Is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park worth visiting?

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Situated on the southeastern shore of the island of Hawaii is the magnificent Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

This is a truly unique place that is unquestionably worth visiting. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park preserves some of the most unique and distinctive global geological, biological, and revered cultural landscapes. 

This national park is home to a couple of the most active volcanoes in the world: Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. In addition to the rumbling volcanoes, the park offers visitors a chance to hike through some wild rainforests and take part in some spectacular scenic drives. 

In addition to discussing why Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is worth visiting, we’ll also dig deeper into topics such as: 

  • How much time do you need to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
  • How long does it take to drive through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
  • What is the best time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
  • How many volcanoes are in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
Hawaii Volcanoes trail hiking
Hikers walk along the solidified lava rock floor within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Overview of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and why it’s worth visiting

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and is comprised of 335,259 acres. The park showcases the volcano’s sheer power and ability to constantly reshape the landscape. The park also consists of rare, critical ecosystems as well as unique cultural sites of importance. 

More than half the park is designated as wilderness. It provides visitors with incredibly unique hiking opportunities and spectacular views of various rugged volcanic landscapes. 

The park starts from zero feet at sea level, extends up to 13,680 feet, and surrounds the summits of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa – two of the most active volcanoes in the world. The park has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Some other volcanic landscapes you’ll find here include craters, cinder cones, and lava tubes. 

Because the park has such a wide range of elevation gain, there are several distinct ecological zones here, including seacoast, lowland forest, mid-elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest, subalpine, and alpine.

The park has over 150 miles of superb hiking trails. As such, the park can best be explored by hiking on foot. These hikes vary in difficulty from short, brisk walks to strenuous journeys through the park’s rugged backcountry regions. 

A more leisurely hike in the park includes the Devastation Trail. This hike consists of a paved pathway that crosses through a remarkable landscape in the process of healing after the area was buried by falling cinder from the dramatic lava fountains during the 1959 Kīlauea Iki eruption.

A more moderate to challenging hike would be the Kilauea Iki Trail. This hike allows you to immerse yourself in a variety of landscapes. The trail descends through a lush rainforest down to a solidified lava lake on the floor of the Kīlauea Iki crater. Below the Puʻupua’i cinder cone, you can also look into the vent that erupted during the 1959 eruption. Back then, this vent erupted to a height of 1900 feet. 

If you’re a more seasoned hiker seeking to traverse a more secluded area, you’ll want to hike the Maunaiki Trail. This long, strenuous hike crosses through the island’s Kau Desert for about two miles to the 3,034-foot rocky summit of Maunaiki. The vantage point at the top rewards you with extensive views of the park’s landscape. 

Visitors also enjoy hiking the Puʻuloa Petroglyphs trail. This moderate coastal trail runs along a 500-550-year-old lava field, leading to the most sizable collection of petroglyph fields in Hawaiʻi. This area of the park has approximately 23,000 petroglyphs. Many of these petroglyphs can be seen from the boardwalk trail that was built for just that purpose. This is an area of sacred and cultural significance for the natives of the island. 

Viewing lava eruptions in the park is another popular activity. A massive lava lake has been created inside the Halema’uma’u crater due to the Kīlauea volcano currently erupting. Here are some of the best overlooks and spots to view the lava eruptions:

  • Kūpinaʻi Pali (Waldron Ledge) from Crater Rim Trail
  • Uēkahuna overlook 
  • Overlook near Keanakākoʻi Crater
Hawaii Volcanoes Trail
The floor of the Kīlauea Iki Crater. NPS/J. Wei

How much time do you need to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

Most people staying on the big island of Hawaii visit the park for a day trip. However, if you want to take extra time in the park to experience more hiking and camping opportunities, you’ll want to plan on spending 2-3 days here. 

This will give you time to see top attractions like the Thurston Lava Tube, the Halemaumau Crater, the Kīlauea Iki Crater, the Hōlei Sea Arch, the Sulphur Banks, Devastation Trail, the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs, the various lava flows, the Chain of Craters Road, and the Crater Rim Drive. 

There are two main scenic roads inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: the Crater Rim Drive and the Chain of Craters Road. 

The Crater Rim Drive takes you along a section of the summit of the Kīlauea caldera. It also traverses through desert and rainforest landscapes and environments. There are plenty of scenic stops, overlooks, and short walks along the way. Crater Rim Drive takes anywhere from one to three hours to drive through with stops. 

The Chain of Craters Road is a 38-mile round trip drive that descends 3,700 feet to the coastal area and stops in the section where lava has engulfed 10 miles of road since 1986. This drive takes about 90 minutes to two hours round-trip, depending on how frequently you stop and how long you take on the scenic hikes along the way.

Hawaii Volcanoes rainforest
A trail through the lush rainforest at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

What is the best time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

There isn’t really a bad time of year to visit the park as the weather here is pleasant year-round. The temperature in Hawaii stays pretty consistent throughout the year, with daytime temperatures ranging in the high 70s during the colder months and high temperatures ranging in the high 80s during the hotter months. 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park map
Map showing the location of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island

How many volcanoes are in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

There are two active volcanoes within the boundaries of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. These volcanoes actually combine, though, with three other volcanoes to make up the island of Hawaii. The Mauna Kea, Hualālai, and Kohala volcanoes are located north of the park. 

Hawaii Volcanoes Lava
Lava pours into the waters of the Pacific after spewing out of the volcanoes

Final Thoughts

To recap, Hawaii Volcanoes is a breathtaking gem of a national park that is certainly worth visiting. 

The park is made up of a variety of spectacular landscapes to explore and enjoy, including powerful erupting volcanoes, lush rainforests, rocky coastal shorelines, and remote deserts. 

There are many outdoor activities to enjoy, such as spectacular day hikes, awe-inspiring scenic drives, petroglyph tours, and lava eruption viewing. 

Exploring the park as a day trip is doable and worthwhile. Still, if you want to dedicate more time to exploring the park’s abundance of hiking trails and camping locations, it’s recommended you stay 2-3 days at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

There are two main scenic drives in the park. The Crater Rim Drive takes 1-3 hours to drive through. The Chain of Craters Road takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete. 

Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at any time of the year is perfect since the weather here is agreeable year-round. 

The park comprises two active, massive volcanoes known as Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a true tropical paradise that is not to be overlooked. A visit to this park is one you’ll soon not forget. Make a plan to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park today!

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

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Happy Travels! Sandy