Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was closed and heavily damaged by relentless earthquakes in the summer of 2018. We were mighty impressed when they reopened their doors a month after the flows were over, but you need to consider this page a moving target. Many of the places and sights that follow might not be available to visit. They will open things as quickly as is reasonably possible, but they will need to do so in a safe manner.
And remember, if there are no accessible surface flows, don’t despair. The volcano area is eminently fascinating and exciting, with or without surface flows, and is always worth at least a day of exploration. Below are some of the other delights waiting for you at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Biking
There are always a number of riding possibilities here, but it’s a good idea to check with them to see what’s open. Volcanoes can be unpredictable and this park changes quickly. Check out our app for more current information on what trails are ridable.
Our favorite current path is a dirt “escape” road that leads through beautiful rainforest from Thurston Lava Tube to Chain of Craters Road and the Mauna Ulu Trailhead. It’s a 4-mile well maintained and very scenic road, with green assaulting your eyes from both directions. Return on the escape road, or take Chain of Craters road back up (right) 1.5 miles, then turn left onto Hilina Pali Road (before mile marker 3 on Chain of Craters Road) as far as you want to go before returning.
Shorter Hikes in the Park
Much of the best hiking on the island is found in and around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In Volcano Sights we’ve described lots of strolls of 30 minutes or less. They include Bird Park (a nice 30-minute walk through the forest), Devastation Trail (see how the volcano wiped out part of a forest with flying, frothed lava and how it is coming back), Pu‘u Loa Petroglyph Trail (less than 2 miles round trip, it heads to a massive field of ancient rock carvings—this one takes a bit more than 30 minutes), Thurston Lava Tube (see what lava sees as it travels underground) and a few others. We’ve also described a trek to the edge of the smoldering Mauna Ulu Crater.
Also in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Consider Crater Rim Drive. It used to circle the entire Kilauea Caldera, but after the earthquake swarms of 2018 much of the road was heavily damaged. Closed to cars but open to pedestrians, the short 0.7 mile walk from the intersection of Crater Rim and Chain of Craters Road shows the severity of the damage. (Keep your eyes peeled for the section of road that was consumed by the expanding crater on your right as you head out.)
Currently there are no active lava flows to hike to, but we have a section in the Adventures Chapter that addresses this. Volcanoes are nothing if not unpredictable, and our app will be updated the moment this changes.
There are also long overnight trails (with camping) at Halape, Keauhou and Ka‘aha. (Halape is incredible.) Hikes are down the mountain or along the coast and go for many miles.
For all your Hawaii volcano information needs, we have a page with links to volcano resources.
Hawaii Volcano Lava Flow map
Want to see what Kilauea is up to right now? Check out our lava flow map page for updates, as well as a break down of the events that occurred last year.
For more info on how the Big Island’s volcanoes came to be, we have a Hawaii volcano page where we discuss each of Hawaii’s fiery volcanic formations.
Is it worth seeing if there is no lava flowing?
How could you ask such a question? (OK, you didn’t ask. I put words in your mouth. Sorry, it’s necessary to continue the narrative. ‘Fraid you’ll have to suck it up, Buttercup.) Whether lava is flowing in liquid form or not, this island is made from the stuff and the results of millions of lava flows is something that needs to be on your bucket list.
Here is only a taste of some of the lava features you can see whether the volcano is flowing or not:
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was closed when it got rocked by over 6,000 earthquakes in the summer of 2018 but they are open now and, though large swaths of it are still closed, parts are open and more will be opening over time.
This is the very heart of Kilauea and you can’t say you’ve been to the volcano unless you come here.
The 2018 eruption covered over lots of highway. Want to see what that looks like? Venture to MacKenzie State Recreation Area where the lava flowed right over the highway and into the ocean. You can even see the remodeled (courtesy of the eruption) Isaac Hale Beach Park. The most recent flow cut this beach off from the rest of the world with cooled lava on both sides, but they have since added a road over the new lava rock. The whole bay is a brand new black sand beach.
Just outside the Hawaii Volcanoes National park entrance, there are a few sights that are worth checking out, either before or after your park visit.
The Tree Molds
If you were heading back toward Kona, Mauna Loa Scenic Road leads past the Tree Molds. These holes are created when a lava flow encounters a sopping wet tree trunk, which resists bursting into flames just long enough to harden the lava around it. They look a little like water wells with the texture of the tree bark that go pretty far down into the ground, giving a good sense of how deep the lava flow that created them must have been. No walking required, the tree molds are right at the parking area.
Kipuka Pua‘ulu (Bird Park)
Farther up the road is Kipuka Pua‘ulu (Bird Park). A trail goes through a kipuka, an old growth of forest surrounded by newer lava flows. This kipuka features many native trees and plants, but is less visually dazzling than other hikes nearer the crater. Birds abound in this park—hence its nickname, Bird Park. The entire 1-mile stroll takes only 20–30 minutes plus stopping time. There is a bench partway along the trail, which ascends gently for the first half. If you are feeling adventurous, there is a little-explored cave near to marker No. 6 that you can worm your way into. (It opens up substantially once you get inside.)
Mauna Loa Trail
Heading farther up Mauna Loa Scenic Road, it’s tempting to speed, but the road drops to one lane with several blind turns as it passes through a pretty forest that is different from other forests in the area. No big payoff here, (so don’t expect an expansive view of the summit), just a lonely road that often ascends into the clouds, usually with lots of pheasants around. At the end of the 13-mile road (at 6,650 feet) is the trailhead to Mauna Loa Trail. This is where you start your multi-day trek through the cold and altitude to ascend the summit of Mauna Loa. (Maybe another day.) There are picnic tables and a nice view of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the road’s end.
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