This Hawaiian National Park Is Home to One of the World’s Most Active Volcanoes – Here’s How to Visit

Here’s everything you need to know before planning a trip to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

<p>Sami Sarkis/Getty Images</p>

Sami Sarkis/Getty Images

Travelers planning their dream vacation to the Hawaiian Islands might have to visit an active volcano at the top of their list, which makes planning a trip to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island of Hawai'i, a must.

Established in 1916, the park stretches from sea level to peak summit, and one 360-degree look around may have visitors wondering if they’ve landed on another planet thanks to diverse landscapes and temperatures.

As the name implies, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is home to not one but two active volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.

“Whether or not they're erupting at any given time is up to the volcanoes, and there's not a guarantee anyone will see an eruption while they're here, but certainly the evidence of eruptions is all around us,” explained Jessica Ferracane, public affairs specialist for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, in an interview with Travel + Leisure.

While the active volcanoes are certainly the park’s stars — Kīlauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world — the expansive national park offers more than eruptions and rugged lava fields.

“We have more than 155 miles of trails, and they’re super diverse — everything from the coast through the rainforest, to the false desert, all the way to the summit at nearly 14,000 feet of Mauna Loa,” said Ferracane.

Jessica Ferracane has been a National Park Service ranger for 13 years, and currently serves as the public affairs specialist for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

When it comes to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Ferracane knows first-hand what makes Hawai'i’s largest national park so unique, along with what first-timers should know before they go and the ins and outs of visiting.

Planning Your Visit

<p>Laura La Monaca/Travel + Leisure</p>

Laura La Monaca/Travel + Leisure

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is 553 square miles open 24 hours a day year-round, making it highly accessible with no shortage of things to see. However, it is worth game planning to use your time best.

Ferracane’s best recommendation is for visitors to check the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park site that uses bold banners at the top of the page to alert guests of trail closures, construction delays, and eruption status before they visit to help guide what they will be able to see and access.

“We are undergoing some big construction projects, and on top of that, we have traffic safety improvements happening, so if you come within the next two years to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, it is likely to be crowded, there will be construction and reduced parking,” said Ferracane.

Because of this, Ferracane said it’s essential for visitors to keep their plans flexible.

“Have a ‘Plan B,’” she said of closures and delays that may impact seeing the park’s more popular stops, such as Kīlauea Visitor Center or Nāhuku lava tube. “It’s just a massive place to explore, so if what you want to see is temporarily closed or crowded, drive down to the coast and enjoy the sea arches or the petroglyphs. Maybe hike a trail you haven't heard of or explored before.”

All visitors are required to pay an entrance fee, which starts at $15 for pedestrians or cyclists, $25 for motorcyclists, and $30 for cars. All passes are good for seven days and can be purchased in advance at or with a debit or credit card at the entrance station.

How to Get There

<p>Jordan Siemens/Getty Images</p>

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Despite stretching over 350,000 acres, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has only one entrance.

“The only way to access the main part of the park is through the entrance off Highway 11,” said Ferracane of the entrance station, which is about 45 minutes from Hilo. Visitors traveling from Kona can anticipate a two- to three-hour drive to the park entrance, depending on traffic.

The park is best accessed by private car, and guests should plan ahead to navigate limited parking across all eight parking lots spread throughout the park by checking the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park parking page, which shows how busy each lot is at any given time.

Hele On Bus, a public bus, also makes daily stops at Kīlauea Visitor Center, though guests should know the bus schedule is subject to daily changes and delays.

There are no shuttle services within the park, and rideshare options like Uber or Lyft are not recommended due to limited driver availability and poor reception in some areas.

According to the park's website, “The park is located in a rural area of the island, 30 miles away from the closest population center with rideshare drivers. Due to extremely limited driver availability, rideshare apps are very difficult and sometimes impossible to use within the park.”

