can walkthrough. It is on a well-maintained trail, which loops from the road, and is approximately 1.5 miles. The pictures say more than words on this one!
Stand at the rim of a volcano crater
The Kilauea Overlook is a great stop on Crater Rim Drive, where you can see some breathtaking views. I highly recommend this as a stop on your journey through the park.
Hike through a volcano caldera
You can’t say you visited Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park unless you actually walk through a volcano, right?
The Kilauea Ike trail takes you on an adventure through the rainforest and onto the floor of the Kilauea Ike crater. You can walk to the floor of the crater and return the way you came. Or, you can walk through the entire crater and do a 3.3-mile loop from the parking lot.
The hike is moderate intensity. If you are physically able to hike, this is the #1 hike that I recommend at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Make sure that you dress appropriately, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and wear rain gear if it is forecasted to rain.
Take a scenic drive on the Chain of Craters Road
Chain of Craters Road is a 19-mile road that takes you through the park and to the ocean. Along the way, you pass multiple lookout points, a petroglyph field, fields of lava, and end at a stunning sea arch.
See the lava flow at night (if there’s active flow)
Hands down, the most incredible experience at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is to see the lava glowing at night. While it is hard to plan your visit around an active lava flow, it is a treat to be able to see it. You can look at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park website for updates on lava flow or ask the park rangers when you arrive.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a great place to visit and explore. There are many things you can do, from seeing the lava flow in-person to exploring the park’s diverse wildlife. If you want some more ideas about what to see or do at this national park, let me know in the comments below!