Located on the island of Hawaii (also known as the “Big Island”), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park includes Kīlauea and Mauna Loa—one of Earth’s most active volcanoes and the largest shield volcano on the planet, respectively. Kīlauea last erupted in December 2021 and Mauna Loa has not erupted since 1984. The park is also a designated International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an otherworldly experience and a can’t-miss site for any vacation to the Hawaiian Islands. Here’s everything you need to know for your first trip.
The park entrance is about 45 minutes from the Hilo airport, so you’ll need to rent a car. Once you get to the park, there is no shuttle. With the park’s massive size and in order to see as much as you can, a car is a must. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, or you can get a park pass if you plan to visit more national parks within 12 months.
Once inside the park there’s plenty to see and do. You could easily spend multiple days exploring, depending on how much hiking you want to do.
The main sights
Crater Rim Drive
Many of the main sights are located off this road, so if you take this path, you’ll hit most of the highlights on this list. Swing by the Kīlauea Visitors Center first for the latest information on park and volcano conditions, then hit the road.
You feel like you’re on another world as you walk through this paved trail that explores the 1959 eruption of Kīlauea Iki crater. Although the name brings to mind visions of fire and fury, this path is actually a great place to view new life sprouting from the literal ashes.
Chain of Craters Road
This road is just over 18 miles and stretches to the sea. Pick up the road from Crater Rim Drive just across from the Devastation Trail parking lot. The road finishes at the Hōlei Sea Arch, formed by a lava flow around 550 years ago. See it while you can—the arch will eventually fall into the sea as the clift slowly shifts inland.
Crater Rim Trail
Tiptoe along the edge of the Kīlauea crater from Uēkahuna to Keanakākoʻi Crater. It’s an easy hike, and you’ll be treated to views of the aftermath of the 2018 eruption.
Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube)
Step back 500 years in time as you traverse through the rainforest into this tube where lava once flowed. Kīlauea Iki Overlook is a good place to park, as the lava tube area itself has limited parking. From there, it’s a 1.5 mile walk round-trip.
The 400-foot descent is steep and rocky, but the trip is well worth it. When you get to the bottom, it feels like you’ve stepped onto another planet. Walk across a solidified lava lake and view the vents of previous eruptions. If there’s no parking available, you can park at the Visitors Center or Devastation Trail, although this will mean a longer hike. Though it may be tempting to take a lava rock as a souvenir, don’t do it! It’s illegal to remove anything from a national park. Think you’re safe to take home some sand or that rock you found on a public beach? Think again. Pele’s Curse says that visitors who remove rocks or sand from the island will be cursed with bad luck until the elements are returned to Hawaii.
Explore a 500-550 year old lava field with 23,000 petroglyphs—lava rock carvings created by Native Hawaiians centuries ago. While their meanings remain a mystery, it is believed that they document important life events of the natives, like births.
Part of Crater Rim Drive was damaged during the summit collapse of 2018, so you’ll have to explore this portion of the park on foot. Park at the Devastation Trailhead and walk across to view this famed crater.
It’s about a 1 hour, 45 minute drive to get to Mauna Kea from Kīlauea Visitors Center, but it’s well worth the journey. You’ll travel through ghostly lava fields and climb above the clouds as the road ascends to the summit. On a clear night, you can stargaze from the observatory. Hike the trail to the summit for beautiful panoramic views of the neighboring Mauna Loa.
If you’re feeling adventurous, this 8-mile one-way backcountry hike treats you to a secluded oasis of sandy beaches and coconut trees. There’s a campsite at the end of the trail if you want to spend the night.
Descend through the rainforest to the floor of the crater. Because there has been a lava lake in the crater since 2008, you can no longer traverse the entirety of the crater, but it’s still a rewarding hike with fascinating terrain.
This is more of a nature walk loop trail. It’s short and sweet at just over one mile. You’ll see rare Hawaiian vegetation and animals, as well as a recent lava flow from Mauna Loa.
When to go
The Big Island has many rainforests—which means lots of rain. Rainy season is from November to March, but even if it’s not the rainy season, it still rains a bit most days on the island. The showers come and go quickly, so don’t let this deter you from planning your visit. Just be prepared with ponchos and umbrellas.
The crowds and humidity will be less, but since it’s rainy season, there will be a higher chance of rain. Temperatures will range from 50-60F.
Spring will be warm with less crowds, but if you visit during this time of year, you’ll be at the height of the rainy season. The rain won’t last all day, though. You can expect temperatures in the 60s and 70s.
The height of the humidity—and the crowds. Temperatures will be toasty, in the 70s and 80s, and there will be less rain than other times of the year.
If you want to escape the crowded summer and winter months, fall is a great time to visit. Temperatures will still be on the warmer side (in the 70s) and there will be less rain.
Final verdict: fall and summer for the best weather, but summer is busier and crowded. Spring and winter will be rainy but the rain does pass quickly. Reduced crowds.
Where to stay
If you enjoy being close to nature and connecting with the land, the park is an otherworldly location for camping. The park has two campgrounds with 25 campsites. Nāmakanipaio Campground is the most popular and is located near the iconic attractions. It has flush toilets and water, although the open design of the site means it overall has less privacy. The more private and less popular Kulanaokuaiki Campground is in a more remote location, but campfires are not permitted and there are no flush toilets. Backcountry camping permits cost $10.00.
Volcano House is located inside the park across from Kīlauea Visitors Center, with views of the crater and is right at the edge of the volcano. This historic and iconic inn has hosted Hawaiian royalty and presidents through the years.
Kilauea Lodge is located right outside of the park in Volcano Village. The property has a jacuzzi, a tropical garden, a tranquil gazebo, and an onsite restaurant.
Volcano Inn is a rainforest resort located right beside the famed Tuk-Tuk Thai Food Truck in Volcano Village. Free breakfast, wi-fi, parking, and coffee, and a 24-hour hot tub make this a great bargain. And, you can get a discount for staying multiple nights.
If you plan to stay farther outside of the park, accommodations in Hilo are your best bet. Staying on the Kona side of the island means about a 2.5-3 hour drive each way. Hilo has many options for lodging. You can choose as simple or as fancy as you like. From Hilo, it’s about a 45 minute drive to the park. The Big Island Hostel is newly renovated and offers private, semi-private, and dorm-style rooms. Offering views of Mauna Kea and Coconut Island, Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is another great home base for exploring all the island has to offer.
Airbnb and VRBO rentals abound on the island, ranging from modest and simple to cool jungle bungalows.
Where to eat and imbibe
- Crater Rim Cafe – Located inside the Kilauea Military Camp inside the park, this spot offers simple food for a good value.
- Tuk-Tuk Thai Food Truck – Authentic Thai food at a reasonable price in Volcano Village.
- ‘Ōhelo Café – A little more of an upscale option, with wood-fired pizzas and fresh local cuisine in Volcano Village.
- Eagle’s Lighthouse Cafe – Also in Volcano Village, this is a quick spot for large sandwiches, Hawaiian mixed plates, and other breakfast/lunch items.
- Volcano’s Lava Rock Cafe – This family owned and run operation in Volcano Village is a cozy place for sandwiches, burgers, local brews, plate lunches, breakfast, and dinner. Live entertainment from local musicians lights up their stage every week.
Ready to hit the trail?
Elevate your Hawaii Volcanoes National Park experience with Misty Mountain’s Lava Burst Cartridge. Experience the delicious, pure flavor of rosin, everywhere you go on your unique adventure!
Check out our blog for more adventure journals and park guides!