Best Time to Visit

<p>Laura La Monaca/Travel + Leisure</p>

Laura La Monaca/Travel + Leisure

Because Hawai'i does not experience seasons in the same way as other parts of the country (think hot and cold), it’s best to think of the year divided into summer months (warm and dry) and winter months (rainy and cooler).

The National Weather Service website says, “For most of Hawai'i, there are only two seasons: ‘summer,’ between May and October, and ‘winter,’ between October and April.”

Hawai'i's heaviest rains from winter storms fall between October and April, while the hottest months include August and September.

Summer and holiday seasons are the busiest times of year at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park because most people and families can easily get time off. During this time, the park sees upward of 4,400 visitors per day.

“To avoid the crowds regardless of season, we encourage visitors to get here early in the morning because the park is open 24 hours,” said Ferracane. But if and when an accessible eruption is happening, all bets are off according to Ferracane, ““It will be super crowded no matter what the season it is.”

Best Things to Do in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

<p>Laura La Monaca/Travel + Leisure</p>

Laura La Monaca/Travel + Leisure

Home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, a designated International Biosphere Reserve, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is one of the most visited attractions in the Hawaiian Islands.

The park is also a very sacred landscape for Native Hawaiians. Long before the National Park Service took stewardship of these lands, Native Hawaiians were coming to Kīlauea and Mauna Loa to pay homage to the elemental deities of the area.

Pelehonuamea, the creator and destroyer of land … that element makes its home in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, and of course, that’s one of the most viewed attractions in the park,” said Ferracane. “So we have Native Hawaiians who are doing cultural protocol on any given day (in the park). They're not here performing for visitors. They are here to connect with the sacred elements of this area, and they deserve our respect and (to be) given their space to do their practices.”

Here are the best things to see and do in the park for first-timers, according to Ferracane:

Kīlauea Visitor Center

An excellent place to start your trip — and to receive a proper introduction to the park — is Kīlauea Visitor Center, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Here, you’ll also be able to get up-to-the-minute information on trails, road conditions, and safety precautions that may have changed between the time you left your origin point, plus any ranger-led activities happening that day.

The visitor center will close for renovations as soon as fall 2024, so check the park website for alerts. A mobile visitor contact station will temporarily serve visitors while the work is underway.

Kīpukapuaulu Trail

Located off Mauna Loa Road, about two miles from the park entrance, is Kīpukapuaulu, a 1.2-mile easy loop trail surrounded by lava flow from Mauna Loa.

“It’s a beautiful walk through a really well-protected Native Hawaiian forest,” said Ferracane, who added this specific hike is proof of the creative force of volcanoes. “You don't see the diversity of forest plants or massiveness of the ʻŌhiʻa, the Koa trees, or ʻŌlapa — or other native species growing there — anywhere else in Hawai’i.”

Chain of Craters Road

To see the dramatic point where the park meets sea level, consider driving Chain of Craters Road, which is 18.8 miles end to end and features pull-off and lookout points. Mark Mau Loa o Maunaulu, Kealakomo Overlook, Alanui Kahiko, Puʻuloa Petroglpyhs, and Hōlei Sea Arch on the map along the way.

“I love that drive and seeing where this harsh, sharp, black lava rock landscape goes into the ocean,” said Ferracane. “It's almost a 90-degree angle now because of the erosion, wind, and waves on that coastline.”

Cell service is extremely limited along this drive, and there are no stop-off points for water or gas.

Kīlauea Caldera

No visit to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is complete without a visit to Kīlauea Caldera, where the volcano erupts and collapses.

“Just standing somewhere on the edge of Kīlauea to really take in the expansiveness of the caldera and to listen and hear the sounds of the wind, the whisper and hiss of volcanic steam can be a profound experience the first time or the thousandth time,” said Ferracane.

In 2018, Kīlauea was behind a devastating eruption.

The Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park website says, “From May through August, large lava flows covered land southeast of the park, destroying over 700 homes and devastating residential areas in the Puna District. At the same time, the summit area of the park was dramatically changed by tens of thousands of earthquakes, towering ash plumes, and a massive collapse of Kīlauea caldera.”

The Kahuku Unit

Located about one hour from Kīlauea Visitor Center in the Kaʻū district (near mile-marker 70.5 on Highway 11) is Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park’s Kahuku Unit where guests have the option of eight different hikes ranging in length from half a mile up to seven miles.

For more than 150 years, the 16,000-acre landscape — set on the slope of Mauna Loa — served as one of Hawai'i's largest working cattle ranches.

“A lot of people don’t realize we have this unique and diverse Kahuku Unit,” said Ferracane. “It really showcases the amazing ranching history, as well as the 1868 — and other lava flows — from Mauna Loa.”

In 2003, it became part of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park to “conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Unlike other sections of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, the Kahuku Unit is only open Thursday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wildlife at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Birds are the predominant wildlife visitors can expect to see and hear at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, including the vibrant colored ʻApapane or, if you’re lucky, larger birds like ‘Io or Hawaiian hawk.

Don’t be surprised if you’re driving around the park and see an adorable black-and-white bird not in the sky but waddling across the road; however, resist the urge to touch, feed, or go near it.

“Hawai’i's largest native land animal is the nēnē, the endemic Hawaiian goose and our state bird,” said Ferracane of the threatened species. “They spend a lot of time on the roadsides nibbling grass, and people should be really careful to look out for nēnē on the roadways when driving around and never, ever feed them.”

Nēnē are protected by state and federal law, and guests should maintain a distance of at least 60 feet, or about four cars.

Safety Tips for Visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

<p>Sam Scholes/Getty Images</p>

Sam Scholes/Getty Images

Rangers at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park do not take shortcuts regarding safety in the park.

While it may seem obvious, visitors to the park should always stay away from cliff edges and steam vents and be on the lookout for cracks and slippery surfaces.

“Watch out for cracks and do not go into closed areas,” said Ferracane, magnifying the importance of being aware of surroundings, abiding by posted placards and signs, and staying on marked trails. Ferracane also recommends that visitors wear closed-toe shoes, pack plenty of water and sunscreen, and know self-limitations for hiking.

The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park website reminds drivers to stay alert and not to rush. “Roads are narrower, speed limits are slower, and curves may be sharp,” the website says. “Check your mirrors and blind spots before merging, turning, or switching lanes.”

Where to Stay

<p>Sam Antonio Photography/Getty Images</p>

Sam Antonio Photography/Getty Images

Volcano House

There is only one hotel within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, and it offers guests the opportunity to sleep on the edge of Kīlauea. At Volcano House, one of the oldest lodges in the entire National Parks system, guests can stay in one of 33 guest rooms, book one of 10 renovated cabins, or reserve a campsite at one of two campgrounds, Nāmakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki. Guests choosing to camp at Kulanaokuaiki should note that there's no running water, and fires are prohibited.

The highlight of lodge rooms — which sleep up to four — is up-close views of the Kilauea caldera right out the window.

Volcano Village Lodge

Just two miles from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park entrance sits Volcano Village Lodge, a five-room bed and breakfast with suites that accommodate two to four guests. The lodge also operates a rental property that can sleep up to six about two miles from the lodge.

Volcano Inn

For a lodging option that feels like being at home, the 12-room Volcano Inn offers visitors rooms for singles, couples, families, and large groups set in a rainforest just six minutes from the park entrance. Each room booking comes with a complimentary breakfast, and the owners offer a multi-night discount for guests who want to extend their stay. Make sure you pack a swimsuit for the hot tub.

Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa

For travelers who don’t mind commuting or are trying to use points at a specific hotel chain, there is no shortage of hotels and resorts on the western side of Hawai'i in Waikoloa and Kailua-Kona, which is approximately two hours from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

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